Thursday, January 17, 2013

Denier of the Bataan Death March

Photo by Jim
In the October 2012 issue of the popular Japanese monthly magazine, Seiron, is an unattributed commentary on the Bataan Death March. The author dismisses the brutality of the March by asserting that the Americans were racist cowards and prevaricators who willfully murdered civilians. Passages from Dr. Lester Tenney's book, My Hitch in Hell, on the battle of Bataan and the Death March are used as proof.

The Seiron writer emphasizes his point by identifying Dr. Tenney as Jewish, thus drawing on common prejudices against the Jewish people as villainous, lazy liars. Dr. Tenney, a former tank commander from Company "B" of the Maywood 192nd Tank Battalion and the last Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, persuaded the government of Japan in 2009 to issue a formal apology for Imperial Japan's abuse and misuse of American POWs.

Nearly 60, still existing Japanese companies, used American and Allied POWs as slave labor in horrific conditions to maintain war production. Companies such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Kawasaki, Toshiba, and Nippon Sharyo participated in the program to "employ white slaves." No company has yet to apologize. In the current Japanese Cabinet, the family companies of two Cabinet ministers, Taro Aso (Aso Group) and Yoshimasa Hayashi (Ube Industries) used slave labor during the war

The article's anti-Semitism is used to separate veterans like Dr. Tenney from other “Americans” and to imply that his quest for justice is corrupted and not mainstream. The point is to isolate those who want sincere apologies for the war by suggesting that they as not true Americans. If they were loyal Americans their interest would be on security in Asia and not "lying" about Japan. This article is part of the current greater effort, under the new Japanese government, to deny Japan’s war history and to undo Japan’s few war apologies of which one was to the American POWs of Japan. If the Murayama apology of 1995 is redone, upon which the apology to the POWs is based, then the latter apology would be undone.

Anti-Semitism aside, the Seiron article selectively quotes Dr. Tenney and employs false facts. It is similar to another denier article attacking Dr. Tenney that appeared in the December 23, 2010 edition of the Shukan Shincho by Masayuki Takayama entitled "Bamboo Strings?".

Below is a translation of the Seiron article followed by a correction of the facts and exact quotes from Dr. Tenney's book.

Commentary of the Season [Orifushi no Ki]

Unnamed author, Seiron, October 2012, pp. 35-37
Provisional Translation by Asia Policy Point

The bombardment on the Philippine’s Clark Field came almost at the same time as the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two weeks later, on December 22, 1941, Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma and his 40,000 troops hit the shores of the Lingayen Gulf. Subsequently, they defeated the American and Filipino forces, which were three times stronger than those of the Japanese.

MacArthur was terrified and reported to Washington the abandonment of Manila and started withdrawing to the Bataan Peninsula. Cowards always run fast when they escape. Lester Tenney, a Tank Corps member who had just arrived at Luzon, was a coward equal to MacArthur.

His Tank Corps rushed to the Bataan Peninsula, avoiding any encounter with the Japanese. According to his book, the Bataan Death March, he wrote that he killed all residents and “indiscriminately shot at shops and huts because we could not distinguish Filipinos from the Japanese” when they passed by a small village.

He also wrote “we killed those who did not have identification” and “we fired the tank cannons to blow up four houses with their families because they tried to leak the American presence to the Japanese.” Though he is, in fact, a Jew, it seems he thinks that the whites have a special privilege to kill any colored people.

Six months later, he surrendered to the Japanese. The Japanese forced him to walk to a camp, which was only 120 kilometers away. Half of the march was actually “by freight train” (Ibid.). He exaggerated as if “it was a march from hell.” The foolish Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada invited him to Japan and apologized.

It would have been better to send him [Tenney] to The Philippines and try him for killing many innocent people.

[Here the article continues with examples of British and Korean inhumanity and "cowardice".]

Corrections to the Seiron’s history of the Battle of Bataan

These corrections were prepared in cooperation with Dr. Stanley Falk, former chief historian of the U.S. Air Force and a military historian specializing in World War II in the Pacific. He is the author of the authoritative history, Bataan: The March of Death.

On December 22, 1941, the Japanese 14th Army commanded by Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma landed at five spots along the Eastern part of Luzon’s Lingayen Gulf. Prior to the landing, American air and naval power had been virtually destroyed. The Japanese were established on Luzon airfields and Army short-range fighters were in position to support Japanese ground troops when required. All this had been accomplished in less than two weeks starting on December 8th.

The Japanese Lingayen force totaled 43,000 men (not 40,000 as noted by Seiron). Previously about 4,000 others had landed further north in Luzon, with another 2,500 landing at the southern tip of the island. Then, two days after Lingayen, another 7,000 landed in southern Luzon. Altogether, about 56,500 Japanese troops were on the Philippines by the end of December 1941.

American and Filipino forces on Luzon probably totaled about 80,000, but most of them were poorly trained and equipped Filipino troops. General Douglas MacArthur's air force had been all put completely destroyed in the first few days of the war, and he had no naval forces to oppose the Japanese fleet blockading the Philippines.

Mathematically, the American forces were not as the Seiron author states “three times as large as those of the Japanese.” They were less than 1.5 times as large. The defending forces outnumbered the Japanese invaders by approximately 3 to 2, but were a mixed force of non-combat experienced regular, national guard, constabulary, and newly created Commonwealth units; the Japanese used their best first-line troops at the outset of the campaign.

