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Fateful February




Jullie Y. Daza

Jullie Y. Daza

It was Manila’s fate to be caught between the supersized ego of American Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the loyalty of Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita to his emperor. The world’s two most powerful generals fought the Battle of Manila at a cost of 100,000 civilian lives and the destruction of the Pearl of the Orient. Today, opinion is not 100 percent unanimous that US forces won the war, even with Yamashita’s execution by hanging exactly one year later, in February 1946. Neither will lawyers agree if Yamashita got a fair trial after they read James M. Scott’s book, Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila.

February marks not only the anniversary of EDSA People Power but also the 79-day battle for the city of Manila 74 Februaries ago. Scott’s book could not have arrived at a more dramatic time. The devastation of Manila – some of the ruins in Intramuros have been preserved, perhaps as a memento of war – is faintly recalled as a page or two, a black-and-white picture or two in some book or other. The generation of my parents is gone, and what soon-to-be 90-year-olds remain, they have forgotten WWII due to their old age or their ability to bury a traumatic past with its audacious memories. The present generation has no idea of war except its cinematic possibilities.

Scott’s book, despite its length, should encourage them, millennials or not, to learn about the three-year Japanese occupation, told as it is by a story-telling journalist, not a historian. The characters — Filipino civilians, US troops, Japanese villains — are flesh-and-blood real, many of them speaking in their own voices; what was done to the casualties of war, dead or alive, reads like a horror-cum-action-fantasy screenplay.

I found Scott’s account of the trial of Yamashita most intriguing. A poet till the day he died, writing his obituary in three lines, he was tried by an American military court, defended by lawyers who were all GI’s. The jury is still out: Did Yamashita deserve a fair trial, in the first place?

If a movie were to follow the success of Rampage, the trial should fascinate to the end. Except that Yamashita was not photogenic in any sense of the word.

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