The Philippines & WWII

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The Japanese invasion of the Philippines was the third foreign nation to occupy the Philippines, encounter Philippine resistance, and impact the Philippine nationalist movement. Philippine resistance to the first colonizers, the Spanish, was immediate and ongoing, but it would be incorrect to think of this early local resistance to outsiders in terms of national aspirations. In the southern islands, many people shared the common faith of Islam, but it was in part the increasingly unifying force of Christianity that helped give a national character to Philippine thought on self determination. This nationalism was manifested in the Propaganda Movement and works of Jose Rizal by 1888 and in rebellion by 1896 (Nadeau 2008, 64). Just two years after the beginning of the rebellion, Spain came into conflict with the United States due to events in the Caribbean which would escalate into the Spanish-American War. With the surrender of the Spanish, the Americans considered that they had gained a colony, and in February 1899 fighting had broken out between the former allies, the Americans and the Philippine troops (Nadeau 2008, 68). With McKinley’s policy of “benevolent assimilation” America accepted her newly-won colony, and Philippine resistance was now directed at the new colonial power (Nadeau 2008, 69). On July 4, 1901, the United States installed its first civil government (Nadeau 2008, 75). While the Americans paid lip service to independence, they suppressed the nationalist movement (Nadeau 2008, 52-54). Over the following decades American rhetoric towards the Philippines’ independence was largely a reflection of the political winds blowing in Washington, D.C. rather than in Manila. But new winds were stirring in the Pacific, and on December 8, 1941, the Japanese launched air raids on “joint U.S.-Philippine installments” (Nadeau 2008, 58). American-Philippines forces fell back to the Bataan Peninsula in the face of superior Japanese might, and General Douglas MacArthur was ordered to retreat to Australia. On April 9, 1942, General Edward P. King surrendered in Bataan, and with the surrender of General Wainwright at Corregidor on May 6, 1942, American military resistance to the Japanese in the Philippines formally ended (Nadeau 2008, 58). With American support largely focused on the European theater, the Philippines was temporarily abandoned to the Japanese by the Americans (Nadeau 2008, 58). Like in other places in Southeast Asia where the Japanese had seized former European colonies, they largely preserved the native bureaucracy while appointing Japanese overseers and in 1943 even granted “independence to a Philippine puppet government (Nadeau 2008, 59). Large-scale resistance, however, was organized by the Philippine people, with one such group, the Hukbong Bayan laban sa Hapon (HUK), fielding as many of 70,000 fighters (Nadeau 2008, 59). While were also pro-Japanese groups that operated, however, such as the Makabayang Katipunan ng mga Pilipino (Makapili), other resistance groups formed in the Visayas and Mindanao as well. By the time the American forces returned, HUK had, however, managed to push the Japanese out of some regions, like northeastern Luzon, almost entirely (Nadeau 2008, 59). The American push back into the Philippines commenced in the Visayas, when on October 20, 1944 the Americans made an amphibious landing on Leyte which was followed by what is considered one of the largest naval engagements in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the commenced on October 23. By early 1945, Japanese resistance in the Philippines was sporadic (Nadeau 2008, 59). With the return of the Americans, however, resistance groups became American targets themselves as they represented not American colonial interests but those of the Philippines’ people and their own aspirations. HUK and other of these movements went underground, and the stage was set for yet another round of occupation, resistance, and nationalist ferment.

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