presents for the first time ever online the complete and unabridged versions of two articles by Peter Parsons: The Battle of Manila: Myth and Fact, A Research Odyssey delivered on February 7, 2008 at the Ortigas WWII Library; and Memorare Meme, The Magic number: 100,000, a companion piece written and added to the main body of the surrounding work about ten years later.

Peter Parsons was born in Baguio in 1937. When WWII began he was immediately put under house arrest by the Imperial Japanese Army. At the time of the family’s departure from the Philippines, (his father’s  claim of diplomatic privilege as Panamanian Consul was granted) Peter became the country’s youngest guerrilla when he held on to the intelligence papers that his father had accumulated. Discovery of those sheets would have meant instant death. Peter now lives in Baguio, has produced documentaries on subjects related to WWII in the Philippines, and too, has several novels, short stories and memoirs to be soon available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Smoke from artillery fire wafts across the ruins of southern Manila on February 23, 1945, as US troops prepare to assault the Walled City. Pictured on the right are the battered General Post Office and the remains of the Santa Cruz Bridge. (National Archives)

The Battle of Manila: Myth and Fact, A Research Odyssey

February 7, 2008 at the Ortigas WWII Library

I have stated from the outset, when I was first invited to present a paper here, that I am not an historian. I worked 35 years in California as a newspaper person and printer. I retired from that to writing fiction–short stories mostly—still my preference if I were not so involved with Philippine WWII history. Some would like to suggest I am still writing fiction.

            But the demands of history are very interesting. I don’t feel that the restraints of truth are a terrible burden to labor under. But I have also discovered that truth is as elusive as water in your hand, it wiggles like an eel, and can often be better informed from the gut than from the brain.

My former partner in videos, Morgan Cavett remarked once, after we had recorded two totally contradictory interviews, one with guerrilla Edwin Ramsey, and one with Luis Taruc. Each ended up calling the other a liar (Ramsey called Taruc a lying sonofabitch)( and Taruc said he had to imprison Ramsey for being a “disrespectful womanizer”)—Morgan, who was running the camera, said, “Well, that seems to be how history is constructed; our job is just to record what the participants say.”

Commander Chick Parsons on one of his SpyRon missions aboard the USS Narwhal. (photo courtesy of Peter Parsons)

            Trying to find out the truth about my father’s life and work here in the Philippines, for instance, was a wonderful training ground. So many things written about him, and even by him, were untrue: his US Navy biography gives his birth year as 1902. Wrong. No one knew (but him) until the late 80’s just before he died, that he was born in 1900. The only document where he stated his correct birth date was his marriage certificate; this was also the only document wherein my mom’s age was entered incorrectly (probably to make it seem like she was eighteen instead of her real age: 16).

            He included in his resume that he had two years of college at the U of Tennessee. And two more years at the University of the Philippines. Wrong again.

            A search of records in Tennessee did not reveal him as a student at any of their campuses.

            And as for UP, I found a letter from the bursar there indicating a partial refund of my father’s tuition–at his request–as he was dropping his classes.

            The trail my father left behind was an intellectual boot camp, and led me to the National Archives in both Manila and in the United States, as well as to many military repositories of war documents.

And of course, to many people whom we interviewed because they either knew or had worked with Commander Chick Parsons, or had good stories to tell about him.

While we did this, we inadvertently picked up hundreds of hours of wonderful–and now-invaluable–oral history: about 90% of these interviewees have died. I know there are several of you in here tonight and I can only thank God that He has spared you!

            Now, more to the point of our documentary, Manila 1945, The Forgotten Atrocities, which we are, mercifully, not showing here this afternoon. I will say that I stumbled across these grim findings while searching for my father.

I had not yet started to read the books on WWII history in the Philippines. I acquired nearly all the still pictures as well as the military footage (both American and Japanese) at College Park, Maryland; from the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA; from the Military archives at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania; and from local historians such as Rico Jose and Bubi Krohn, and Ernie de Pedro at Santo Tomas, and the material to be found at the Lopez, Ayala and Intramuros sources. Videographer Lucky Guillermo, my partner in this film, has a surprising collection of WWII footage.

I found that the condition of the war crimes papers in Manila was very poor–bundles of papers being tied together with twine that was cutting into the deteriorating bundles. The photos seemed to have disappeared, and the woman whom I asked about them got very surly and uncooperative. This was probably an appropriate reaction to my natural charm.

An American soldier in Manila rescuing a wounded Filipino girl (Time February 1945 from MacArthur Archives)

In Maryland I learned to use white cotton gloves to handle photographic material. All pictures copied were imprinted with the National Archives permiso and logo [“Acquired at the National Archives”]; all textual material was similarly marked as OK. You could stay there from 9 a.m. to about 9 p.m. And we did. We were carefully inspected as we left. I wanted to live there, I mean inside there.

