When General Douglas Macarthur left American soldiers at the mercy of the Japanese

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When General Douglas Macarthur left American soldiers at the mercy of the Japanese

Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manilaby James M. Scott, W. W. Norton & Company, US $32.95, Pp 636, October 2018, ISBN 978-0393246940

On March 11, 1942, General Douglas Macarthur, his wife, and their four-year-old son escaped from the battered Philippine island of Corregidor. Sixty-two-year-old general and his family were living on half rations and he had already shed twenty-five pounds. The general’s escape came in the wake of a brutal and frantic three months of Japanese offensive. In December 1941, after the Japanese wiped out America’s air and sea power, MacArthur had ordered the evacuation of Manila — once known as the Pearl of the Orient and The Star of Tourism. General MacArthur hoped to spare the city of total destruction. In Rampage, James M. Scott says that MacArthur’s departure was the end of all.

James M. Scott says that, at the time of General MacArthur’s departure from the Philippines, the workers had already emptied the capital’s bank vaults of cash, gold, and securities while the American high commissioner had pulled down the flag, broken the official seal, and ordered his new air-conditioned car pushed into the bay. The general had no choice but to abandon his own luxurious home in the penthouse atop the Manila Hotel, leaving behind his prized library of ten thousand volumes, his family silver valued at more than $30,000. MacArthur’s forces had fallen back to the Bataan peninsula and the fortified island of Corregidor, where the general had set up his headquarters in the network of underground tunnels carved deep into the rocks. Japanese bombs and artillery had since reduced the lush 1735 acre island to a barren wasteland where all that survived of most of the above ground barracks, offices, and even the hospitals were skeletal concrete remains held together by rebar.

Describing the departure of General MacArthur, James M. Scott writes, “The general’s eyes fell upon his troops, who stared at him in silence. In addition to his suitcase, musette bag, and walnut cane, MacArthur would take his wife Jean and son Arthur, the two most precious people in his life. He would leave behind thousands of husbands, sons, and brothers of families back home in America. Families had trusted him.” James M. Scott says that those men would soon face the horrible Death March, followed by years of torture and beatings at the hands of the Japanese. Others would die of starvation, malaria, dysentery or be crammed inside the bowels of Japan’s notorious hell-ships. Beyond his troops, MacArthur’s precious city of Manila was doomed to a brutal three year-occupation that would lead to mass starvation and even the plundering of cemeteries as desperate residents robbed the dead of jewelry, clothes, eyeglasses, and dentures — anything that could be bartered or sold for a few pesos to buy a fistful of rice.

The tropical city of Manila whose sinuous canals, broad bayfront, and ancient Walled City had vanished in a twenty-nine-day battle unlike any other in the Pacific War. Twenty-nine-day fight represented more than just the destruction of roads, buildings, and even lives. The battle served as the violent end to America’s colonial experiment in the Philippines, symbolized by the pulverization of the grand neoclassical public structures that had long represented Washington’s influence in the islands — the General Post Office, City Hall, and the Legislature, Finance, and Agriculture buildings. The United States finally granted the Philippines independence on July 4, 1946.

It was ironical that the bloody end of America’s imperial story should have been written in part by Douglas MacArthur, whose father had helped capture Manila almost half a century earlier. James M. Scott says that few cities in World War II suffered as much as Manila, which endured three years of Japanese occupation that ruined the economy, triggered widespread starvation, and shredded the social fabric. The battle to liberate the city proved an even greater nightmare. The war robbed the Philippines of its capital and destroyed generations of families, the effects of which still ripple through lives even today. Manila has never truly recovered from the battle.

Most Americans believe that America won the World War I but not many know the victory came at a high price to America. We know that wars cause death and destruction but Rampage will tell you how deadly wars can be. Rampage is a necessary addition to the existing body of literature on World War I. This is meticulously researched and superbly written book. With his superb scholarly credentials, James M. Scott has written an amazing history book on an important battle of World War I that will equally benefit both scholars and lay people. In Rampage, James M. Scott shines a light on a not-so-shining part of our military history.

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