by SWJ Editors
Japanese Counterinsurgency in the Philippines: 1942-45
by Brian Hardesty, Small Wars Journal
The first Japanese attack on the Philippines in World War II (WWII) was on December 8, 1941, only hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese occupied the islands from 1942 until 1945. Much of the conflict was a conventional war for territory, remembered for the Battles of Bataan, Corregidor, and the Bataan Death March much more than actions afterwards, at least until MacArthur's return. Yet one could argue that there was a nascent insurgency in the Philippines during this period: In fact, post war studies suggested that as many as 260,000 people were in guerrilla organizations. The fact that the fall of the Japanese occupation ultimately depended on returning American forces, rather than strategic victory through insurgency, might limit the insurgency's historical significance, but does not diminish its value as a case worthy of study.
The theory of counterinsurgency warfare that David Galula explained in his influential book Counterinsurgency Warfare provides a lens through which to view the internal conflict in the Philippines during WWII. In this way, one can analyze the Japanese successes and failures. I argue that the Japanese counterinsurgency methods in the Philippines were largely ineffective because of the excessive use of military force and political mistakes. This case may suggest that Galula's theory has some explanatory power for insurgency / counterinsurgency during a hot war between great powers.