Review: ‘Rampage’ and the horrors of war

Rape. Torture. Massacre. Historian James M. Scott’s ‘Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila’ narrates in gruesome detail the atrocities of World War II for an audience that has not heard its stories, but must in order for the past not to be repeated.

‘Rampage’ is hefty at 640 pages and spares no detail about the worst urban fighting that war ever saw. It also tells the stories of two military generals, the war’s most prominent figures—Douglas MacArthur and Tomoyuki Yamashita.

The event’s 74thanniversary came and went last week with nary a peep from pundits, historians, and the media. The battle lasted from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945, and was part of the 1944-1945 Philippine Campaign. Some 35,000 American troops and 3,000  Filipino guerillas fought against an estimated 17,000 Japanese sailors, marines, and soldiers.

The loss of life was horrific—more than 100,000 civilians were killed, as were 1,010 Allied forces and 16,665 Japanese troops. Manila, then lauded as the ‘Pearl of the Orient,’ was devastated. The grand neoclassical buildings built by the Americans, the walled city of Intramuros and its centuries of Spanish legacy—all were laid to waste.

Scott ransacks a trove of sources to deliver eyewitness accounts of the slaughter, rape, and plunder committed by Japanese forces against Filipinos and foreign civilians. 

He quotes an internee at the University of Santo Tomas: “He saw a high explosive shell hit against human flesh and then dust, debris mixed with human arms, legs, and bodies that were twisted and torn under. Where there were men and women, living and breathing, now only blood, bones, quivering flesh.”

The carnage took place not only at UST but also at the German Club, De La Salle, St. Paul’s College—all over the city, in fact. Inside Intramuros, much of it destroyed by fire, were “the dead bodies of Filipino men, some naked, dangled from lampposts.” Some were “burned alive…Their bodies were just like charcoal.”

To survive, Filipinos ate what they could. “Not just the fruit from banana and papaya trees,” said Andrea Lopez, “but the leaves and even stalks. The wealthier Spanish families offered up pets to the hungry. ‘My family killed four dogs,’ Lopez said. ‘As the people were fighting to get a piece we had to eat it raw most of the time.”

The book contains many other accounts that for some may be difficult to read, as they contain graphic descriptions of wartime violence. Scott examines each atrocity and massacre to bring to a new audience the truth of what happened during that battle, and to honor and remember the victims and survivors who suffered greatly at the hands of the angry Japanese who realized they could not defeat the American forces. 

The Battle of Manila was counted as a success for General MacArthur, who had kept his promise: “I shall return.” After the war, General Yamashita was tried and sentenced for war crimes and hung. Although he did not directly order his troops to commit the atrocities, the war crimes court found him liable for his men’s deeds under the ‘chain of command’ principle. 

It was the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi who ordered his troops to fight to the death, ignoring the Army’s instructions to withdraw from the city and thus frustrating Yamashita’s attempts to face the Americans with a unified defense.

The civilians, Filipinos and otherwise, were helpless against the Japanese rampage. Scott quotes the January 6, 1945 diary entry of Pacita Pestaño-Jacinto: “There is no weapon against cruelty, against warped minds and warped souls.” 

What ‘Rampage’ delivers is the truth of war, the evil of war, and the reasons why modern societies must avoid it at all cost. “Manila has never truly recovered from the battle,” writes Scott. “Not only did the war rob the Philippines of its capital, but it also destroyed generations of families, the effects of which still ripple through lives even today.”

For those for whom World War II is just a vague notion of an old conflict, this should be required reading. Scott’s voluminous research delves into letters, news dispatches, diaries, investigator and court records, and survivor testimony to make the 29-day battle for the city come alive. 

Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila by James M. Scott is available at National Bookstore. Call (02) 8888-627 to inquire for availability or buy online at / FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , Rampage , MacArthur , Yamashita , Battle of Manila , James M. Scott ,
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