Part of what used to be called “The Pearl of the Orient.”

That President Laurel was told by General Yamashita that Manila would be declared an Open City[7] may have been true. Even the guerrilla messages confirm this. But his words were belied by the heavy fortification of key points and intersections throughout the city, especially south of the Pasig River, and the setting of explosive charges in the important buildings and bridges. The Japanese Military Dispositions map which you will see in the video (albeit briefly) shows at least 15 manned fortifications throughout Manila during February 1945. A radio message to MacArthur on January 13, 1945, from Cabangbang, tells of Yamashita’s reneging on his promise of an open city. His logic now was that “the complete demilitarization of the city would lay it open to a possible paratroop invasion from Mindoro.” The General’s reasoning is baffling, especially in view of the further observation in the same report that “As of January 7 [Japanese troops] have constructed foxholes and pillboxes on practically all street corners.”[8]

            Does this sound like anyone is thinking “open city?”

            In the video you will hear testimony from one woman, Lita Rocha Clearsky,[9]  who was warned by a Japanese officer to get out of Manila, to take everything and leave because Manila would be “no good.” And Ramsey’s agents reported that four German nationals in Manila received a circular from Japanese High Command to evacuate the city. [10] It was known to the Japanese officers that Manila and its civilian population were going to suffer horribly; some were good enough to tell people to leave. Charo Manzano, who had spent months in Ft. Santiago after the disappearance of her army/guerrilla husband Narciso, told me that she was continually being warned by Japanese to move; they moved and they survived. Japanese planned out their neighborhood killings and knew about them in advance. There was for the most part not much randomness about these attacks on civilians. Some people were lucky enough to be forewarned.


The two myths I have intended to put to question, if not demolish, with this documentary are:

            1. That the city was destroyed because the American forces did not let the Japanese have an escape route; that they completely bottled up the Japanese who were forced to lash out, understandably and reasonably, in a fight to the death, much as cornered rats do; [the burning and demolition of the city began on the first three days of February—long before there was any encirclement by US forces.];  And that the concept of “shelling” be applied to both Americans and Japanese, even moreso to the latter who had heavier weapons set up all around the city.


            2. The equally indefensible, from my point of view, tenet that Yamashita intended to leave Manila an Open City. On this latter myth, a brief observation: Gen. MacArthur had left the city OPEN in 1941. There were no American or Filipino troops in Manila.  All fortifications, like Forts Santiago  and McKinley and Nichols Field were abandoned.[Side note: at the end of the war the Japanese were saying that every living Filipino was a guerrilla, regardless of age or sex, but in the early days no one knew this, not even MacArthur, nor any Filipino.] Yamashita, after telling Pres. Laurel he was going to declare Manila an Open City, dedicated 4,000 of his Shobu Force to defend North Manila. There was no OPEN CITY in 1945. And Yamashita was not a misunderstood and disobeyed saint. It was in fact these very forces that began the fires and massacres of civilians even before the Americans had set foot within the city.

It is also interesting that the Japanese planned a defense of the city of gradually falling back from their north Manila positions, crossing the Pasig and literally digging in among the local populace there. When they left north Manila they set in on fire. Not content with torching Binondo and Tondo, they also began setting fire to the Ermita area. So much for the bottle theory.

            Two books, one by three British writers, The Battle For Manila, and By Sword and Fire by Alfonso J. Aluit, fall into the trap of blaming the Americans. The irony of the British book is that the conclusions of the authors do not coincide with the man who is largely responsible for funding their writing of the book, Roderick Hall, who is a survivor of the Japanese Occupation and of the Battle for Manila; it was all the more personal for him since the Japanese gratuitously killed his mother.[11]

             The British authors put it this way: “The third lesson (on urban warfare) is even more mundane: never surround a city entirely, but always leave an escape route so that the enemy is not forced to fight to the death.  Again, the Americans failed to bear this in mind.” [12] Among my responses to this is: even if they were trapped, is that enough to excuse their wanton massacring of civilians? Aside from the fact that many if not most of the most egregious massacres occurred before the Japanese were sealed in. And since they had made every building in the city a fortress, it doesn’t seem to me they were planning an exodus. Or do they mean “fight to the death of all civilians?” This was a fairly rogue concept.