            There are two very basic books on the Battle of Manila, Bibles sort of. One is Alfonso J. Aluit’s By Sword and Fire published in 1994; the other is a US Army publication of 1963 by Robert Ross Smith called Triumph in the Philippines.

There are a lot more, including one I refer to later, published to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the catastrophe. But there is little that can be added to what is written in the first two.

The many memoirs and personal stories lend depth and color and horror, and it is recommended to any student or researcher to read them all.

There was also an early equivalent of Aluit’s book in Spanish called El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas, by Antonio Perez de Olaguer, which was published in Spain in 1947 while the wounds were still raw. An abridged version of this–in English–with a new title, a bit more politically acceptable these days, Terror in Manila, February 1945,  was produced by the Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation in 2005. 

These three books form a deeply and broadly researched platform from which to dive into the subject. I did not know of any of these in the mid-90s.

The memories of those times were so dire that many memoirists, like Lourdes Montinola and Elena Lizarraga only dared face their pain after the passage of 50 and more years. [I am batting .500 here; Elena died shortly after our interview, but I am happy to say that Lourdes marches on strongly—though she is not here tonight because she is seeing a doctor.]

            When I came across the War Crimes Investigation report in the National Archives compiled during February, March and April of 1945, I nearly swooned.

There were dozens of people mentioned there that I knew or had known both before and after the war. I never knew that my father’s office manager in Hong Kong had lived on Calle Estrada and that his father, Eustacio Barros, had been wantonly killed by a Japanese soldier when he left his burning house.

I read about the massacre at the Perez Rubio home on Vito Cruz, complete with my own father’s testimony, drawings and photos. And the simultaneous massacre on the other side of the shared-wall at the home of Lianteng Sy (on Balagtas St.)—who’s only surviving family member is a good friend of mine. On and on.

A Filipino resident stares at his family, gunned down by Japanese machine guns at Colorado Street, Ermita district while attempting to escape Manila. Time Feb 9, 1945. (Phil government archives) (Malacanang Palace Presidential Museum & Library)

            I also discovered that the massacres in Manila were not owned by a Spanish and mestizo elite.  Here were the names and pictures of Filipino after Filipino, plus Irish, Russians, Germans, Chinese, Spanish, Americans, Jews (of whatever nationality) all being killed indiscriminately.

But at heart, it was a Filipino event, a Filipino massacre: a nearly totally forgotten occurrence. And this became what I wanted to portray in our documentary. But at that time my main effort was to discover material about the Philippine resistance movement, the guerrillas, and wherever possible about my father in particular.

            Finally, there was, on pages 33-35, the blazing testimony of Nicanor Roxas, a secretary to President Laurel in the provisional government, telling what he had been told by Pio Duran, the second supreme head of the Makapilis,  namely that the Japanese had planned to destroy Manila and the civilian population; he said the Japanese had located heavy artillery and aimed it at Manila from positions surrounding the city.

Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita testifies in his defense in a packed Manila courtroom on Nov. 28, 1945.(NARA)

In the documentary film by David B. Griffin perhaps you noticed a very young Carlos P. Romulo and narrator Griffin saying that Yamashita asked for instructions from Tokyo and the destruction of Manila and its population was his answer. I had not come across this brief documentary before doing my own, and I am surprised and gratified that our conclusions are nearly identical, though separated by nearly 65 years.

            At the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, we read guerrilla reports being radioed to MacArthur’s GHQ outlining the buildup of defenses within the city of Manila by the Japanese.

These reports were from people like the Captain Bartolomeo Cabangbang, who came in by submarine with my father on the east coast of Luzon in August of 1944, and Lt. Edwin Ramsey, leader of the East Central Luzon Guerrillas Area.

Amidst the rubble of Manila, Edwin Ramsey stands with John Boone, one of his commanders. Both received the Distinguished Service Cross from MacArthur on June 13, 1945 (photo J Boone)

This defensive/offensive buildup started immediately after the departure of President Laurel and others of his cabinet, to Baguio. The communiqués are replete with locations of pillboxes, ammunition dumps, fortifications, troops, and information about buildings and bridges being prepared for demolition. This activity began while Yamashita was still in town. The fortification was going on during December and January.

There is even one astonishing recommendation from Cabangbang in which he recommends to MacArthur that US planes bomb a certain location on the Escolta where Japanese had stored weapons and explosives.

Disposition of Manila Naval Defense Force dated 21 Jan 45 compiled by OB Section G-2 XIV Corps

            That President Laurel was told by General Yamashita Manila would be declared an open city may have been true. Even guerrilla reports 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 would see in my video (albeit briefly) shows at least 15 manned fortifications throughout Manila during February 1945. A radio message to MacArthur on January 13, 1945 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.” Does this sound like anyone is thinking “open city?”

            We have testimony from one woman, Lita Rocha Clearsky 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. 

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.

            A few myths I have intended to put to question, if not if not demolish with this little talk 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;

And 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.]

