Gen. Douglas MacArthur was born right here in Little Rock, our native son famous for his corncob pipe and Ray-Ban sunglasses.
But MacArthur, the son of a career Army officer who pinballed around the world, claimed another city as his spiritual hometown--Manila.
His father had captured the Philippine capital during the Spanish-American War only for the younger MacArthur to help destroy it during a vicious 29-day urban battle unlike any other in World War II.
That little-known history is the subject of a new book, Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila, by historian and author James M. Scott, who will return to Little Rock to discuss the book, followed by a book signing, at 7 p.m. today at the recently renovated MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, at 503 E. Ninth St. in downtown Little Rock.
Scott spoke to a capacity crowd on April 22, 2015, at the Clinton School of Public Service regarding his previous book, Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor, which was named a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History.
Manila, before the war, was a small slice of America in Asia, filled with elegant neoclassical buildings and spacious parks. Thousands of American service members, as well as employees of companies like B.F. Goodrich and General Electric, enjoyed the good life in the city filled with movie theaters and modern department stores, swimming pools and golf courses.
MacArthur served repeatedly in the Philippines, developing close ties with political leaders. "In this city," he once wrote, "my mother had died, my wife had been courted, my son had been born."
Then came the war.
Japan's near-simultaneous attacks on Hawaii and the Philippines in early December 1941 destroyed MacArthur's idyllic world. Unlike his counterparts back in Washington, far removed from the capsized battleships at Pearl Harbor and the smoldering airfields around Manila, MacArthur and his family lived on the front lines of America's conflict with Japan.
Later driven from the Philippines under the cover of darkness, MacArthur famously vowed to return.
For the general, it was personal. He had abandoned the city with such haste that he had left behind his personal home, filled with thousands of his prized books, his wife's jewelry, his son's toys and his father's mementos of the Civil War.
For three years he clawed his way north through the jungles of New Guinea, each victory a milestone on his return home.
For MacArthur, returning to the Philippines--and fulfilling his promise--had become an obsession, like the white whale was to Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Scott writes.
Finally, in February 1945, American forces reached the doorsteps of the Philippine capital.
Wading ashore at Leyte, MacArthur announced, "I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."
Despite MacArthur's confidence and enthusiasm, however, victory in both Manila and the Philippines would be drawn out, bitter and gory.
On the Allied side was MacArthur and the far larger U.S. and Filipino forces under his command.
In opposition, with far lesser numbers but equally determined, were Japanese forces under the command of Tomoyuki Yamashita, an Imperial Japanese Army general assigned to defend the Philippines.
"Built like a bear, Yamashita stood five feet nine inches tall and weighed 220 pounds," Scott writes. "Homely, with a bald, egg-shaped head, wide-spaced eyes, and a flat nose, he was nicknamed 'Old Potato Face' by Filipinos."
Yamashita was resigned to his fate. He expected to die during the conflict. But he would not go down with a whimper. The Japanese forces were ordered to fight to the death.
Angry at the prospect of facing capture or certain death at the hands of the Allied forces, the Japanese forces retaliated against Filipino civilians with extreme brutality, including rapes, massacres and violent mutilations, which became known as the "Manila Massacre," evoking memories of the earlier Rape of Nanking.
The Battle of Manila, from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945, would feature some of the fiercest urban fighting of the war, resulting in 1,010 Allied forces killed and 5,565 wounded, more than 16,000 Japanese forces killed, and 100,000 Filipino civilians killed.
Yamashita was later tried and convicted of war crimes for the Manila Massacre and hung.
Besides Rampage and Target Tokyo, Scott is the author of The War Below and The Attack on the Liberty.
Please join me and other Arkansans at 7 p.m. today at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History to hear James M. Scott's presentation on Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila.
Jeff Thatcher, a professional communicator and longtime Little Rock resident, is a member of the MacArthur Military History Museum Commission.
Editorial on 10/10/2018
Print Headline: A vow fulfilled