*** World War II Pacific Theater -- the Philippines internment of American civilians








World War II: The Philippines--Japanese Internment of American Civilians

Japanese internment of Americans
Figure 1.--Childern and the elderly were those most vulnerable in the Japanese inernment camps. These American children survived. They are aboard the 'SS Jean Lafitte', bound for the States. They are gathered around Pendleton (Bumblebee) Thompson. Thompson had volunteered as cook in the camp where they were interned. The photograph was taken during April 1945. Source: United States National Archives. 80-G-128907.

America acquired the Philippines Islands from Spain in the Spanish American War (1898). It was America's primary experience with colonialism. After a bloody insurgency, the Philippines became a quiet American outpost in the Pacific. A small number of American military and civilians lived in the Philippines. The civilian included government administrators, military dependents, business people, missionaries, and teachers. Many became very attached to the Philippinrs and Filipino people. It was very clear by 1940, especially after President Roosevelt embargoed oil exports to Japan that war with Japan was likely. It is unclear why so many American civilians stayed in the Philippines. The War Department ordered civilan dependents home. Why many stayed is unclear. Apparently some did not want to leave their husbands. There are other indications that Ameican officials in the Philippines sought to delasy or prevent dependants from returning to America. Their motivations are unclear, but some apparently believed that their presence strengthened the American commitment to the defense of the Philippines. Other civilian dependents apparently believed that America could defend the Islands, especially when President Roosevelt moved the Pacific Fleet forward to Pear Harbor. Civilians in the Philippines like many other Amerians underestimated the military potential of Japan, especially the Imperial Navy. Whatever the reasons, at the time of Pearl Harbor, there were about 6,000 Americans in the Islands. The Japanese seized four U.S. territories (Wake, Guam, two Aleutiansin islands (Attu and Kiska), and the Philippines during World War II. The Philippines at the time was a Commonwealth which the United States was preparing for independence. It had by far the largest number of American civilians interned by the Japanese. The Japanese after invading the Philippines quickly rounded up American civilians and interned them. The Japanese set up internment camps on Luzon and other islands. The largesrt and best known was Santo Tomas. Some of the military POWs were transported off the Islands for slave labor at other locations. The civilian internees were kept in the Philippines. The liberation of these camps after the American invasion beginning at Leyte (October 1944) is one of the most emotional acconts of the Philippines campaign.

Americans in the Philippines

America acuired the Philippines Islands from Spain in the Spanish American War (1898). It was America's primary experience with colonialism. After a bloody insurgency, the Philippines became a quiet American outpost in the Pacific. A small number of American military and civilians lived in the Philippines. The civilian included government administrators, military dependents, business people, missionaries, and teachers. Many became very attached to the Philippines and some, especially the missionaries and techers, to the Filipino people. One reason that Americans liked the Philippines was that salaries were often good and living exoenses low. Most Americans could afford servants allowing them to lead a very comfortable life. There were well manacured golf courses and well-appointed country clubs. A particularly popular spot was Baguio, a community built for Americans up in the mountains near Manila. The elevation (about 4,300) provided a refresingly mild climate. The life style of the Americans in the Philippines reads rather like the British Raj.

Repatriation

It was very clear by 1940, especially after President Roosevelt embargoed oil exports to Japan that war with Japan was likely. It is unclear why so many American civilians stayed in the Philippines. The War Department ordered military dependents home. Why many non-military civilians stayed is unclear. Apparently some did not want to leave their husbands. There are other indications that Ameican officials in the Philippines sought to delasy or prevent dependants from returning to America. Their motivations are unclear, but some apparently believed that their presence strengthened the American commitment to the defense of the Philippines. Some officils were also concerned of the affect on the Filipinos of departing Americans. It is likely that the officals involved assumed that if war broke out that the Pacific Fleet would protect the Islands. This was probably the attitide of most Americans in the Philippines, especially when President Roosevelt moved the Fleet forward to Pear Harbor. Civilians in the Philippines like many other Amerians underestimated the military potential of Japan, especially the Imperial Navy.

