MANILA – The fierce monthlong Battle of Manila fought 70 years ago should not only be remembered for the destruction and loss of lives, but also for its strategic importance in the entire Pacific War, according to a Filipino historian.
Ricardo Jose, a history professor at the University of the Philippines, said that the successful liberation of Manila from the Japanese in March 1945 paved the way for the U.S. to start planning for the invasion of Japan.
“After Manila was taken, it became a major staging point,” Jose said in an interview after speaking about the U.S. and Japanese strategies and tactics during the battle a conference last month titled “Manila, My City at War!”
“Portions of it were rebuilt very quickly, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur set up headquarters at the Manila City Hall. And that’s where they planned the invasion of Japan,” he said.
The event, held in the Makati financial district, was organized by the Filipinas Heritage Library as part of several activities in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila.
“If the invasion of Japan were to take place, Manila was very, very important. That’s why they really needed to take it for future operations,” Jose said.
“When Japan surrendered in August 1945, the surrender delegation landed in Nichols (an airfield near Manila), and they went to City Hall. The negotiations for the surrender, the specific terms, were done at City Hall. That’s why the city of Manila was very important,” he added.
The battle started on Feb. 3, 1945, when American troops started to penetrate the city amid heavy resistance by some 17,000 Japanese soldiers.
On orders of MacArthur, the commander of the U.S. Army in the Far East who had returned to the Philippines in October 1944, three U.S. military divisions worked their way inside Manila, aided by Filipino guerillas.
“MacArthur, of course, really wanted to reach Manila for several reasons. One was the political reason — to be able to take Manila and tell the whole world that the capital of the Philippines had been liberated,” Jose said.
The other reasons were the seat of government and important features like Manila Bay and its ports. These were the same reasons why Japan wanted to hold on to Manila, he said.
The aerial bombings and artillery barrages between the warring forces lasted until March 3, resulting in a massive loss of life and devastation.
The destruction, which historians say was the second-worst of World War II after Warsaw, was also partly due to atrocities by the Japanese, including massacres of civilians.
According to Jose, the battle left around 100,000 civilians, some 1,500 American soldiers, around 17,000 Japanese soldiers and an undetermined number of Filipino guerrillas dead.
If only for them, Jose said people today should value — or at least continue remembering — the Battle of Manila.
“If we forget, these people would have died in vain. The fact is, we have to remember that they paid a price for what we enjoy now,” he said.
The professor laments that only a few Filipinos are aware of the significance of the Battle of Manila, and for those who are, “they are aware only of the casualties and the destruction, and not of the strategic importance.”
“In all the cities that were destroyed, they know this is the price of peace. And if we forget all these, what was it all for? Are we going to repeat it again?”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.