General MacArthur was not "terrified" by the Japanese invasion, as the author suggested. The evacuation of Manila and withdrawal to Bataan was part of a long-held plan to pull-back to Bataan in the face of vastly superior Japanese forces and to hold the entrance to Manila Bay, thus denying Manila harbor to the Japanese. The withdrawal was carried out in a very effective manner, while the Japanese concentrated on capturing Manila (practically unopposed since Fil-American forces were headed for Bataan).

The American tanks also did not "rush" to Bataan to avoid meeting the Japanese. Instead, they were tasked to engage the enemy and fought well as part of the covering force that shielded the forces as they withdrew into Bataan. They, in fact, helped hold off the Japanese assault for four months from an expected one.

The American troops on Bataan, exhausted, hungry, sick, and running out of ammunition for their antiquated weapons were surrendered by their commanding officers on April 9, 1942. This was four months after the start of hostilities, not the “six months” noted by the Seiron author. Corregidor was surrendered on May 6th.

The Bataan Death March was composed of three to four segments. Troops were rounded up at Bagac on the west side of the Bataan peninsula and Marvieles at Bataan’s tip. These groups converged at Balanga on National Road 54 on the east side of Bataan.

The trek from Bagac to Balanga was 27k (16.7 miles) and from Mariveles to Balanga 54k (33.5 miles). The 100 kilometers (65 miles; not 120k) mentioned by the Seiron author from Mariveles only took the prisoners to San Fernando. The POWs were then transported by freight rail about 25 miles to Capas (the train trip was not more than half of the Death March as the Seiron author notes). One hundred or more prisoners were stuffed into each of the trains' boxcars, which were unventilated and sweltering in the tropical heat—dozens died standing.

After they reached Capas, they were forced to walk the final seven miles to Camp O'Donnell. Sanitation, food, and medical care at Camp O'Donnell were abysmal. The survivors of the march continued to die, first at a rate of 30–50 per day to 300-500 per day by late summer.

Although many of the prisoners did leave Bataan on trucks, especially from Bagac or Balanga (maybe one-fourth), the great majority was forced to march under inhuman conditions in the hot sun, with little food and water, and subject to constant harassment, beatings, shootings, beheadings, bayoneting, and other forms of brutal and often sadistic treatment.

HERE you can find Dr. Lester Tenney’s description of the Death March from Chapter 4 in his book, My Hitch in Hell: The Bataan Death March (ISBN 0-02-881125-9, Potomac Books Inc., June 2007).

BELOW are quotes from Chapter 2 in Dr. Tenney book about his thoughts and feelings when his tank crew found them have to fire on civilian targets.

Page 27
...given that we had arrived in the Philippines only a few weeks before hostilities began and that most of us American soldiers came from traditional Midwestern Caucasian homes, we found distinguishing the Filipinos and the Chinese from the Japanese people very difficult. As a result, the constant infiltration of Japanese soldiers and civilians and the threat that Japanese sympathizers would give our position away caused us great anxiety. Our safety was in jeopardy.

Page 28
There were many times when we in fact did locate and eliminate some of these enemy sympathizers … On our march into this village, we had been bombed by enemy aircraft and precision shelling by Japanese artillery. Now we knew why they had their guns aimed so perfectly and how their aircraft was able to locate us in the middle of the juggle so easily. We were set up by spies or Japanese infiltrators. Some of the villagers were our enemies, and we wanted to know who they were.

Page 28
Our tank crew decided that with only four of us, we could not safely enter and search each of the four homes. Instead, when no one would admit who the guilty people were or where the three men were hiding, we proceeded to spray round after round of bullets into each of the homes in this small community. We knew we had to find these enemy spies, or we would face the same bulldog attack each day of our withdrawal into Bataan. When we finish shooting, we felt emotionally drained and guilty. We sat down and almost cried. Did we kill anyone in these buildings? Was anyone wounded by our gunfire? We never knew the results of our attacks. We felt that had there been people inside they would have answered our previous commands to come out. Did we act without concern for the people inside, if any? I do not think so. Our fear of being killed made necessary what might seem a brutal act.


  1. The American Imperialists exaggerate the truth to justify their own colonial brutality in the conquest of their own homeland as well as the Filipino-American War. This sort of propaganda is disgusting and these lies permeate even Japanese public discourse-- it's quite shameful.

  2. The Bataan Death March DID happen. It's because of people like Abe Shinzo that you say it is propaganda. If you think that why Don't you go back in time and participate in the March, I am sure you will change your mind, sincerely, an AMERICAN. P.S. all those who died in the batsman death march, your sacrifice was not in vain.

    1. I disagree, it was in vain. What did they fight for? A colony which wanted to be independent?

      The US then had no right to interfere with Far East, just like they had no right to interfere in Korea, Vietnam or the Middle East. Same goes for France, UK and my native country Holland.

      Japan commited a comparable amount as war crimes as the US did. But history is written by the conquerers.

      Do not forget that a lot of asians welcomed and prefered a Japan over Westerners. Cruelties in the war such as the Bataan march or Nanking massacre were not structuted or intentional. Hammado did not deserve the capital punishment, the far east trials were a sham.

    2. Then you're implying that the Pearl Habor attacks are justified? Give me a break!


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