A Painful Recall: Battle of Manila (February 3 – March 3, 1945)

Originally authored on February 1, 2019

Did the Americans destroy Manila in 1945?

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“It was a firebath! All around us there were explosions and fires, the best imagination of hell one could get.” Manila was being destroyed from inside and out. Men, women, and children retreated below ground where conditions inside cramped air raid shelters deteriorated as the hours turned to days. Bunkers built to house a single family at times held multiple. “We lived like dogs”, as recalled by an American internee in Santo Tomas.

The immediate objective of Americans in 1945 was to rescue the POWs in Cabanatuan and the internees at Santo Tomas. Once this was achieved, the Americans turned their attention to Manila, and this time, avoiding civilian casualties was no longer a concern. Some historians put the sole blame for Manila’s destruction upon the general’s ego and hubris; that MacArthur had to prematurely launched the assault on Manila so that he could personally trumpet the city’s liberation as his crowning achievement in fulfilling his “I shall return” at the earliest possible moment.

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Relentless American attack, carpet bombings, and artillery barrages resulted to the city-wide devastation and a ghastly carnage of Manila’s civilian population of underestimated 100,000 Filipino men, women, and children who lay dead in the city’s ruins. The awful stench of death did not stop the search for lost relatives and loved ones.

It was uncanny that even a known Filipino chemist, food technologist, and designated captain of Marking’s Guerilla, Maria Y. Orosa, was one of the victims. She smuggled food for the American civilians interred at the UST campus, the inmates of concentration camps, guerillas in the frontlines, and civilians who could have starved to death. While immersed in food preparation at Bureau Plant Industry, her place of work, she was hit by the friendly fire. Immediately, when rushed to nearby Remedios Hospital, another bomb exploded which caused her instant death.

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The Filipinos lost irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures in the resulting bloodbath and plunder of Manila, remembered today as national tragedy. Old Spanish churches, the ancient walled city of Intramuros, the 160-acre historic heart of Manila built soon after the city’s founding in 1571 and their accompanying treasures were ruined. The cultural patrimony of the Orient’s first truly international melting pot – the confluence of Spanish, American, and Asian cultures, was virtually wiped out.

According to William Manchester, an American historian and biographer of MacArthur, “the destruction of Manila was one of the greatest tragedies and the second most devastated Allied Capital of World War II. Once renowned as the gleaming Pearl of the Orient was reduced to rubble. Aerial photo of post liberation Manila might easily be mistaken for images of Hiroshima after the atomic bombing.

When the dust had settled, there was desolation. Gone was the city described by Daniel Burnham as “unique in the history of modern times which could equal the greatest of the Western World with unparalleled and priceless addition of a tropical setting.” New York Times in 1932 declared that “From the top of the University Club, Manila seems half hidden in a canopy of green trees, a city within a park.”

A post-war American survey estimated the damage to Manila by today’s figures would run more than $10 billion. Filipinos wrapped in lingering trauma and grief believed the sprawling capital never fully recovered, considering the funds provided by the US government for rehabilitation and the reparation by Japan were not commensurate to the extent of rampage and loss of lives.

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If our country was not dragged into the war and took bullets for the Americans, if the annihilation of Manila in 1945 did not happen, we would have a different Philippines today.

References: Battle of Manila, James Scott
Ricardo Morales, HistoryNet Jerry Morelock,
WorldViews Ishaan Tharoor

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

* – credits to the owner/s for the pictures

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