The Bataan Death March: The Beast of Bataan Blamed for Atrocities in Philippines

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Caption reads: "This picture, captured from the Japanese, shows American prisoners using improvised litters to carry those of their comrades who, from the lack of food or water on the march from Bataan, fell along the road." Philippines, May 1942. "At the time of its release, this photo was identified as dead and wounded being carried by fellow prisoners during the Bataan Death March in April 1942 ... Subsequent information from military archivists, the National Archives and Records Administration, and surviving prisoners, strongly suggests that this photo may actually depict a burial detail at Camp O'Donnell.

Japanese General Masaharu Homma Defeats American and Philippine forces and earns the name “Beast of Bataan” and Takes the Rap for the Infamous Bataan Death March.

Allied forces in the Phillippines were shorthanded and ill equipped and reinforcements never arrived due to the devastation suffered by the U.S Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

On April, 9th 1942 the Philippines fell to the Empire of Japan. General Douglas MacArthur and Philippine president Manuel Quezon are forced to retreat to Australia and over 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners are taken.

The last two Allied strongholds in the Philippines, Bataan and Corregidor are overwhelmed by superior numbers and heavy artillery attacks and are forced to concede and surrender.

The Death March

The surviving prisoners were then brutally marched over sixty miles from Bataan to San Fernando in Pampanga Province. The unfortunate prisoners were forced to walk for twelve grueling days without food, water, or adequate rest in the searing Philippine humidity.

The POW’s were denied medical treatment for their wounded and when weakened prisoners collapsed or slowed they were bayoneted and left where they fell. Stronger prisoners were forbidden to offer any assistance for their fallen comrades upon pain of death. They were either left to perish in the hot sun or fell victim to an unmerciful Japanese bayonet.

After the cruel Bataan Death March, the survivors were corralled at the POW camp at San Fernando where many more would ultimately die of starvation and disease over the next couple of years. The conditions were harsh and because the prisoners were denied even the basic necessities to survive, the death rate at this Japanese death camp reached over 550 per day.

The details of the atrocities were recounted and documented by the few survivors and one man would ultimately be blamed and punished for this horrid crime after the end of the war.

The Beast of Bataan

General Masaharu Homma, supreme Japanese commander of the Philippines did what no military commander had ever done; he completely routed the understaffed, poorly equipped General Douglas MacArthur and forced him to flee in abject defeat. This political and military embarrassment would later be avenged by MacArthur after the war in deadly and devastating fashion.

Homma was a Western-educated Japanese officer who was not in favor of the war, but as custom dictated he accepted his fate and did his part as a loyal Japanese soldier.

The death march took place in May of 1942 and Homma was relieved of his command on June 9th because his superiors felt it had taken him to long to take the Philippines from a ragtag force of Americans and an unorganized Philippine Army.

Homma, Beast or Scapegoat?

Many debate how much responsibility a commander has for the conduct and actions of his subordinates. Homma claimed to have no knowledge of the death march and pled innocent to all charges.

Douglas MacArthur was responsible for selecting the venue, the defense, the prosecution, and the rules of evidence in the trial of a man who had beaten him on the battlefield. Homma was up against a stacked deck being brought back to Manila to stand trial for war crimes with five American generals as judges, jury, and executioners.

Homma proved a thoroughly unsatisfactory villain though. He had been fighting a war he did not believe in, for a totalitarian regime he detested, and yet, in the end, having to answer with his life for that regime’s savagery and war crimes.

Shortly just before 1:00 a.m., on April 3, 1946 in the tiny town of Los Banos “The Beast of Bataan” was led into an open field where he his body was riddled with rifle fire from twelve army marksman.

Was justice carried out? Did the “Beast of Bataan” get the justice he deserved? Or did MacArthur finally get his revenge on the man who had humiliated him and forced him to flee to Australia?

Homma remains a hero in Japan; he is, after all, the only Japanese general to ever decisively defeat an American army.

Reference:

  1. The Everything World War II Book by David White and Daniel Murphy, P.H.D. 2002 Adams Media
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