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American History: August 1996 letters

8/11/1996 • American History Archives

“THE BEAST OF BATAAN”
With the article, “Beast of Bataan” [March/April 1996 issue], the trial of Japanese General Homma Masaharu is public knowledge. However, there is more to the Homma story.

After his trial Homma was confined in Bilibid prison, some 40 miles south of Manila. At 0030 hours on April 2, 1946, he was secretly taken to the Philippine Detention & Rehabilitation Center at Los Ba?os to be executed. As the adjutant of the center, Iwas asked to read the Military Commission General Order to Homma and advise him of the hour of execution.

At 0100 hours, I entered the holding cell. Homma was sitting on a small cot and remained there as I commenced reading. The order followed the format of a General Court Martial Order—charges, specifications, findings, sentence, and the action of there viewing authority, in this instance General Douglas MacArthur. This order was unique in that the reviewer did not confine himself to the usual: “The sentence is approved and will be duly executed.” This review was two legal-sized, single-spaced pages long.

The first half of the review was a detailed listing of atrocities committed by Homma’s forces. Through this part, Homma sat impassively. Then followed an exhaustive account of his record as commander. At this point Homma rose to attention,obviously angered. The review of his command experience ended by concluding that Homma had not been a competent commander at any level. This was followed by the formal approval of the sentence.

Then, as directed, I told Homma that the execution would occur at 0200 hours–about thirty minutes later. Still at attention,and looking at me straight in the eye, the general spoke these words: “Captain, I am being shot tonight because we lost the war.”

After the execution I filled in the time of death on the proper form and gave it and the only copy of the Military Commission Order to the officer courier to take back to Army headquarters in Manila. Now wide awake (0300 hours), I went to my office and thought about what had happened. To this young American captain two points seemed crystal clear. First, the execution of Homma established a precedent regarding a commander’s criminal responsibility for the behavior of his soldiers–a precedent that the military profession would one day regret. Second, that Douglas MacArthur had revenged the 1942 defeat of his forcesin the Philippines by Japanese forces under the command of Homma.

Added. At the time, I was under oral orders from MacArthur’s headquarters to return the single copy of the Military Commission Order without making any copies, not to speak publicly of the matter, and not to publish anything about it. With the passage of fifty years and the printing of the Cook article, I am confident that those orders are no longer binding.

Ivan J. Birrer, Col. U. S. Army (Ret.)
Leavenworth, Kansas

HOMMA’S EXCUSE IS NO EXCUSE
The article on General Homma Masaharu’s trial misses a couple of key points; first, the most fixed dictate in the American Army is that the “. . . Commander is responsible for EVERYTHING his (or her!) soldiers do or fail to do.” “I didn’t know” is not an acceptable excuse because it is the commander’s duty to know.

Secondly, Homma told off a Japanese four-star general who condoned the rape of Nanking (denied to have happened by many in Japan to this day). Since he was aware that his Army had been responsible for such savagery in the recent past, Homma should have taken it upon himself to conduct in-depth personal visits to areas under his command, especially in view of the large number of prisoners his forces had captured.

Michael F. Scotto, Lt. Col. USAR
Smithtown, New York

MORE THAN ONE NIPPER
In the March/April 1996 issue of American History I was most interested in “Trademark Returns Home” in your “History Today” department. I agree that Baltimore City Life Museums can be justly proud of the return of their “Nipper.” However,we in Albany, New York, take equal pride in our RCA “Nipper.” Enclosed is a post card of our big dog (above).

On North Broadway in Albany a building that was erected in 1912 was first the location of American Gas Meter Company. In1958 the building was purchased by RTA, distributors of RCA electrical appliances. It was at that time a twenty-five-foot,four-ton “Nipper” was raised by means of cranes to the roof of the building, where he remains to this day.

You will note the beanie Nipper is wearing, which has an aircraft beacon on top that is lit at night to prevent any airplanes from crashing into our wonderful big dog.

Virginia B. Bowers
Albany, New York

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