War against Guerrillas requires different strategy – not Regular Armed Forces
– A lesson from the Japanese experience in the Philippines –
In May 1956, I went to the Philippines as a volunteer to work in a school reconstruction project in a village called Balinbing on the island of Mindanao after a huge earthquake. The project was organized by the World Council of Churches for university students from many countries in the world. I had a 24/7 police escort while I was there. This was because there were still many people who had vowed to kill the first Japanese they saw. Stories after stories, I heard terrible incidents of brutalities and massacres committed against Filipino civilians by the Japanese military. General Yamashita, then the Supreme Commander of the Japanese Occupation forces and many others were tried and executed for the war crime.
During my stay for the volunteer work in the Philippines, I made some good friends. They gradually opened up and told me of the circumstances under which the butcheries were committed. The Americans came to the island of Luzon to liberate the Phillppines under General MacArthur, but not to Mindanao. The battles there were fought mainly between the guerrillas called the Huks, made up of mainly Moro people, and the Japanese regular army. The problem for the Japanese was that those guerrillas were indistinguishable from villagers during the daytime thus invisible (because many of them were villagers), but they took up weapons at night and attacked the occupiers. Japanese couldn’t tell who their enemies were. So they tortured and killed many non-combatant civilians as well as some fighters.
It’s the same stories where-ever wars are fought between the regular armies and the guerrillas. It is repeated again and again, for example, in France – Germans killed innocent civilians together with the French resistance, “Maquis”, in Viet Nam by Americans, and now in Afghanistan. And the record for the regular armed forces in such wars is not very good. Mighty armies are defeated by ragtag collection of rubber sandal-wearing and poorly clad people whose weapons are often just AK47 and homemade bombs. It has a sophisticated name like “Improvised Explosive Devise”, but it’s a homemade bomb. This war in Afghanistan is not working. Such a war never works for the regular army where the guerrillas have popular support. Find other ways. And save the lives of our magnificent young people in the armed forces. They are in the wrong place.
July 13, 2010