By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

(October 1994)

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HE RECENT commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Douglas MacArthur's Leyte Landing was plagued with problems. But the biggest problem was not immediately observable. It needed to be pointed out, with supporting information, in an article by KAMALAYSAYAN published in The Sunday Times. With the limited space that could be alloted to the occasional "History Notes" item in the Times, so little, in fact, could be told.

          The biggest problem of the Leyte Landing commemoration is that it paid homage to a flawed hero. That the actor who played the part in the reenactment stumbled and almost fell flat on his face has nothing to do with this assertion. From the viewpoint of history, superstar status for Gen. Douglas MacArthur has been grossly underserved. This point stands even if we do not include in the balance his recall from the Korean War for his insubordination and preference for nuclear adventurism.

Overrated Hero

       READING the book, The Philippines: A Continuing Past, written by historians Renato Constantino and Letizia R. Constantino, should serve to put in his proper place the highly overrated "hero" of the anti-Japanese resistance:

       "(The) MacArthur defense plan...called for total defense of the islands by stopping the enemy on the beaches. It meant deploying both men and materiel in all areas where landings might be expected. Such a plan would have required a massive well-trained, mobile and well-supplied force. MasArthur was confident that the Japanese would not attack earlier than spring of 1942. He convinced the War Department that if the United States could supply the Philippine Army with modern arms, it would be a formidable combat force by that time. As it happened, the Japanese anticipated MacArthur's timetable by several months.

       "But even if MacArthur had had a few more months of grace, it is doubtful that he could have put together the trained military force that his exaggerated reports climed he already had. The fact was that MacArthur's Philippine army existed mostly on paper.

       "The state of unpreparedness of the Filipino troops was truly shocking. They did not have steel helmets or intrenching tools and in many cases, they did not even have blankets or raincoats. Their uniforms consisted of shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, and a pair of canvas shoes, and there were no replacements for these. They had no modern arms on were woefully lacking in even obsolete equipment."

       Further, the nationalist historians note: "In the face of the destruction of the navy at Pearl Harbor, the decimation of his air force at Clark and Iba on the very first day of the war, and the serious setback to the navy when Japanese bombers wiped out its Cavite base on December 10, one also wonders why McArthur still took so long to abandon his pet defense plan. The consequences in military terms and more so in human suffering will readily be seen."

       The Constantinos reveal that a passage in the 1946 report of the US Senate's joint committee investigating the attack on Hawaii criticized MacArthur for having failed to save at least part of his air force despite a warning he received (after the Pearl Harbor bombing - EACR) nine hours before the Japanese bombs hit Clark. Gen. George Marshall is quoted telling a journalist: "I just don't know how McArthur happened to let his planes get caught on the ground." Lt.Gen.Claire Chennault expressed his view of that debacle more frankly: "If I had been caught with my palnes on the ground... I could never again have looked my fellow officers squarely in the eye."

       And so, the Japanese did overcome the American forces under MacArthur's command, and our "superhero," far from putting up a heroic resistance, simply fled to the safety of Australia. He even used ill-trained and grossly undersupplied Filipino soldiers as human sandbags to cover his retreat, motivating them only with not much more than a promise to return someday.

       We are also told that whild the Filipino forces still resisting the Japanese advance on the Bataan peninsula greatly outnumbered the American and Filipino troops who accompanied MacArthur on Corregidor island, the latter received much, more in terms of food supplies and othe logistics.

       The frequent re-echoing of MacArthur's promise to return served to build up for the man the image of a long-awaited "Messiah." The gross brutality of the Japanese Imperial Army also helped feed that image. The superstar's adulation he received when he finally came back was more an anti-Japanese sigh of relief, and his overbombing of Manila was excused if not completey ignored.

Amnesia On American Brutality

       THE JAPANESE Imperial Army was not able to break the record of genocidal brutality suffered by the Filipino nation at the hands of an earlier colonial conqueror. Yes, the Filipino casualty figure during the Philippine- Americn War (going well beyond the half-million mark) and the scale of arson ("howling wilderness" in Samar, for example), and forms the of torture (that made one Filipino mother choose to die with her child in the flames of her burning house than be captured by the occupation soldiers), was not even approached by the Japanese invaders. The scale of brutality of American soldiers in Vietnam 60 years later.

       However, the Filipinos suffering under Japanese occupation awaited the "Second Coming" of MacArthur, having almost completely forgotten the honors of the American forcible occupation of the Philippines just two generations earlier. They had also almost completely forgotten that the "Messiah" they were waiting for was the son of one of the leaders of the U.S. occupation force.

          What accounts for this amnesia? The effective influence of an earlier period's "American Junk," namely hollywood, the books, the magazines, and the chocolates. Add to this the point that the American invaders in their time erased memories of war in the most absolute manner -- they killed and buried the brains that carried those memories! Thus our nation contracted collective amnesia on American brutality and hated only that of the Japanese imperialists.

          Because MacArthur had blundered in December 1941, our people had to suffer hunger and humiliation, Filipinos had to bleed, languish in jails and perish. But his responsibility for the military fiasco that was the beaches-oriented "MacArthur Defense Plan" was nowhere in the minds of the throngs who were welcoming him and his "liberation" (read: reoccupation) troops in 1944 with V- signs and shouts of "Victory, Joe!" Much less were the horrifying facts about the Philippine- American War anywhere near their minds. 

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)



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