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Pearl Harbor, Bataan Death March, and Lying
March 30, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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How do you tell who is lying in history?

"So Roosevelt is dead: a man who would never tell the truth
when a lie would serve him just as well." — General Douglas MacArthur

My father joined the Marine Corps in 1938, and served in the Battle of Guadalcanal, among others. My mother joined the Marine Corps in 1942, and they met on a base in Hawaii, which is a tale for another day. So the war with Japan (part of World War II) was important to me growing up.

The detection of liars and lying also became important to me in childhood. Lying is a basic human activity. Lies come in all shapes and sizes, and are sometimes woven out of truths. Separating out lies from facts is difficult enough when someone is lying to your face. When lies have become history texts, telling who is lying can get really difficult.

American school children are still taught that the United States got into World War II when Japan attacked the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, in the State of Hawaii. But any more in-depth book about Japan or the U.S. in the late 1930s will show that the two empires were antagonistic to each other well before Pearl Harbor. The American ruling class wanted to rule over Asia, and did in fact rule over the Philippines. The Japanese ruling class was the only native Asian group that had successfully kept itself independent of the white people's empires. Still, the way American historians tell it, Japan started the war.

In fact Japan had started the war years earlier by invading China, after America had called dibs on China. The Roosevelt regime repeatedly threatened to go to war with Japan if they refused to get out of China. [The Delano in FDR was from his maternal ancestor who had made, or greatly increased, his fortune by running opium illegally into China.]

Meanwhile General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the military in the Philippines, and he screwed up but good. He had been receiving major reinforcements from the United States, including most of the nation's production of new B-17s, aka Flying Fortresses. He also got the 4th Marines, retreating from Shanghai, China. Back then Japan owned Formosa (now Taiwan), which was within bombing distance. MacArthur got the following telegram from headquarters on or near November 28, 1942:

Negotiations with the Japanese appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot, be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first over act. This policy should not, repeat not, be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. [from American Caesar by William Manchester, p. 200]

Manchester, by the way, thought President Roosevelt, back on July 26 "issued several other executive orders which made eventual war between America and Japan inevitable."

The same President Roosevelt, a liberal hero today, repeatedly denied requests by the people of the Philippines (supported by MacArthur) that they be granted independence.

Roosevelt had advanced warning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he probably thought that if he put the base on alert and sent ships north to greet the Japanese, they would back off and there would be no incident that would shock Americans into supporting a war to conquer Asia. [See, for instance, Day of Deceit by Robert Stinnett]

No one disputes that MacArthur was informed about Pearl Harbor about 9 hours before the war started on his front. Despite that, along with his air commander Lewis Brereton, he managed to have most of his warplanes, including seventeen new B-17s at Clark Field, on the ground to be easily destroyed when Japanese fighters and bombers arrived from Formosa.

Without air cover MacArthur's army, and Navy for that matter, were pretty much doomed. But MacArthur thought reinforcements were on the way, including more B-17s, in the Pensacola convoy.

Roosevelt had his war, but he had already agreed with the British Empire that Europe would be be first priority, with Japan to be mopped up later. The Russian communists had already stopped Hitler's advance, and America led the world in population (excepting China) and the ability to produce military hardware, so it was only a matter of time and human sacrifice before the Anglo allies would reign supreme again, with America on top this time.

So the Pensacola convoy went to Australia rather than Manila. MacArthur also screwed up in military strategy, resulting in his troops eventually holing up in the Bataan Peninsula while most of the food designated for them, including 50 million bushels of rice stored at Cabanatuan (four year's worth) was left behind.

Most of the troops at Bataan were natives of the Philippines. All troops were on starvation diets from day one. Military equipment was minimal, as was medicine. But Roosevelt wanted the Bataan troops to keep the Japanese tied up as long as possible. So he promised MacArthur supplies, and MacArthur promised them to his officers, and the promised them to their soldiers. MacArthur himself, with his top staff, were safely in reinforced tunnels on the island of Corregidor. His troops celebrated him:

Dugout Doug MacArthur lies ashakin' on the Rock
Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock
Dugout Doug is eating the best food on Bataan
And his troops go starving on.

For political reasons FDR wanted MacArthur to command all U.S. troops in the Pacific, so he asked the general to move to Australia, promising that there would be forces there he could lead back to the Philippines. There were forces there, but it would be years before they moved to the Philippines.

The defenders on Bataan surrendered to General Homma's Japanese troops.

That brings us to another Big Lie of American History, called the Bataan Death March. It is wrongly described at Wikipedia even as I write this. The only reasonably accurate American version of it I know of is in John Toland's The Rising Sun.

There appear to be a lot of facts, important details, missing, though they might be in some Japanese or U.S. archives somewhere. At the time of surrender, how many U.S./Philippine soldiers had already died of malnutrition, disease, and wounds?

Suppose the POWs had not been asked to march. Suppose instead of a surrender, there was an armistice. Without food or medicine, abandoned by FDR and MacArthur, how many would have died in, say, 3 days, even without being marched?

There was considerable, if insufficient, food and water available on the march. Even some medical care. How many would have died if they had not been given those supplies?

Even the Japanese agree there was at least one war criminal officer on the march. How many soldiers were killed by him or his soldiers? How many prisoners were killed when they were actually trying to escape (which is not a war crime).

I want to point out that the Death March was 60 miles long. That sounds like a long way to amateurs, but I've personally hiked as much as 30 miles in one day with a reasonably heavy backpack. In the U.S. Civil War, Stonewall Jackson's troops in one campaign marched 646 miles in 48 days. I believe 60 miles would have been an easy hike for well-fed, well conditioned troops.

I would conclude that any allied troop deaths after the Bataan surrender, excepting deliberate executions by Japanese troops disobeying orders, were largely the fault of President Roosevelt and General MacArthur. If the troops had been allowed to surrender earlier they would have been in better shape and more would have survived. At the same time the Japanese officers should have noticed the poor condition of their POWs and offered more help. Many American and Filipino troops said they were treated fairly or even kindly by their guards, who also had to walk the 60 miles. Why has that story not been made into films?

The Bataan Death March became a major propaganda point during the war. It was used as an excuse to kill many Japanese soldiers, later in the war, who surrendered. Again, no count was taken, but we know this from numerous anecdotal reports.

Sorting out historical truths is important. If we don't want to repeat history, we need accurate history. The principle of comparing evidence to historical stories is attributed, at least in the Euro-centric version of academia, to one Lorenzo Valla, who "proved" that the Donation of Constantine document was a forgery in 1439.

But alas, I live in the age of Facebook, when people can pass propaganda around at the speed of light, even when they could fact check them easily enough using other resources on the Internet.



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