Failure and Destruction, Clark Field Philippines, December 8, 1941
by Michael Gough

Ten days after bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant General Walter Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the Army and Navy commanders in Hawaii, were relieved of their commands and reduced in rank. Their sin: the Japanese had caught them by surprise and killed soldiers and sailors, sunk ships, and destroyed airplanes.

News of Pearl Harbor reached U.S. forces in the Philippine Islands less than half an hour after the attack (about 2:30 A.M., December 8, in the Philippines, corresponding to 8:00 A.M., December 7, in Hawaii).] Nine hours later, unopposed Japanese attacks caught U.S. bombers and pursuits sitting on the ground.

"If surprise at Pearl Harbor is hard to understand, surprise at Manila is completely incomprehensible,"[2] wrote Samuel E. Morison, author of History of US Naval Operations in World War II. Despite destruction of American airpower, no officer in the Philippines was relieved from duty. One officer, the major who commanded the 24th Pursuit Group (PG) at Clark Field, was punished. He never again held a command position. Other, higher-ranking officers – colonels and generals – went on to higher commands.

This article is a description of the disaster in the Philippines and the parts played by some individuals in it. In its last sections, I discuss possible reasons for the disparity in punishment meted out to the officers surprised at Pearl Harbor and officers who, knowing that war had started, failed to prevent or blunt the disaster that hit their commands.

The Philippine Islands, Part of the American Empire

In one of the decisive battles of the Spanish-American War, Admiral Thomas Dewey steamed into Manila Bay on Sunday, May 1, 1898, and led his ships in a methodical shelling of the anchored Spanish Fleet and Spanish sailors at Mass. When the Battle of Manila Bay (or Battle of Cavite; see map, table 1) was over, Dewey landed a contingent of Marines to complete the destruction of shore batteries, completing a smashing U.S. victory. The signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 12, 1898, ended the Spanish-American War, and gave the United States possession of the Philippine Islands, 7,000 miles away from the California coast. (The U.S. also took possession of Cuba and other assorted real estate).

Peace in the Islands remained far away. For four years, 1899-1902, Filipinos, happy to be rid of the Spanish but unhappy to be placed under the American yoke, fought the new conquerors of their islands. When the Philippine Insurrection ended, scattered resistance to the Americans persisted up to, at least, 1913.

In 1903, the young Lt. Douglas MacArthur was ordered to the Philippines. While there, his small engineering detachment was attacked by two guerillas who managed only to shoot a hole in his campaign hat. He killed both men with his pistol. The Philippines charmed MacArthur, who wrote, they "fastened me with a grip that never relaxed."

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