            They began rounding up civilians in Fort Santiago on February 4th. On the 6th they start killing off these people. They also begin rounding up civilians along Singalong Street and beheading them—this went on for a long time. On February 9th behold the massacre of more innocents at St. Paul’s College; the near elimination of Elpidio Quirino’s family; the Vincentian Fathers and the Chinese civilians at the Paules Church on San Marcelino met horrible fates on this day. And the next day, the 10th is a particularly black date for Manila.  The German Club was turned into a brutal and cynical killing field with no one spared on account of age, sex, nationality. [Note: I have interviewed one of the two survivors of that massacre and her ordeal is told in my video.]Various killings took place house to house throughout Ermita and Malate and Paco not to mention those committed at the Red Cross HQ on Isaac Peral.

            And the Japanese were still not “bottled up” or trapped. Although some think this might have happened as early as the 10th, it is Rear Admiral Iwabuchi himself who declares this be a fact on February 17th, the date of the massacre of the San Juan de Dios Hospital staff.

            But Aluit puts it this way: “…[General] Douglas MacArthur bears as much responsibility as [Rear Admiral] Sanji Iwabuchi does for the cruel fate that was inflicted on Manila.

            “By adopting the strategy of bottling up the adversary in an area with a resident population of one million, the Americans permitted the Japanese no alternative but a last ditch, scorched earth stand. That the Japanese behaved like the cornered rat of legend was to be expected.”[13]  I have words to describe this observation that cannot be printed. Aluit’s own accounting of daily activity in the battle defies the logic of what he concludes. This amounts to one of the most unjustified and inaccurate statements ever made about the Battle of Manila.

            This phrase “bottling up” the Japanese is in error, I feel; Japanese who wanted to were fleeing from Manila during the first two weeks of the battle. Robert Ross Smith says that about 4,500 of them escaped across the Marikina River. They had nearly free passage to the east, past Ft. McKinley.  And even in mid February there was no action at either Nielsen Field nor at Ft. McKinley. And they had such a strong defense in the south of Manila (Nichols Field) that the American penetration there was delayed until the 12th.

            Roderick Hall has written me saying that it is his own opinion that MacArthur should have planned and launched two simultaneous attacks on the City, so that from the very onset of the Battle for Manila, Feb 3, the Japanese would have had their hands full on two fronts.  He means that landings should have occurred on both Lingayen and Batangas beaches at the same time. And that this might have saved many lives.

            The research materials available today were available to those writers in the early to mid ‘90s. The chain of command of the Japanese military organization was well understood, better understood by many others than by me.  To establish an order, signatures had to go all the way up and down the chain of command in the Japanese military system. Signatures of staff officers, chief-of-staff, and commander-in-chief would all have to be on the form that had to be delivered to the staff officer in charge of coded signals; the order would be copied to all ship captains, the commander of the naval base force, and the naval garrison unit[14].  If this was the procedure for local decisions, consider the added complications of needing permission from Tokyo.  Neither Iwabuchi nor Yamashita could have ordered the massacres that occurred without having received such orders, or received permission to commit them.


Battle over, steel helmets parked, people still dazed but the tension is over.