General Tomoyuki Yamashita returns to his cell at the end of a day in court listening to testimony against him in the war crimes trial at Manila. (NARA)

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 is also interesting that the Japanese planned a defense of the city that consisted 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 it on fire.

Not content with torching Binondo and Tondo, they also began setting fire to the Ermita area. So much for the bottled-up 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 one of the men who was somewhat 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 after finding toy pistols in their house.

            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.”

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 the authors mean “fight to the death of all civilians?” This was a fairly rogue concept at the time.

            The Japanese began rounding up civilians in Fort Santiago on February 4th. On the 6th they start killing off these people mostly by burning them alive and also by setting them on fire. 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 killing field with no one spared on account of age, sex, or nationality. Various killings took place house to house throughout Ermita, Malate and Paco not to mention those committed at the Red Cross HQ on Isaac Peral.

            And the Japanese were still not “bottled up.” Although some think this might have happened as early as the 10th, it is Rear Admiral Iwabuchi himself who declares this to 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.”

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.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the ruins of his home atop the once-luxurious Manila Hotel on Feb. 23, 1945. (NARA)

            This phrase “bottling up” the Japanese is in itself an 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, and Aluit echoes him. They had nearly free passage to the east, past Ft. McKinley.  And even in mid February there was no fighting 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 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.  

If this was the procedure for local decisions, consider the added complications of needing permission from Tokyo.  Neither Iwabuchi nor Yamashita could have ordered or performed the massacres this organized and of this magnitude without having received such orders, or received permission to commit them.

Emperor Hirohito at a military review in Tokyo in 1937. (AP Photograph)

            The important thing to remember is 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.  It is important to note the hidden role of Emperor Hirohito in all the Japanese military actions of this war; and it is inconceivable to think that he did not know of the horrible things his troops were doing in China and 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 was also operating here in the Philippines—in Mindanao and who knows where else.

[Another side note: the Japanese were prepared to drop flea bombs on Bataan if they could not take it militarily: read Bubonic Plague.]

            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; 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  and its devilish human experiments often sans benefit of anesthesia. The fact that no one was tried from this 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 fire.

But the Emperor only gave in 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.0

Emperor Hirohito inspects Japanese troops in 1937 (photo by Edward Lengel)

            The American troops in Manila came 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 as a last resort, by shooting them).

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 northern Borneo to the other–a decision which caused the elimination of ALL 2,500 Australian POWs (except for the six who escaped). 

            The un-named 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.  

Brigadier General Carlos P. Romulo, Resident Commissioner of the Philippines to the United States and Chairman of the Philippine delegation to the San Francisco Conference broadcasting via Office of War Information (O.W.I.) From his FB Page

His warnings that the guilty would be brought to trial proved wishful thinking. 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, 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 over the Japanese.

As simplistic as this must sound, it is also probably the absolute truth of the matter. From this you would have to examine the culture of the Japanese military, the Emperor worship, the pride factor, the various codes like Bushido and Samurai. But the heart of the matter is sadly, that the Filipinos preferred the Americans over the Japanese.

Col. Emmanuel V. De Ocampo after liberating the Philippines, 21 years old.

            In Manila, the thoughts of an escape route for the “bottled up Japanese” is totally irrelevant. I have talked to Emmanuel Ocampo, a guerrilla with the ROTC Hunters, who has told me that the southern part of the city would have been easy for the Japanese to leave from had they wanted to.—And this confirms Rod Hall’s thoughts that the southern attack began too late.

The Lingayen invasion was on January 9; the 11th Airborne paratroopers (511th Parachute Infantry) did not begin to attack in the vicinity of Nichols Field until February 4th; they waited to be joined by the 188th Infantry coming down from Tagaytay Ridge.

Paratroopers of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare for their combat jump on Tagaytay Ridge, 3 February 1945. National Archives (US Army Signal Corps)

Then the combined forces, being shelled by Japanese artillery (from Fort McKinley), engaged the Japanese 3rd Naval Battalion in a battle to reclaim the air base. These were among the strongest defense positions in Manila and the US forces could not claim possession until February 12th.

The oncoming American force south of Manila was somewhat undermanned and also somewhat lost and it actually depended on guerrillas for their advance to the city, which went along the coast from Cavite.

But this begs the question. The Japanese in Manila (with few exceptions) did not intend to escape, and no one has yet written extensively about their trying to or wanting to.  Aluit himself writes that Gen. Yokoyama pointed out to Iwabuchi, as late as February 21, an escape route that a few others had been using, into the foothills of the Sierra Madre. Iwabuchi gave no response to this.

Japanese Rear-Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji

This was essentially the same response he offered on February 14 when Yokoyama offered to organize a counter-attack to free Iwabuchi and his troops.  The rear admiral was engaged in “gyokusai” (glorious self-annihilation).

            The orders came from high up in the military command; they were carried out willingly and often gleefully—there are many reports of the Japanese laughing as they carried their bloody tasks. 

