Like bookends on the shelf, the atrocities in Nanking in 1937 (back then, the capital of China) and Manila in 1945 (the capital of the Philippines) speak to a level of barbaric behavior that came not only at the beginning and end of the Second World War, but one which permeated much of the conflict.
In 1937, the mighty Japanese military rolled over China, bringing with them an aura of Japanese superiority and a code of war that fed off a strong opponent. When the Chinese failed to be that strong opponent, “warfare” changed to “brutality”. The events in Nanking are well-documented and need not be detailed here…I’ve written on the subject, and many of you have read it. In fact, as of this writing, it’s currently the 4th-most read piece on this site.
But the events in Manila took place on the War’s opposite end. The Japanese, having overrun the Philippines in the dark period following Pearl Harbor, had taken over Manila on 1942’s second day. And now, as 1945’s second month was getting under way, the no-longer-mighty Japanese were being pushed out of Manila by the U.S. military. Japanese invincibility had long ago been shattered and defeat, at this point, was only a matter of time and blood.
In late 1944, with the Americans approaching, Philippine President Laurel (himself a puppet appointed by Tokyo) asked that Manila be declared an “open city”. This would mean that the Japanese would simply withdraw, allowing U.S. forces to occupy Manila without bloodshed. General MacArthur had done the same when the U.S. left in 1941.
But Laurel’s wishes were complicated by the Japanese military hierarchy. General Tomoyuki Yamashita (of the Japanese Army) was the ranking officer, and he made good on his promise to declare Manila an open city. His annoucement, however, was countered by Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi (of the Japanese Navy). The Navy guys and Army guys had, for most of the war, refused to work with any kind of coordination…it’s one of the reasons Japan was losing in 1945. But more than that, they often defied each other’s plans, wishes, and decrees, to the point that they almost fought against each other. So even though Yamashita outranked Iwabuchi, there was no real impetus to follow orders. Yamashita’s men left Manila…Iwabuchi’s did not.
The capacity of a man to act with complete disregard for the well-being of another, however, was independent of 1937’s victories or 1945’s impending defeat. And this was verified on the streets of Manila for weeks, as a spectacle of gross violence and inhumanity was played out all over the capital.
Beginning in February of 1945, Iwabuchi’s retreating forces destroyed much of the city. They bombed and dynamited any building of importance, and destroyed the city’s infrastructure. They murdered the men, raped and then murdered the Philippino women and girls, slaughtered the infants, and left them to rot. No one was safe from the barbarity.
Concordia College, which had become a refuge for nearly 2,000 infants, orphans, and patients transferred from other hospitals, was surrounded by Japanese soldiers. They chained the doors, then simply fired the building. This act was repeated at numerous locations throughout the city.
On February 10, 1945, Japanese soldiers entered the Red Cross Building and killed everyone inside…patients, infants, nurses, and doctors. Surviving soldiers told that nurses pleaded for the lives of the newborns and their mothers, but received only bullets or bayonets as a response.
All throughout the city, the rampant bloodshed continued. Adding to the catastrophe were incoming Americans, forced to fight a bloody house-to-house and block-to-block battle against an a foe who cared little for his own life, much less the lives of others. Conservative estimates put the month-long slaughter at more than 110,000 civilians.
As American forces worked their way through the city, they encountered the gruesome reminders of a vicious enemy and death…random, massed, purposed, intentional death. The Manila Massacre reached all parts of the city and surrounding countryside. No Philippino was safe, whether she or he was in the open or, in the case of February 10th, under the protection of the Red Cross.
Recommended Reading: The Sack of Manila – This website gives a lot of detail about the Manila Massacre…maybe a little too much detail for some stomachs. Many of the descriptions and photos are quite disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.