Memorial Day should be about honoring those who lost their lives while defending this country. Two books have recently been published that highlights the War in the Pacific during WWII where America fought against Japan. The first book by Marcus Brotherton and Tosca Lee, titled, The Long March Home, is a fictional account of how three friends enlisted and were sent to fight in the Philippines. After reading that account, readers will want to understand and educate themselves about this part of the War that has taken a backseat to the European Theatre. To comprehend everything people should read To the End of the Earth by John McManus, non-fiction book three of the Pacific War Trilogy.
After reading the fictional book readers’ interest should be piqued. They will want to read To the End of the Earth: The US Army and the Downfall of Japan, 1945, a non-fiction book that shows the history of the U.S. Army’s part in the Pacific War during World War II. From the battles on Luzon in the Philippines, including the brutal struggle in Manila, to the savage fighting on Okinawa, and the action in the China-Burma-India theater, McManus provides an infantryman’s view of warfare. This book is a solid mix of strategic insight, tactical analysis, and ground-level fighting.
While reflecting on Memorial Day Americans should remember the stats that McManus referred to in his book: 12, 935 American POWS of the Japanese lost their lives, a 37% death rate as well as 111,606 were killed or MIA.
Elise Cooper: What does Memorial Day mean to you?
John McManus: It is the most somber of holidays. By design, Memorial Day reminds us of the substantial human cost of our way of life. On Memorial Day, it is worthwhile to pause for a few moments and reflect on someone who has lost his or her life in the service of this country.
EC: There is a lot of discussion about the Nazi atrocities but not so much about the Japanese atrocities: can you explain them: the beatings, humiliation, and slave labor-the brutality of the Japanese?
JM: Japanese policies and atrocities led to a lesser-known holocaust in Asia and the Pacific. This consisted of slave labor, economic exploitation, human medical experiments, germ, chemical and biological, and the terrible mistreatment of prisoners. During World War II, the Japanese considered voluntary surrender as the ultimate form of dishonor. Thus, they viewed Allied prisoners as unworthy of treatment as fellow soldiers and even basic human beings. This created a situation in which Japanese captors were free to starve, beat, abuse, and sometimes even torture their prisoners.
EC: What do you want Americans to understand about the difference between the European and Pacific fronts?
JM: In general, duty was more difficult in the Pacific. There was less infrastructure and fewer luxuries. Conditions were often horrendous—heat, humidity, mud, insects, and difficult terrain proliferated. The combat was more savage and brutal. In general, Pacific theater engagements were fought to the finish, with neither side giving any quarter to the other. Japanese soldiers were usually determined to fight to the death or commit suicide rather than surrender.
EC: You describe General MacArthur as an enigma: please explain!
JM: He could be honorable, gentlemanly, considerate, valorous, and insightful. But he was also conniving, self-serving, pompous, megalomaniacal, selfish, and vainglorious. In spite of his good qualities, I do see him as a troubling figure. I put in this book quote, “MacArthur oozed a sense of captivating uniqueness… Over three years of war, he had carved out a record as a thoughtful military strategist, an innovator with a strong grasp of the potency of air and sea power, and an inspirational figure…But far too often, he had also revealed himself to be a petty, paranoid, insecure, vainglorious, egomaniacal schemer.”
EC: Do you agree with MacArthur that the major objective was to liberate the Philippines?
JM: As I mentioned in the book, I’m ambivalent. By 1944, the basic choice for Allied strategists was whether to invade the Philippines or Formosa (Taiwan). There were some good reasons to invade the Philippines. Control of the archipelago would sever Japanese sea lanes between the resource-rich Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Japan. The liberation of 17 million Filipinos, most of whom were pro-American, and suffered badly under the Japanese, made good moral sense. But liberation of the Philippines meant bringing war and its inherent dislocation, destruction, privation, and savagery to the country. That was indeed tragic but it’s also important to remember that the Filipinos played a leading role in the liberation of their country. The American invasion made that possible. An invasion of Taiwan probably would have been every bit as bloody and destructive, and the population probably would have been hostile to the US.
EC: Was the Philippines really the true nexus of the American war against Japan?
JM: It really was. The US fought two major campaigns there. Hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women were stationed there or fought battles on Philippines’ soil. Basically, if you were a PTO veteran, there was a better than average chance that you served in the Philippines.
EC: It seems you explain why the A-bombs were necessary to be dropped on Japan-you put it into factual context: Can you discuss the points made:
JM: The war’s final act rested with the Japanese…the Japanese ultimately had to choose between the nihilistic course of fighting to a bloody extinction or finding some other way out of the vise grip in which they now found themselves. Even after the dropping of the bombs, the Japanese could have decided to fight on indefinitely, to the point of their own extinction. It is worth remembering that the Americans had fire-bombed Japan’s cities and killed hundreds of thousands of people over a 3–4-month period in 1945. So, the US had, in effect, decided to kill Japanese with some degree of impunity. In that context, the atomic bomb was just one more terrible weapon of destruction designed to bring Japan to its knees.
EC: What do you want Americans to understand about the conclusion of the Pacific war?
JM: It is hard to envision any scenario in which the war did not end without an untold amount of human death and tragedy. The ending in the summer of 1945 was bad, but the war could well have continued for much longer, maybe even for the rest of the 1940s. So, as bad as the end was, it really could have been worse. THANK YOU!!