To accuse MacArthur of equal culpability is a real travesty of history and is totally unfair to a brilliant military man who personally cared for the country and its people. 

I suspect that in doing this, Mr. Aluit was responding to some revisionist pressure to bash Americans. The British authors seem to be flexing their intellectual military prowess in the comforts of their English ivory tower. It is always a cheap and easy shot to demean Americans especially dead ones. In these cases it is the truth that gets demeaned.

            I confess to finding a definite and fairly strong anti-American, or at least anti-Macarthur bias in Aluit’s book. But this is not altogether unusual. One of my oldest and best friends is Dr. David Steinberg is certainly no lover of MacArthur, and he is quick to let it show.

            Aluit mocks the General when, at his speech in Malacanang Palace, returning the reins of government to President Osmeña, he choked up and could not proceed.

Aluit quotes the part of Macarthur’s reminiscence that says “It had killed something in me to see my men die.” And says that the General had nothing to say about the 100,000 civilian deaths.

But why did he omit a very powerful and evocative sentence coupled to that quoted:  “To others it might have seemed my moment of victory and monumental personal acclaim, but to me it seemed only the culmination of a panorama of physical and spiritual disaster.” Does this make the man sound like a revenge-driven egomaniac, which is what Aluit claims he was?

He also demeans the American military policy of trying to protect “precious American lives.”  And he also does a deep intake of breath at the discovered cache of food at Santo Tomas Internment Camp, pointing out the scarcity of food in Manila.

Aerial photograph of the Old Hospital (Engineering building) of Santo Tomas University in Manila in 1945.(US Army)

Here is the monumental horde of food (in part): 40 2-oz bottles of Bovril; 120 pounds of coffee; 388 cans of corned beef; various cans of milk, both powdered and condensed; 122 kilos of tiki tiki; 300 2-5/8 oz cans of sardines; 300 6oz cans of dried peas;  6 pounds of black bean soup;  kidney beans, 1239 kilos; mongo beans 283 kilos.

Ok, it seems like a lot at first glance, but there were about 3,500 people already on starvation diets. You figure how long this might last the prisoners.

And yet the author writes: “It startles the mind that there was this much food of this kind at this time available in Manila. At least it was available for the Americans at Santo Tomas.”

And why does he give a dig at the Lichaucos who were doing miraculous work at their home on the banks of the Pasig, by taking in and feeding hundreds of refugees?

“In Santa Ana Marcial Lichauco had the problem of feeding 113 refugees in his home at 2915 Herran Street, but there was powdered milk and oatmeal for his daughters.” Was this because Jessie is an American?

And how can a book of this magnitude and quality (it is possibly the best yet on this subject, given my own quibbling caveats) fail to mention the dirty work of the Makapilis?

Makabayang Katipunan ng mga Pilipino (lit. Patriotic Association of Filipinos), or the Makapili, was a Pro-Japanese Filipino militant group infamous for betraying Filipino guerrillas to the Japanese Kempeitai.

They get two mentions in the entire 456 pages. One is to comment that after the Japanese are routed from one building there were two Filipinos left inside, both of them Makapilis. The other mention of them gives an account of two Filipinos guiding some refugees to a “safe” place, only to return later, laughing with the Japanese soldiers who proceeded to kill the civilians who had thought they were well off. That’s it. And yet they were a very important part of the burning and killing alongside their Japanese partners.

            I have talked with Filipino historians who have told me that had the American thrust towards Tokyo by-passed the Philippines, the suffering here by starvation and by Japanese brutality would have been nearly as bad, or worse, than what actually transpired. 

Guerrilla leader Ramsey wrote that “Manila [is] doomed with widespread starvation.”  There were guerrilla reports that the Japanese planned to take the entire new harvest of rice for their own military uses, and even supervise the harvesting to ensure this.  

Filipino refugees, pick through the wreckage of north Manila, having just crossed the Pasig River following the battle for the Walled City. The nun carries an orphaned infant born just 3 days earlier. (National Archives)

Ramsey had written earlier that “In Manila [an] average of 100 persons [are] dying daily due [to] starvation. And Cabangbang had written on December 24 that the “Nip is busy killing civilians in Manila Districts and Bulacan towns just north of Manila” by gathering men, women and children and machine-gunning them. Town officials were being hanged and beaten. This apparently was a sort of preview show of things to come, or better yet, a dress rehearsal.

            Which brings me to yet another myth about the Battle of Manila: the number of dead.

The first time a number appears it is in Robert Ross Smith’s book. He tells how the US Army used the figures of the funeralistas who were tasked with picking up the bodies. To this is added an arbitrary number of those who were killed and never found; and another estimate of those who were burned beyond recovery.  To show how arbitrary these figures are, one pair of historians shortly after the war, wrote that there were 240, 000 civilians who died during the battle.

            I would like to add the deaths by starvation. If they were dying at the rate of 100 every day in December, what would have been the rate in February when food and water were essentially unavailable?

