Military Book Reviews

War and Resistance in the Philippines, 1942-1944

James Kelly Morningstar. 2021. War and Resistance in the Philippines, 1942-1944 (Naval Institute Press, 370 p)

“Here was a people in one of the most tragic hours of human history, bereft of all reason for hope and without material support, endeavoring, despite the stern realities confronting them, to hold aloft the flaming torch of liberty.” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur

A few days after departing the Philippines in 1942 to command the defense of Australia and prepare offensive forces against Japan, General MacArthur coined the now famous phrase, “I came through and I shall return.” This simple phrase gave the guerillas, with modest American in-country support, the confidence and hope that the United States would return in sufficient numbers to expel the Japanese in due time.  

Historical examples of triumph over insurmountable odds provide a precedent for present-day challenges and actions that are taken to resist those who drive to suppress. War and Resistance in the Philippines, 1942-1944 by James Kelly Morningstar is a historical example of horrific treatment by the Japanese during the occupation of the Philippines in World War II and the resistance that paved the way for General MacArthur’s return. The credentialed author, a retired U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate, holds a PhD from the University of Maryland. He currently teaches military history at Georgetown. This book is a testament to his passion for this subject and devotion to not only military history but to the people of the Philippines.

According to the author in the preface, this account is a much more scholarly and holistic document than previous work on the subject, which captures this highly formative period that continues to change the trajectory of the Philippines. The details are unmatched, highlighting tactical level events while providing overall strategic insights on geo-politics, economics, and national level leadership. 

A good military historical account usually includes maps, and the author does not disappoint as they walked the reader through the aforementioned years using various maps. For those that may not be as familiar with the Philippines and the resistance that took place between General MacArthur’s departure and return, the eight included maps are worth their weight in gold. The maps depict basic ethnic group locations, guerilla units, and intelligence coverage of the area, allowing the reader to quickly and visually comprehend the complex situation that transpired over the two-and-a-half year period.    

The book unlocked many of my own memories from my youth. Living in the Philippines in elementary school while my father served as an Air Force C-130 pilot inspired me to read more about the history of the land that I once explored and traversed. Many of the places and names were familiar to me—Luzon (largest island of the Philippines), Clark Field (where my father served), Camp John Hay at Baguio (where we vacationed), to name just a few memorable locations.

The book describes items that are worth consideration. One such fact is even before General MacArthur reluctantly left the Philippines, he planned for and allowed guerilla warfare, anticipating the inevitable. The author meticulously describes the roles performed by the guerillas during the resistance period with complementary stories—they collected intelligence, fought behind enemy lines, protected civilians, and passed information between units. 

One character that resurfaces frequently in the book is LTC Edwin Ramsey, a U.S. Army officer who leads many guerillas. He describes what “guerilla warfare” or “guerilla struggle” really means. He learned that the “guerilla struggle” differs from standard conventional conflict, “to one fought by instinct, with faith and devotion above all.” 

As an Air Force pilot with a connection to the P-38 Lightning, I was pleased to read that the author highlighted these fighters’ superior efforts over Manila during the U.S. push to drive out the Japanese in 1944. This was a subtle acknowledgement that it took all-hands on deck to push out the Japanese, while maintaining a focus on the guerillas. 

A valid question is, “what was the actual scope and scale of guerilla warfare during this period?” The author acknowledges the guerillas did not single-handedly defeat the Japanese, but prevented Japan from complete victory in any one battle. One could say that the guerillas were the slight strategic edge that eventually convinced President Roosevelt to let General MacArthur return to the Philippines with a decisive force that ended up driving the Japanese from the Philippines. In the end, over one million Filipinos claimed to be a guerilla. However, the U.S. Army only recognized a quarter of these potential guerrillas. In either case, 33,000 guerillas gave their lives during this period, a significant number considering that these fighters were not officially in either the U.S. or Philippine Army.

This comprehensive book on guerilla warfare in the Philippines between 1942-1944 may give hope to people who find themselves under conquest by outside nations, totalitarian rule, or other harsh governance. As an example, I recently saw articles flowing out of Afghanistan written about the last Afghanistan resistance in Panjshir and of women in Kabul protesting their new reality by the Taliban. This book is a compelling historical account for civilian and military leaders that illustrates how to execute a successful resistance, when and where appropriate. An interesting question to ponder is whether James Kelly Morningstar will have a reason to write a similar piece in the future that details the ongoing and fledgling resistance in Afghanistan. 

Coincidently, I met a Filipino woman this past week who was raised by her grandfather, a Filipino resistance fighter. He was a guerilla who lacked formal U.S. recognition for his contributions. One reason the author wrote this book was to recognize these resistance fighters, informally, and to teach others to have a greater appreciation for this period in history.

To book-end the guerilla warfare period, on 20 October 1944, General MacArthur kept his word and returned to the Philippines, announcing, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!”

Finally, if you are interested in learning more about guerilla warfare in the Philippines, The MacArthur Memorial allows you to dive into their archives on this topic. By chance, I recently came across the MacArthur Corridor in the Pentagon. On prominent display are artifacts that came from the guerilla warfare period. After reading this book, I now have a clear appreciation for what those artifacts represent.

Lt Col Christopher P. Mulder, USAF is an active duty Air Force officer. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, an Air Force pilot, and engaged in national security and leadership topics.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the US government or other organization.

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