Book Review: Awaiting MacArthur's Return: World War II Guerrilla Resistance against the Japanese in the Philippines

Archives

by James Villanueva

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2022. Pp. xiv, 212. Maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 070063357X

Guerrilla Operations in the Philippines

In 158 pages of text and 53 pages of footnotes, James A. Villanueva gives us an information-dense yet readable overview of the logistics, politics, and intelligence of the anti-Japanese guerilla movement in the Philippines. Awaiting MacArthur’s Return, a volume in the Kansas series "Modern War Studies," opens with an exciting depiction of a February 1945 parachute assault during the Allied reconquest of the country. This level of battle detail only occurs once, however. According to the author, numerous unit histories and battle histories exist, but a scholarly methodology has not been applied to the planning and support of the guerilla campaign [p. 2].

As an academic Villanueva uses a style not used by authors targeting popular readers. At first this may seem “dry” which actually enhances the depth of the work and its understanding. First, he begins with a summary of the book’s six chapters, a “road map” to make the extremely wide-ranging topic easier to navigate. Second, he itemizes learning objectives in a “begin with the end in mind” approach which prompted a greater critical thinking on the material. His main goals for readers include understanding 1) differences in military effectiveness among resistance groups 2) competing goals among those groups 3) tensions within General MacArthur’s headquarters 4) opportunity costs of Japanese troops diverted to anti-guerilla activities.

Thirdly, Villanueva’s literature review is extensive. He gives full praise to other authors, detailing the conceptual ground covered by them which his book does not. For instance, he credits a 2021 book by J.K. Morningstar with providing a “…most complete account, though in a narrative fashion” of social and political effects of the resistance [italics mine]. Some writers mention others’ works briefly, as if to avoid giving excess credit to their rivals. Not our author, who sees his works and those of others as part of a general collaboration on the history of the Philippines in World War 2.

The fourth academic approach enriching Villanueva’s book is his review of military theory. Using frameworks of past masters such as MG Charles Edward Caldwell, Sir Charles Gwynn, David Galula and Roger Trinquier. Contemporary names mentioned include General David Petraeus, Max Boot and David Kilcullen. Comparisons are made between other resistance campaigns of the war, including those of Russia, Greece, and Yugoslavia. You will discover which of these countries was the only one to expel the Axis occupiers without outside assistance [p.14].

Is this theater underrepresented among American history causals? We amateurs can discuss Midway, Iwo Jima, and The Marianas Turkey Shoot, but do we know anything of the Pro-Japanese Filipino militant groups [p.11]? What of the plight of civilians taken advantage of by their fellow Filipino resistance fighters [p.12]? And how many know that not all American units obeyed Wainwright’s April 1942 order to surrender? Unable to evacuate, and fully aware of Japanese treatment of POWs, some chose instead to resist [pp. 18, 23]. A small number of Australian servicemen did the same [p.20].

Villanueva’s well-organized chapters show the nature and relationships of strategic, social, and economic aspects of the Philippines during Japan’s tenuous military occupation. Currency, both Filipino and American, was provided to resistance groups for salaries and supplies, but the reader will be intrigued as to why massive amounts of Japanese currency was circulated as well [pp.47, 112]. The vast area of the Philippines’ 7600+ islands and extreme distance to Allied bases all but prevented air support of resistance groups to the degree seen in Europe. Instead, submarines were crammed with tons of supplies and snuck under cover of darkness to shore parties [pp 55, 58, 93].

The most fascinating parts to me were of American civilians who took part in the resistance, collaborating with American military and Filipino resistance groups. A number of owners of mining companies, already well organized with American staff and hardy native workers, exchanged tools for weapons [pp.18, 20]. Any American interested in the Pacific theater must learn the stories of these brave civilians: the Cushing brothers, Fertig, Horan [p.20], Parsons [p.48]. An especially colorful character is Harry Fenton, Army veteran expat radio announcer who became a resistance leader [p.68]. Falling out with an American officer in his region, Fenton went rogue, ranting anti-Japanese broadcasts heard as far away as Los Angeles, and had scandals with local women. Unfortunately, the book does not provide photos of these fascinating figures.

General Douglas MacArthur is omnipresent in this book but was certainly not omniscient – his Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) headquarters took months to regain even the slimmest intelligence from the fallen country, and took- between 1942 and 1945- years assessing, developing, and mediating American and Filipino resistance groups until the eventual return. Awaiting MacArthur’s Returndoes not describe battles but places them as part of wider ranging variables such as social factors, resource management, and timing.

There are only three works by Villanueva on WorldCat.com: Awaiting, a book review, and the dissertation on which Awaiting is based. Nonetheless this is an excellent first book. It is my belief that Villanueva, by using a solid academic format, presented a huge amount of information very effectively, bypassing the need to be a brilliant, engaging teller of tales as popular authors aspire to be. I recall two books by scholars which I could not finish: one’s style was too dry, and the other tried to write in a popular style but was florid and unnatural. Villanueva’s writing, by contrast, is in plain language, perfect for the complex, interconnected topics. I am eager to read his further works.

The United States and the Philippines have shared a long and tremendous history forged in violence, with a costly but successful outcome. I do not think I am imagining things when I detect an agreeableness among Filipinos towards Americans which I believe it is partly due to the cultural memory of our shared struggles in World War 2 and the decades of strong relations since. I am fortunate to have Filipinos among my best friends and cannot wait to discuss Villanueva’s book with them.

 

Our Reviewer: Julius Haukser spent four years in the U. S. Air Force (1996-2000) as an F-15 crew chief. An inventory manager and Excel expert, he works in the hazardous waste industry. He previously reviewed General Crook and the Western Frontier , The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863, and To Save and Army.

 

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Note: Awaiting MacArthur’s Return is also available in e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

www.nymas.org

Reviewer: Julius Haukser   


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