Situation at Time of War (December 1941)

Whatever the reasons, at the time of Pearl Harbor, there were about 6,000 Americans in the Islands. The Japanese seized four U.S. territories (Wake, Guam, two Aleutiansin islands (Attu and Kiska), and the Philippines during World War II. The Philippines at the time was a Commonwealth which the United States was preparing for independence. The 1939 census noted 3,191 Americans in Manila and 612 in Baguio. More Americans arrived during 1940-41 as the United States began to give attention to the defense of the Islands. It had by far the largest number of American civilians interned by the Japanese during the War.

Japanese Invasion

A powerful Japanese carrier force attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). The next day Japanese air strikes on the Philippines destroyed about half of the American planes on the Philippines. tHis rendered an effective defense of the Islands impossible. MacArthur has to be held accountable as new of the strike on Pearl Harbor provided adequate time to prepare for the Japanese air attacks on Filipino air bases. The Japanese Army invaded northern Luzon and secured air bases. The major Japanese landings were conducted by the 14th Army at Lingayen Gulf (December 22, 1941) and raced for Manila. MacArthur with a smaller force around Manila was in danger of being cut off and decided to retire to Batan, a defensible peninsula, with the fortress of Corregidor at its pont. He was not able, however, to bring adequaute amunition and supplies. He was not aware of the extent of the destruction of Pearl or the overwealming Japanese superority in carriers. He thought that the American fleet coukd break through with supplies and reinforcements. The soldiers on Batan put up a valiant fight with meager resources. President Roosevely personally ordered MacArthur to leave Bataan and go to Australia to take command of Allied ground forces in the Pacific theater--forces which at the time were virtually non existent (February 22, 1942). General Jonathan Wainright with 11,000 American and Filippino soldiers held out hopeing for relief. The men on Batan were forced to surrender when amunitioin ran out (April 9). They were subjected to a brutal death march. Japanese officers used the slowly moving lines of prisoners as targets for their swords. After the fall of Corregedor (May 1942), the Japanese completed the occupation of the Islands.

Luzon

Preparations

Most of the Americans in the Philippines were located in Manila on Luzon. There was no panic immediately after Pearl Harbor. Most civilians still did not fully understand the danger and the fact that the Pacific Fleet was largely impobilized. Only after the Japanese landings north of Manila and rapid push south did the Americans begin to appreciate that they would be captured by the Japanese. Military authorities offered no assistace. By the time that the Americans in Manil fully appreciated the danger, they had little time to make preparations.

Japanese advance

General MacArthur had no appreciation of the Japanese military potential. And descpite being aware that the Japanese were about to declare war, made no serious preparations. Civilins were unaware of the danger. The Japanese desroyed american air power, in part because MacArthur believed they were out of range an took no steps after PearlHrbor to reposition the B-17s that he had. As aresult, the Hapanese landed on Luzon vrtually wihout resistance. Finally realizing that he could not defend Manila,Maxrthur declared Manila an open city (December 24), but the Japanese continued to bomb the city. Mc Arthur moved his orces to Batanm but had not pre-positioned supplies. The advancing Japanese took Baguio (December 27). They reached Manila (January 2). Civilians were in a state of shock.

Internment

The American Emergency Committee in Manila attempted to gather some supplies at the University of Santo Tomas. Most Americans in Manila remained there to surrender to the Japanese. Some left Manila to hide in the hills or join the guerillas. The Japanese quickly rounded up the American civilians. The largest number of Americans were in Manila and these were the first Americans to be taken in large numbers. Manila internees report a tedious registration process.

Other Islands

Americans located on other islands had more time to prepare and decided what to do. The American resistance on Batan occupied the Japanese for several months. Even after Batan. Even after the surender of Bataan and Coredidor, the geography of the Philippines meant that it would take some time to occupy even the major islands. Gradually the Japanese rounded up Americans in Cebu, Panay, Negros, and the other islands. The Americans on these islands had the time needed to make informed decisions. Some decided to hide and others to stay in place. They had time to gather and hide supplies and to locate hiding spots. Some joined guerrila bands. The Japnese did not get to some islands until June 1942. The Japanese demanded that General Wainright's surrender all of the islands and not just Corregidor (April 1942). The occupation of the other islands proceeded very quickly after that. A number of Americans on Negros managed to hidefor some time, but were gradually found (November 1943). A few civilians were picked up by American submarines.