So would this add another 6,000 people, mostly women and children? And those who died of some disease or sickness? Hardly any medicines or medical care was available. Why not add another estimate: say, another 6,000.

And are the killings by Makapilis to be lumped together with those of the Japanese? If not, then maybe throw in another 5,000 or so.

            And what about the apportioning the responsibility for these deaths?

An American soldier watches Manila burn from Parañaque on Feb. 8, 1945. (NARA)

Remember that everything here is an estimate, an arbitrary divvying up of bodies. It seems that the convention is to say that of the 100,000,  30,000 were caused by shelling (meaning American artillery, thus absolving Japanese artillery of any culpability here?); the rest were caused by Japanese atrocities.

What do we do now? Do we add 12,000 to the accepted figure? Do we include these in that number and subtract 6,000 from the American and Japanese responsibilities?

If one would listen to Manila movie maker Nick  de Ocampo, for instance when he spoke to the Manila Studies Association last August, one would hear this incredibly inept observation: “It is obvious that the destruction of Manila was caused by the Americans.”

The destruction of Manila includes the buildings and its inhabitants. Why would the Americans destroy the bridges and then paddle across the Pasig River? Why would they fight their way up to the fourth floor of the UP (Padre Faura) building and then explode it from under themselves only to come crashing down with the debris? 

This represents to me the loose cannon type of historical comment.  I feel that the Japanese, by all rules of war, Geneva Convention (which they had signed but not “ratified”), by all human considerations had a duty to evacutate themselves from Manila; they chose not to; in one sense ALL the deaths and demolitions belong to them.

Other than saying that, it is entirely possible that the conventions in place are fairly accurate. No one will ever know for sure.

            When you listen to and watch the people who survived, you cannot help but feel their anger towards the heavy artillery shelling by the Americans; but you will also sense their hatred of what the Japanese did.  On balance, then and today, they were glad to be liberated even at great cost to themselves and their beautiful city.

            Mrs. Lita Rocha Clearsky has told us of how her aunt tried to wring the neck of an American artillery director for having very recently killed her sister, Lita’s (and Johnny’s too) mother. Friends of my father had their husbands killed by American shells. And no one can forget Carmen Guerrero’s spitting on the first American she came across. Luckily for him she had lots of mala leche but no saliva.

What is interesting is that having given a long paragraph devoted to the horrors of Japanese brutality that killed and tortured members of her family, her most heated vilification is saved for the Yanks, and seems to have become a sort of fashion statement.

Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium secured by an American tank and troops 16 February 1945.

            The “shelling” was not merely from the Americans, however, and I know that there are people in here tonight that could distinguish between the Japanese and the American fire, and between mortars and howitzers. But after the Americans took over Rizal Stadium, the Japanese began to shell the area from Ft. McKinley.

It is really hard for me to understand how flying spotters for the Americans could not make out that people on rooftops waving at them were NOT Japanese. And why did they continue to direct artillery at PGH for over a week? I have a number of people who say they stopped waving and took to their shelters because every time they waved in friendship and hope, down came the shells!

An American Jeep drives past the wrecked Philippine General Hospital, February 1945. (LIFE Photo)

            One thing that no one mentions is the” infernal noise machines” [mentioned by Modesto  Farolan in his war crimes testimony] meant to simulate artillery fire that the Japanese had set up at PGH. I have learned that these machines produced a flash and a noise that duplicated exactly the sounds of large guns. Perhaps it is too inconvenient a truth to include.

Yamashita never declared Manila an Open City, not when he was there and had the power and the authority to do so, and certainly not later when he was holed up in Baguio.

General Tomoyuki Yamashita just after he heard the verdict of death by hanging. He was taken out of the courtroom by military police. George Mountz Collection -Yamashita Trial Photographs, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-2270.

The intent seems clear from the start to defend it to the last man and to kill off the civilians therein. Don’t forget his leaving behind 4,000 of his own forces to defend north Manila. Nor that his reason for bringing the “provisional” government to Baguio was to save their lives! He knew what was going to happen behind him.

            I think we should also remember that when these accused generals, like Yamashita, Homma, Yokoyama were testifying [my dad took us to several of the hearings at the US Embassy] they were not under any constraints to tell the truth before any Christian God; their purpose was to protect their own God, their Emperor.

Better they should be found guilty than a man who we are finding of late was responsible for so much of the cruelty meted out by his troops throughout China and Southeast Asia, where they treated the captured and surrendered as “logs.”

A more eloquent and better summary of what I am trying to say is provided by Armando Ang in his book The Brutal Holocaust:  “According to reliable evidence gathered from prisoners of war, military personnel, Philippine officials and civilians, and Japanese documents, the Rape of Manila was not a random act of melee, mayhem and wanton destruction, but an act of coldly planned atrocities by the Japanese high command from Tokyo.”

I couldn’t say it better myself.

            Thank you.

