Friday, June 5, 2009

Examples of poor research

Being retired gives us ample time to read. Most books about Corregidor and Bataan are fairly well researched, although it seems every book contains errors. Many errors continue to be passed along. For instance, a common misconception is that the Japanese launched their assault against Corregidor during a full moon. Some books, such as the very good “The Fall of the Philippines” by Louis Morton, published in 1953 and reissued in 1989, even add that the full moon rose at midnight. This is just plain wrong and easily verified. All any author would have to do is look up full moons of 1942 to see that the moon was at its full phase in the Philippines at 7:59 AM on May 1, over four days before the evening of May 5. That’s why the moon rose near midnight. Full moons rise directly opposite sunsets, not at midnight.

The significance should be obvious. A landing during a full moon would have made it very easy for Corregidor’s defenders to see the Japanese landing barges as they were departing Bataan. Waiting a few days delayed the moon’s rising but still gave the invaders enough light to navigate to their landing areas. They miscalculated the tides and winds, however, and landed further east than they had planned.

Those who write history often rewrite history. The noted historian William Manchester authored what is considered by many to be THE BOOK on General Douglas MacArthur, 800 pages entitled “American Caesar.” Unfortunately, Manchester, a marine who landed on Okinawa and also wrote about Guadalcanal and Saipan, didn’t do his homework, particularly on Corregidor. Our edition was printed in 2008, 30 years after the original publishing date. Obvious errors have not been corrected. Someone once told us, “Everything Manchester wrote about Corregidor is wrong.” He was not too far off.

Here are a few examples. On page 193 Manchester writes, “The only first-class fortification in the Philippines was Corregidor’s new 100-foot-long Malinta Tunnel, with its laterals, ventilators, trolley line, aid stations, and walls of reinforced concrete;” That’s an awful lot to fit into a 100-foot-long tunnel, don’t you think? But then on page 224 he says: “Stumbling ashore on the island’s North Dock, they (the MacArthur party) were led to the 1,400 feet long Malinta Tunnel…” Which is it? One hundred feet or 1,400 feet? In fact, neither: the main tunnel is 836 feet long. Then there are 24 laterals (additional tunnels branching from the main tunnel), one of which leads to the 12-lateral hospital, and another which leads to the 11 Navy tunnel laterals. There are several thousand feet of passages in Malinta Tunnel, although collapses have rendered some areas difficult or impossible to explore.

On page 224 he says, “There is more to the Rock than rock. Shaped like a pollywog, the volcanic isle ascends in three dark green terraces which are named, because of their varying height (sic), Topside, Middleside, and Bottomside.” Of course anyone who has been on Corregidor knows that there is also the tail, which is known as “Tailside.”
Describing Tailside, on page 224 he says “Bataan Peninsula … lay by the side of the island resembling a tadpole’s tail. There the Rock’s shallow beaches, fringed with coconut palms, are ideal for landing craft.” If Manchester had ever set eyes on Corregidor’s beaches he would have found that the beaches in that area – and in fact almost everywhere around the island – are nothing but rocks and boulders, making it difficult not only for landing craft but especially for troops who would have to wade ashore, walk on slippery and shifty boulders, and then use their self-made ladders to climb the very sharp rise from the beach to the flat land above. Beach areas used for swimming require maintenance, because an endless supply of stones roll in with the waves.

And here is another great example of poor scholarship. On page 226, referring to the first major bombing of the Rock by the Japanese on December 29, 1941, Manchester states, “Every building on Topside had been leveled and the MacArthurs settled into a small gray bungalow on Bottomside, about a quarter-mile west of the entrance to the [Malinta T]unnel.” There are two major problems here. First, the Rock was subjected to bombing by the Japanese on and off for over four months, sometimes continuing for 24 hours at a time. Then in 1945 the United States bombed the island for a month in preparation for its return assault. Despite it being the second-most bombed island in the world – number one goes to Malta in the Mediterranean – the buildings were heavily damaged but hardly leveled. Almost all major structures, Topside Barracks, the cinema, the administration building, plus the numerous married and bachelor officer’s quarters, are standing to this day. Add the fact that they have had to endure an additional 65 years of occasionally severe earthquakes and typhoons. Yet Manchester states that “every building on Topside had been leveled” after the first day of bombing! And secondly, as we have already clearly established, MacArthur’s house was on Tailside, east of the tunnel, not on Bottomside. At least he got the color of the house right.

Often we’ve been asked, after telling someone that Steve’s father was captured on Corregidor, “Was he in the Death March?” All we can say is, “No, the Death March was over before Corregidor fell.” But that concept is out there. In fact, we have read several obituaries which attest to the “fact” that a husband or father was captured on Corregidor and also made the Death March. The only way this would have been possible is for someone to have survived the Death March and then escaped from the Japanese to Corregidor, only to be recaptured. To summarize, Bataan fell on April 9, 1942. The Death March is generally attributed to having started April 10th and ending by the 24th. Corregidor held out until May 6th. So it just couldn’t have happened. Yet that is stated as fact in both “World War II for Dummies” and “World War II for Idiots.” Where did the “Dummies,” “Idiots,” and so many others get this idea?

We can surmise. On page 291 of “American Caesar” Manchester wrote: “On May 6 a terrible silence fell over Corregidor. White flags were raised from every flagstaff that was still standing, and the triumphant Japanese moved their eleven thousand captives to Bataan. The next day the prisoners began the brutal Death March – the long trek northward in which between seven thousand and ten thousand Fil-Americans died of disease, starvation, sadistic beatings, and outright execution.” This is one of the most egregious errors in print, doing a great injustice to those who actually participated in the Death March, which directly led to the deaths of about 11,000 of the approximately 72,000 participants.

In actuality, almost all of the prisoners captured on Corregidor were kept on the island until May 23, two and one half weeks after their capture. Then they were subjected to what some have called a “mini-death march” through the streets of Manila, in no way approaching the magnitude of the April Bataan Death March. After spending a short time in Bilibid Prison, the majority of these Filipinos were sent to Camp O’Donnell and most of the Americans to Camp Cabanatuan.

Despite the glaring lack of scholarship on Corregidor, “American Caesar” is must reading if you want to get to know MacArthur. It is the most comprehensive study of the man that we are aware of by an author having no agenda either to memorialize or demonize the man, and the quotes alone make the book worth owning. We’ve heard that Arthur MacArthur said this book best captures the man he knew as his father.

Steve’s father Walter, by the way, was on Bataan until April 9, the day of the surrender. He then “escaped” to Corregidor by boat, one of about 2,000 who made their way to Corregidor by one means or another, some even swimming across three miles of shark-infested waters. It is estimated that of those Americans who were in the Death March, almost two thirds did not live to see liberation. Of those captured on Corregidor, it is estimated that one third died before the end of the war. Many on Corregidor thought they’d had it rough, until they were united with Death March survivors at Camp Cabanatuan. Then they realized their conditions had not been quite as bad as what the Bataan troops suffered.

Steve and Marcia

P.S. Recently two journalists have written articles about their trips to Corregidor, one with Sun Cruises and the other with 7107 Islands Cruises. Steve guided both, and they both mention him in articles which appear online. Both write that Walter was captured on Corregidor AND was on the Bataan Death March. Both also incorrectly state that Walter was the engineer who restored Battery Way for action. The engineer was Major William Massello, Walter’s CO. Emails to the writers regarding errors have gone unanswered.

Can you see how this might drive you nuts? At least they both spelled Kwiecinski right!

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