Camps

The Japanese set up internment camps on Luzon and other islands. The largesrt and best known for civilian internees was Santo Tomas in Manila. Other camps which were primarily gfor POWs included: Bacolod (Negros), Baguio/Camp Hay/Holmes (Luzon), Los Ba�os (Luzon), Bilibid Prison (Luzon), Cabanatuan (Luzon), Camp O'Donnell (Luzon), Camp Manganese/Guindulman/Bohol, Camp Malolos/Bulcan, Cebu City (Cebu), Davao (Mindanao), Masbate (Visayan Islands), Puerto Princesa Prison Camp (Mimaropa). Some of the American military POWs were transported off the Islands for slave labor at other locations. The civilian internees were kept in the Philippines. Most of the civilian internees were intened at University of Santo Thomas in Manila. Here more than 3,000 internees were quartered (January 1942-February 1945). Conditions for the internees deteriorated seriously during the War. Part of the problem was that the Japanese occupation of the Philippines as in other areas was an econoic disaster. The economy began to collapse and food production declined creating great scarities. The internees at Santo Tomas and the other camps began to starve. As most of the civilians were interned at Santo Tomas, the story of the civilian internees in the Philippines is largely dominated by the expeiences at this one large camp. Each camp, however, had its on individual story. One particular incidet occurred at Los Ba�os, southeast of Manila which held both civilis and POWs. The Japanese moved 520 Catholic missionaries into the Los Ba�os camp (July 1944). Problems developed with the other internees because many of these missionaries had signed pledges of cooperation with the Japanese Army.

Other Pacific Territories

The Americans on the Philippines were of course not the only civilian internees. The Japanese interned the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies and the British in Malayia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. There were smaller numbers of other westerners in these territories when the Japanese invaded, especially Australians. While there were no regulations for operating these camps, all of these people suffered dreaduflly from malnutrition, disease, and brutality at the hands of the Japanese.

Numbers

The Japanese interned about 7,800 non-Filipino civilian prisoners (4,200 men, 2,300 women, and 1,300 children). The largest group were Americans--about 6,000 men. In addition there were 1,500 British and Commonwealth citizens, and the remainder a mixture of Dutch, Polish, Italian, Free French, Norwegian, and Egyptian. The largest camp was Santo Tomas. Orginally it had 3,000-4,000 intrnees and covered 43 acres, eventually expanded to 60 acres. It had 7,000 internees by the time of Liberation. The additional internees came from Cebu City (water shortages) and Davao (overcrowding), and Bacolod.

Conditions

Conditions varied somewhat from camp to camp, but the iternee suffered from crowded conditions, poor sanitation, and lack of medical supplies. The heavy labor that so debilitated the POWs was rarely required of te civilian internees. Malnourishment became an increasing problem as conditions deteriorated during the internment. These conditions, especially the lack of medical supplies and the inadequate food, put the children in particular danger. As bad as conditions were at these camps, for the most part the Japanese did not treat American civilian prisinors as brutally as they did the POWs. They were also mpre brutal with Filipino civiilans. This is somewhat surprising because Japanese propaganda proclaimed "Asian for the Asians" nd trumpeted the bebefits for Filiipinos of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. [Cogan, p. 104.]

Japanese Policies

The Japanese Army had no detailed policies about running internment camps for civilians. As a result much depended on local conditions and the individual camp commanders. In the Philippines the civilian internees were treately much more liniently than the POWs. [Cogan] It is unclear why this was. The conditions of civilian internment camps for the British and Dutch (Sumatra, Malaya, and Java) were run more like the military POW camps. Men and women were often separated which was not the case at the civilian internee camps in the Philippines. Why American civilians were treaded more leniently is unclear. Various factors could have affected this. The military dependents were evacuated. The civilians that were evebntualy interned were mostly women, children, and middle-aged and ekderly men. Or it could be just vageries of the individual Japanese commanders.

Problems with Children


Labor

The civilian internees were rarely used by the Japanese commandrs for slave labor. The one exception seems to be the Davao Camp on Mindanao. [Cogan, p. 226.] There was, however, labor at the camp. There were tasks assigned by the internee camp organization. The camps had Work assignment committees. There were attempts to match interee skills with the needed jobs. The internnes attempted to set up comminities so there were a wide range of needed tasks. Job assignments included translators, teachers, volunteer nurses, camp monitors, gardeners, barbers, shoe repairmen, launders and menders of clothing, bakers, entertainers, and even bedbug eradicators. The internnee camp organizations expected everyone to pitch in. [Cogan, p. 251.] This included people used to servants and being waited on.