End Notes:

1Chick Parsons Archives, Baguio City, Philippines.

2 Material gathered was used in the video documentary: Secret War in the Pacific, by the author.

3 Report of Investigation of Alleged Atrocities by Members of the Japanese Imperial Forces in Manila and other — of Luzon, Philippine Islands. Prepared for Headquarters XIV Corps, Office of the Inspector General. April 9, 1945. By Colonel Emil Krause, IGD. And Lt. Colonel R. Graham Bosworth, IGD, during the period 25 February 1945 to 9 April, at Luzon, Philippine Islands—National Archives, USA. [IGD report]

4 Ibid page 33, item 63.

5 Some of these are in the Chick Parsons archives; the complete transmissions are located            in the MacArthur Memorial, Norfolk, VA, USA.

6 Aluit refers to Yamashita’s transferring his headquarters to Baguio on January 2, 1945.

7 Cabangbang reports to MacArthur on Dec. 23, 1944 that his agents working within the “Nip” army and navy that Manila is to be declared an open city on Dec. 26.

8 Cabangbang to MacArthur January 14, 1945; and Ramsey to MacArthur December 24, 1944.

9 Interviewed by author for Manila 1945, Forgotten Atrocities video.

10 Ramsey to MacArthur January 13, 1945

11 Personal communication to the author from Roderick Hall.

12 See page 200 of The Battle for Manila.

13 See page 395 of By Sword and Fire.

14 See Page 180 of Hidden Horrors.

15 Ibid. page 164

16 See page 41 of Horror in the East; and suggested reading: Factories of Death.

17 Ibid. page 69.

18 Page 33, item 61 of the IGD report.

19 Sec page 346 of By Sword and Fire.

20 Ramsey to MacAthur, January 7, 1945

20 See pages 156-157, Brutal Holocaust.

Documents, maps, films, books cited:

Report of Investigation of Alleged Atrocities by Members of the Japanese Imperial Forces in Manila and other parts of Luzon, Philippine Islands.  Prepared for Headquarters XIV Corps, Office of the Inspector General. April 9, 1945. By Colonel Emil Krause, IGD. And Lt. Col. R. Graham Bosworth, IGD, during the period 25 February 1945 to 9 April, at Luzon, Philippine Islands—National Archives, USA. [IGD report]

Japanese colored map of the Military Dispositions in Manila, February 1945; from National Archives, USA.

Unnamed and unfinished and never shown 20-minute documentary narrated and photographed by USMC Captain David B. Griffin. We found this item AFTER we had finished our own film on the same subject. Our conclusions are identical! Gift to author from Bonnie Rowan.

WWII radio communications between Captain Bartolomeo Cabangbang and General MacArthur; also between Lt. Edwin Ramsey, head of the Eastern Central Luzon Guerrilla Area (ECLGA) and MacArthur. Some of these are in the Chick Parsons Archives in Baguio. The complete set resides in the MacArthur Memorial, Norfolk, VA, USA; James Zobel Archivist.

Aluit, Alfonso; By Sword and Fire; Manila, National Commission for Culture and the Arts; 1994

Smith, Robert Ross: Triumph in the Philippines; one of a series United States Army in World War II, is the tenth to be published in the subseries, The War in the Pacific; Office of the Chief of Military History; Department of the Army; 1063: Washington, D.C.

Connaughton, Richard; Pimlott, John; Anderson, Duncan; The Baffle for Manila; London, Bloomsbury, 1995

Tanaka, Yuki; Hidden Horrors; Boulder, CO (USA), Westview, 1996

Rees, Laurence; Horror in the East; Cambridge, MA (USA) DaCapo 2002

Ang, Armando A.; The Brutal Holocaust; Manila, A-1 2005

Background Books:

Perez de Olaguer, Antonio; Terror in Manila; Manila, Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation, 2005 [Abridged translation of El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas; translated by Trinidad 0. Regala; edited by Bernardita ReyesChurchill]

Guell Carmen; La Ultima de Filipinas; Barcelona, Belacqva 2005 [The story of Elena Lizarraga during her ordeal in the battle for Manila.]

Garcia, Joaquin; It Took Four Years for the Rising Sun to Set; Manila, LaSalle University Press 2001

Lichauco, Marcia P.; Dear Mother Putnam; Manila, Lichauco Family 1949

Legarda, Benito J, Jr.; Occupation ‘42; Manila, De LaSalle Univ. Press 2003

Hurley, John F., S.J.; Wartime Superior in the Philippines; Manila, Ateneo de Manila Univ. Press 2005

Hayes, Cmdr. Thomas [edited by A.B. Feuer]; Bilibid Diary; Hamden, CT (USA), Archon Books 1987

Bradley, James; Flyboys; NY and Boston, Back Bay Books 2003

Harris, Sheldon H.; Factories of Death; London and NY, Routledge 1994

Chang, Jung; Wild Swans; London, Globa 1991

Manalac, Fernando I M.D.; Manila: Memories of World War II; Quezon City, Giraffe 1995