The important thing to remember is that they were doing what their Emperor would want, a “logic” that was behind all atrocities and brutalities committed by Japanese military forces during the war.[15]  It is important to note the hidden role of Emperor Hirohito in all the military actions of the war; and it is inconceivable to think that he did not know of the horrible things his troops were doing in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, as far back as the various “Rapes” in China and the Bataan Death March, including the horribly-conceived Ishii Unit 731 which had its biological warfare counterpart here in the Philippines—in Mindanao and who knows where else..[16]

            This, by the way, introduces another myth, that of the gentle, mild mannered marine biologist who happened also to be the Emperor of Japan. He was in fact a deeply militaristic person, having been taken away from his parents at an early age to be brought up by family members who were generals and admirals. He was interested in all facets of the war; he had agents reporting to him from the various fronts, and he knew about the horrors being committed in Bataan. He even had a relative in the armed forces in China, and it can surely be said that he even knew of the darkly secret doings of the Ishii Unit 7 and its devilish human experiments often sans benefit of anesthesia. The fact that no one was tried from this “medical” group is a black mark on post war justice.

            I wish that the Emperor would come under more severe attack these days (it is beginning—with books like Herbert Bix’s Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.) The fire bombings from B-29 attacks on Japanese cities were much worse than those of the two atom bombs; they killed more people, destroyed more cities and were more ghastly in their manner of killing—by suffocation, by melting, and by simple cremation. But the Emperor gave in only after the second A-bomb was dropped. I think that had he known there was no third bomb, we would be still fighting in Japan today. Yes, the Emperor was a war criminal of the first order.


The American troops in Manila had come across diaries of Japanese soldiers that revealed they had been ordered to kill all civilians on the field of battle; instructions were given as to how to carry out these orders in a most efficient manner (burning of groups that had been herded into houses, bayoneting, hand-grenading, and lastly, shooting). Decisions of this sort throughout the Japanese-occupied war theater were normally dictated from Tokyo. This was true even of the disastrous order to move Australian prisoners from one side of Borneo to the other – a decision which caused the elimination of ALL 2,500 Australian POWs (except for the six who escaped).[17]

             The unnamed and undistributed film by USMC photographer Captain David B. Griffin shows the finding of one such diary. It also shows a very-young Carlos P. Romulo stating that the Japanese had orders from as high as Tokyo to inflict death and destruction on the Filipino populace. His warnings that the guilty would be brought to trial proved toothless.But his statement that the film would be a witness against them was accurate, if only belatedly. It would be a good research project to find out why this film was suppressed.

            One captured Japanese soldier, Taguchi Hiroshi [18]says he does not know why he was ordered to do such things, but he was. And he obeyed. He could only surmise that it was because the Filipinos preferred the Americans to the Japanese. As simplistic as this must sound, it is also probably an absolute truth in the limited mindset of the simple Japanese soldier, that it had not started as a racist war, but it had become one now, and the Filipinos had become unworthy of the trust the Japanese had most generously extended to them. The culture of the Japanese military, the Emperor worship, the pride factor, the various codes of Bushido and Samurai all conspired to identify the unworthy Filipinos with the Americans, and beyond this, guerrillas all. Hiroshi was of a low rank, and one cannot expect him to have had a grand strategic thought in his head. 

            Here I feel constrained to add a viable alternative motive, one of a grand strategy brought to my attention by serious WWII commentators and observers: Tokyo was facing a more serious predicament than the mere loss of the Philippines. By this time, it was apparent, but unspoken at cabinet level that the war was lost, and that Japan needed to negotiate some sort of peace arrangement. But with what? There was very little to bargain with, in the political sense, so in the absence of anything positive, the extreme elements in the Army had decided to confront the Americans with their greatest fears--that the invasion of Japan could only be accomplished at the price of the greatest bloodbath of American manhood the world had ever known.  What better way to place fear in the heart of the American planners than to make retaking Manila the most costly and terrifying presage of the war, a minor indication of a far more catastrophic outcome awaiting across the Japanese beaches and through every Japanese town and city.  Manila was merely a junior grade indication of what they might face on the homeland, the Filipinos an expendable price to pay.  

            That the forecasts of American casualty figures for the invasion of Japan took into account an extrapolation of the military and civilian deaths during the Battle of Manila suggests that this approach was at least partially successful.  This alternate view implies even more cynicism and cruelty than I had at first imagined.