Since Manila is the only place enjoying the media of press and correspondence, our only source of information in this wide and mountainous habitat is the radio. There is a heated contest of broadcasts between the warring radio stations as to whether the defense of Bataan and Corregidor by the USAFFE forces had been heroic or cowardly. The Allied radio claimed that the resistance offered by these fortresses was as epic as it was desperate, and that it yielded only because of the heavy avalanche of men and armaments which Japan rained on them, as well as the lack of supplies and ammunition on the part of the defending forces.
Tokyo however retorted—and this was relayed to Berlin and Rome—that the American claim was an empty yarn. It further asserted that Bataan and Corregidor collapsed like cardboard castles without putting up any significant resistance.
One who listens to only one side of the contesting broadcasts would get incomplete—not to say incorrect—information. But by listening to both sides, neither could one tell which one to believe.
The same heated contest of broadcasts occurred over the battle of the Coral Seas. Radio San Francisco claimed that the Allied forces sunk fifteen enemy ships and that they themselves suffered light casualties. Radio Tokyo replied that the Japanese forces sunk twenty Anglo-American warships and challenged Washington to publish the Allied losses and the extent of their naval disasters. If we believe the broadcasts from Tokyo and Berlin, it would appear that the American naval forces in the Pacific have been annihilated. The broadcasts from San Francisco and London give the impression that the American naval victory in the Coral Seas had decisively smothered Japanese attempt to invade Australia.
Regarding the defense of the two fortresses, some combatants related many incidents attesting to the courage and bravery of the defense line. As far as I see it, the defense was characterized more by the prudence rather than the heroism of the defenders. The desire to prevent further suffering and save human lives prevailed over the desire to inflict the maximum damage on the enemy and write a brilliant military history.
Some of the soldiers claim that very few of their men died in combat and that they did not suffer from hunger although provisions were a little difficult. They were therefore surprised when their superiors ordered the surrender because they were convinced that they had enough power to continue fighting.
Of course, the one who spoke were the combatants on reserve who hardly saw battle. Those in the frontline and in fields of encounter were already exhausted. Sick with malaria and dysentery and debilitated by lack of food, many were hardly on their feet.
The High Command must have been fairly convinced that, without hope of an early reinforcement, prolonged resistance would have been suicidal.
But had the defenders utilized the natural and artificial defenses available, they could have caused considerably more damage to the enemy.
Witnesses whom I interviewed were unanimous on the Filipino soldiers’ manifestation of gallantry and courage during the whole period of fighting. In Bataan, the Philippine Constabulary and the Philippine Scouts fought on the frontline of defense, sometimes assisted by the American Thirty-First Regiment.
Most of them were new recruits, untrained in the art of battle. Their superiors, convinced of the futility of sacrifice, did not require them to fight with the utmost degree of heroism. This speaks highly of the humanitarian rather than military sense of the High Command.
A marked contrast is noticeable between the strategies of the Americans and the Japanese. It has never been a part of the Americans’ military program to fight to the last man. If they cannot fight with advantage or the hope of success, they would either abandon the battlefield or surrender. As soon as the Japanese had landed in the north and south of Luzon and destroyed the first line of defense in Pangasinan and Tayabas, the Americans abandoned all ideas of organizing a vigorous resistance against the invaders. Their strategy consisted in delaying the enemy’s advance by blowing up all bridges in order to give their troops ample time to retreat to Bataan. They declared Manila an open city and left all towns open without any official declaration.
They attempted, with such moves, to spare these places from destruction and save the lives of their soldiers so that they might fight instead in Bataan. However, they were not able to spare the cities and towns from destruction, for what was spared by war was not spared by vandals and looters.
Neither in Bataan nor in Corregidor did the defenders fight to the peak of heroism. They were neither cowards nor were they remiss in their military responsibilities. They fought until Bataan was technically taken but not until death. In Corregidor, they fought with bravery while they could keep the enemy at a distance, but they surrendered as soon as the enemy crashed the gates. Many if not all of the combatants wanted to fight to the finish. The North American war plan, however, was not a useless sacrifice of soldiers for the heroic defense of just one or two fortresses.
We do not know the Japanese mettle in resisting, since none of their towns or properties had ever been subjected to the test of a serious attack. But if we are to judge them by their aggressiveness in assault, then their tenacity and constancy cannot be gainsaid.
We cannot say whether this indifference to death and this daring ferocity are due more to the soldiers’ bravery, valor, or to the strict requirements of the army. The Japanese are very patriotic and disciplined. Their patriotism is for them almost a religion. They are accustomed to deprivation, hardships, the most trying strifes, and the most rigorous military discipline.
It should be noted that the Imperial Army employs a good number of the suicide squads—exalted patriots who would offer their lives to inflict the greatest damage and destruction on the enemy. The Japanese themselves attributed the debacle caused on the American Contingent at Pearl Harbor, and the sinking of the Prince of Wales, to a certain number of volunteers who offered to guide the torpedoes which destroyed both targets, with the Japanese guiding the torpedoes.
If the Japanese would someday find themselves in a situation similar to Bataan, they would suffer more casualties than the USAFFE, and they would resist more violently before surrendering, if they would surrender at all.
The Japanese Army is more mechanized in the moral and spiritual rather than in the material sense. Its war machine is more tempered in discipline and organization than in its steel artifacts. To be defeated, they must be annihilated. And this can be done only by a force superior in quantity and quality in terms of planes, tanks and naval equipment. They will not run away in the face of more numerical superiority as did the British in Malaya and the Americans in the Philippines.
And before thinking of surrender, they would rather commit group or mass suicide.
A few days ago, a Japanese officer told me, “A Japanese soldier will not surrender. He will fight to the end, willing to die for his Emperor. If captured alive, he would rather cut his tongue with his teeth than tell the whereabouts of his troops”. In fact, there were instances when this was literally done.