Constantino, Renato, Editor; Under Japanese Rule; Quezon City, Foundation for Nationalist Studies 2001

Monaghan, Forbes J; Under the Red Sun; NY, Declan X/1946

Escoda, Jose Ma. Bonifacio M; Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila; Quezon City, Giraffe 2001

Bix, Herbert; Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan; New York, Harper Collins 2001

Browne, Courtney; Tojo, The Last Banzai; Cambridge, MA (USA) DaCapo 1998

de Viana, Augusto (compiler); Remembering World War II in the Philippines; Manila, NHI 2007


Memorare Meme, The Magic number: 100,000

By Peter Parsons

This short piece is being written and added to the main body of the surrounding work about ten years later. I am not writing this as an historian, and am not demanding of myself the rigors of historical research. I am writing as a puzzled and dissatisfied observer.

            I am questioning the accepted standard, the generally given death toll of the Battle of Manila. The figure of 100,000 has become a meme, and accepted “fact” within the culture of misery that is the natural aftermath of WWII in the Philippines.

Horrors, the personal grief, the tragedies of the battle for Manila are beyond words, beyond photographs, and are actually pretty much beyond imagination. But it is not a fact, and it is not based on a referenced source.

            When I came to the subject of my video documentary, Manila 1945: The Forgotten Atrocities, I confess to having accepted the same number. Immersed as I was in one horror after another, one photo after another (many of them, incidentally, taken by my father), one interview after another, each more gruesome than its predecessor, the figure of 100,000 dead was very easy, very comfortable to accept. And I did, with only a few quibbles. And I re-approach this number with some reluctance.

            At that time, having interviewed many survivors and other participants, I succumbed to the meme, and was happy to do so. The stories that stunned me also diminished my historical sense that otherwise would have asked for a source, for proof of that number. The 100,000 had a good feel to it. But no one that used it ever gave a source, or a reference. Not one.

            The entire membership of Memorare seemed to follow and echo the dictate of the chairman, John Rocha. How many times had I heard him solemnly declare “100,000 killed” and furthermore, a certain percentage by “American shelling,” and another percentage by “Japanese barbarity?”

It is not widely known that some Japanese naval guns which had been removed from the super-battleship IJN Musashi prior to its final sortie were allocated to the AA defense of Manila and Corregidor. Lacking artillery spotters, the Japanese utilized these guns indiscriminately as the US forces approached, causing significant damage in the residential areas both to the north across the Pasig River, and to the south at Ermita and Harrison Park.  (Image courtesy of the John Tewell Collection.)

            Incidentally, “shelling” had become another Memorare meme. Shelling was always an American action. Although I pointed out to John that the Japanese had as many or more artillery pieces located all around and within Manila, I could not budge this locked-in given. Even as worthy an historian as James Scott, in his very thorough book, Rampage, on page 422 shows that he too wrote under the influence of the shelling (as well as the number) meme:

            “An estimated 100,000 men, women and children died either at the hands of the barbarous Japanese or under the rain of American shellfire.” –James Scott

American artillery shelling Japs in Manila’s Walled City with 240mm M1 howitzer. US Army Photo 162-1.

            Addressing the question of the magic number, I began to imagine Yankee Stadium filled with corpses; or perhaps Yale Bowl filled twice over with dead bodies. It became increasingly difficult for me to accept the given number. Even though I wanted to.       

            No one wanted to add a certain number who had died of starvation; who had died for lack of medication; or who had suffered and died at the hands of the equally barbarous Filipino Makapilis, those who were happily doing the dirty work of the Japanese for them.

            A very respected historian of WWII in the Philippines, Richard Meixsel, pointed out to me recently that there is ONLY ONE SOURCE for this number. All other writers of that massacre, or rather, that collection of massacres, revert back to Robert Ross Smith, in his seminal work, Triumph in the Philippines. Nobody else had come up with a different, nor an original figure after Smith. It has been the remarks of Meixsel that have prompted me to re-open this subject matter.

            Now the surprise: Meixsel told me that Smith claimed to have gotten that information from a Philippine government source. He did not name the source. There was no further substantiation, no further historical delving. Just the number, 100,000 civilian deaths.

This reference is untraceable, but that has not prevented all Battle of Manila 101 books from using it as FACT. I have already pointed out how James Scott in his Rampage uses that number without a blink nor a blush. And how I too used it. And then members of the Civilian POWs group and other Memorare members are now citing Scott, himself, for that number! We have all used it, and I believe we have all been mistaken in doing so!

            Meixsel has been the only questioning voice in this turmoil. This is pretty much his story, and his quest. I am only scratching at the surface. My hope is that he can pursue his questioning and digging and finally come up with some vestige of truth in the matter. Perhaps even discover an underlying motive for Smith’s use of that number?

            I have suggested to him that someone add up all the massacres “small and large” that have appeared in print. And use that number as a starting point to arrive at a realistic figure.