Initial Period (January 1942 -April 1943)

The civilian internees at first played a major role in administering the camps themselves. They were permitted to persue various efforts to obtain food, fuel, and other supplies especially soap. Many at this time had valuables that could be used to purchase food. Intenees bought food from Filipino food vendors who set up outside the camps. The internees also began gardening and these became espeially important by late 1943. The individuals involved at tend to be wasteful. They over cooked vegetables, destroying much of the nutritional value. They also threw away potential food like vegetable tops. Fortunately among the internees were individuals with nutritinal knowledge. The Hapanese distributed Red Cross parcels from South Africa and Canada (December 1942). These were a god send. [Cogan, pp. 147-166.]

Repatriation Negotitions

There were negotiations over the exchange of American and Japanese civilian (and diplomatic) prisoners of war. The proved unsuccessful. I do not have details on these negotiations. One historian blames FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and General MacArthur. [Corbett, p. 70.]

Later Period (April 1943-February 1945)

The Japanese seized complete control of camp administration, including camp finances (April 1943). In particular th Japanese began control the rice supplies, a staple in the Philippines where wheat does not grow well. The camp system was consolidated. The internees at Davao were transported to Santo Tomas. Some internees at Baguio camp were jailed at the Bilibid Prison in Manila--which meant much harsher conditions. Medical conditions became more severe and food became harder to obtain. Actual cases of starvation, not just malnutrition occurred. There was no longer garbage at the camps. Some internees were shot for foraging outside the camps. Instances of cruelty were reported. A Lt. Konochi in particular behaved savagely. Very few U.S. Red Cross parcels got through. Medical supplies were exhausted (December 1943). [Cogan, pp. 177-206.]

Liberation

The liberation of these camps after the American invasion beginning at Leyte (October 1944). MacArthur President Sergio Osme�a waded ashore with the invasion force at Leyte Gulf (October 20, 1944). The American Army forces advanced steadily. The Japanese resisted, but could not match American fire power. The most serious Japanese resistence occurred at sea. The resulting naval engaement following on Battle of the Philippines Sea is commonly referred to as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was the largest sea battle ever fought and resulted in the destruction of the Japanese fleet as an effective fighting force. This opened the way for the land campaign. Further landings occurred at Ormoc (December 7, 1944). Then the fighting moved to Luzon. The Americans finally reached the main island of Luzon with landings at Lingayen Gulf (January 9, 1945). The initial American landings were unopposed. Japanese Imperial Army General Tomoyuki Yamashita had been tasked with the defense of the Philippines. The Americans rapidly pushed south. The civilian internment and POW camps were primary objectives. The liberation of the camps is one of the most emotional acconts of the Philippines campaign. The mericans as a result of intelligence reoorts believed that the Japanese were preparing o kill the internees and POWs before they could be libeated. As a result, the Americans staged three raids to liberate: Cabanatuan, Santo Tomas, and Los Banos. American Rangers and Alamos Scouts reached Cabanatuan (January 30). American tankers reached Santo Tomas (February 3, 1945). They discobered Old Bilibid Prison nearby which they had not even known about (February 4). Los Ba�os was locate 40 miles southeast of Manila. Because of its lication, it was not liberated until later (February 23). A debate exists as to the existence of any general Japanese Army orders concerning the release of the the civilan internees as the American troops approached. One author is unable to determine if such orders existed and reports that decessions were made by local commanders. [Cogan] We are still reasearching this issue.

Sources

Burgess and Flanagan.

Cogan, Frances B. Captured: The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945.

Corbett, P. Scott. Quiet Passages: The Exchange of Civilians between the United States and Japan during the Second World War (Kent, Ohio: Kent University Press, 1987).

Hartendorp. The Santo Tomas Story.

Stevens. Santo Tomas Internment Camp

Woodcock. Behind the Sawali: Santo Tomas in cartoons, 1942-1945






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Created: 3:00 AM 4/9/2006
Last updated: 7:07 AM 1/28/2018