            His response:

            “To be clear, I am not myself attempting to come up with a death/casualty figure. I am merely attempting to show that the army history’s figure of 100,000 has no data behind it, that the book’s author and his researchers had no idea how many people were killed (and did not [one of them told me] think it possible to find out, either.) They seized upon a big round number to emphasize certain points, which I will attempt to elucidate.”—Richard Meixsel

            I thought that the massacre deaths, plus those from starvation, plus those from lack of medicines, plus those from “shelling,” those from conflagration (both by Japanese and Makapilis), those from the “left behind” by Japanese at the approach of the Yank soldiers (“…there were bodies everywhere…”–Hartendorp), those who were buried privately, those who ended up in neighborhood mass graves, and then add in a figure as an educated guess; and then say a prayer for all those poor souls who suffered and died at that time, and then another prayer for one’s self. How many people have said “there were bodies everywhere,” and when the officer in charge went to investigate, counted 50 or so bodies, then departed due to the stench.

            I realize I will probably be excoriated by many for questioning the meme of the magic number.

            But, in a sense, I am not doing that. I am trying to find a way to substantiate that very number! If I cannot do that, I am willing to propose a new number, one based on observed facts (and prayers), whether it be lower or HIGHER.


Rampage arguably offers the most complete compendium of battle of Manila massacres. I will start with his.

            The Shell Station, bodies piled 8-high; Tabacalera; 6 babies, and another group;

            Entering troops, “a trail of massacres; homes, schools, churches, bodies by the hundreds;”

            Many such sites;

            The Lourdes (Reyes) Montinola family;

            Intramuros (#1);

            Murdered guerrilla suspects;

            De LaSalle College massacre;

            Isabelo de los Reyes Elementary School;

            Sy Pac Lumber yard;

            Fort Santiago (two figures);

            German Club;


            Red Cross;

            Santo Domingo Church;

            Singalong beheading location;

            Intramuros, and Intramuros again;

            San Juan de Dios Hospital;

            St. Paul’s;

            Murdered guerrillas that had been “tried” and sentenced to death at Yamashita’s urging;

            Perez Rubio, Lianteng Sy, Pedro Campos, Dr. Moreta (in these private residences alone there were about 100 innocent civilians massacred;

            I have added up all the Rampage massacres, large and small. I rounded up most numbers and added a generous upward helping. I came up with 14,000 deaths.


From Armando Ang’s Brutal Holacaust:

Philippine Cold Stores;


Taft Ave.;

Spanish priests in Intramuros;

“Dead Everywhere;”

Concordia Convent;


Looban Asylum;

Hospicio San Jose;

National Psychiatric Hospital;

UP College of Medicine;

Men sent from San Agustin to Fort Santiago;

From Ang we add another 4, 000. Running total: 18,000.


Now I will draw from my own video documentary: Manila 1945: The Forgotten Atrocities. (I wonder why so few writers even mention the massacre at the Remedios Hospital, next to the Malate church? This was a case, by the way of nearly all the deaths being caused by AMERICAN SHELLING!) My last add-on figure will be rather small because many of my own listed massacres have already been covered in the two books mentioned above.

Pax court;

Masonic Temple;

Scottish Rite Temple;

Concordia College;

Remedios Hospital;

Sta. Scholastica;

San Lazaro Hospital;

Alinabon Family group;

Vito Cruz;

T.C. Lumber Co.;

Bayview Hotel;

I would put the number for these and some individual families I am not naming here at: 3,000 deaths. Running total: 21,000.

And finally, I will add my estimate of those who died from starvation, lack of medicine or medical care, those found in various neighborhoods in shallow graves, and those found burnt or otherwise savaged in empty buildings and ruins: 6,000.

Thus, my revised figure for the number of deaths resulting, one way or another, from the Battle for Manila: 27,000.


As many people have opined, the Japanese have never recognized nor apologized for their brutal crimes during the Battle of Manila, nor for plenty of massacres throughout the entire archipelago. Perhaps they could not get their heads nor egos around the 100,000 number. Perhaps with a new number nearer 30,000, they might yet come up with a meaningful apology, something more than the “sincere regret” of their ambassador here! The Filipinos deserve better from them!

One further point: I came across one number of 400 estimated deaths at a certain location. It was reported that at that location the funeraria in charge of taking those bodies away, claimed that there were not 400, but 800!

Which is in line with the thinking of my friend, the Australian Paul Whitman, who has claimed from the start that the figure of 100,000 deaths is bogus because it relied heavily on these very mortuaries that received a “per body” amount from the Army. He asks, “What else could you expect besides an inflated number?”

[Rico Jose, in a recent missive to me, disagrees with Whitman’s surmise, and says further that the 100,000 number has no data. It was a number essentially plucked out of the air by RRS. Jose does say that a true number may never be arrived at; and a true number could very well be higher, or lower!]


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