Small Wars Journal

Japanese Counterinsurgency in the Philippines: 1942-45

Wed, 04/29/2009 - 7:14pm
Japanese Counterinsurgency in the Philippines: 1942-45

by Brian Hardesty, Small Wars Journal

Japanese Counterinsurgency in the Philippines: 1942-45 (Full PDF Article)

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.

Japanese Counterinsurgency in the Philippines: 1942-45 (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)


I have to strongly concur with Bob on resistance and insurgency. The below excerpt was from a paper I wrote at Leavenworth in 1995 (so the JCS definition is dated) but take a look at the 1990 FM 31-20 excerpt on the description of insurgencies and I think the Philippine resistence to the Japanese occupation meets the description. (Also I know that Larry Cable has since been discredited because of his claims of personal service and education credentials, but his writings on insurgency still merit discussion I think).

begin excerpt

1. Insurgency: An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. (JCS Definition)

a. It is an armed expression of internal and organic (regardless of external support) political disaffiliation. May be offensive (revolutionary war) or defensive (separatist or autonomous movements). (Dr. Larry Cable)

b. A protracted political-military struggle designed to weaken government control and legitimacy while increasing insurgent control and legitimacy (FM 31-20 Special Forces Operations)

c. Each insurgency has its own unique characteristics based on strategic objectives, its operational environment, and available resources (FM 31-20)

(1) Revolutionary insurgencies seek to overthrow existing social order and reallocate power within the country.

(2) Other insurgencies seek to:

• Overthrow an established government without a follow-on social revolution.
• Establish autonomous national territory within the borders of a state
• Cause a withdrawal of an occupying power
• Extract political concessions that are unobtainable through less violent means

end excerpt

I would also beat the dead horse and remind us if we had read our own doctrine in 2001 and 2003 (FM 31-20 is approved Army doctrine even though it is title Special Forces Operations) we would have (or perhaps courl have) had a better understadning of what we were about to face in Afghanistan and Iraq. There should have been no surprise.

Bob's World

Thu, 08/04/2011 - 7:24am

Well, regardless of the last posts, in reviewing through this I was struck by Mark O'Niells:

"This paper confuses resistance with insurgency, and in doing so overreaches. The Japanese occupation of the Philippines did not constitute a legitimate sovereign state authority within that country. The fight against it was not an insurgency."

Mark, I would differ in that Resistance is very much a form of insurgency. Definitions that focus on degree of violence, or the existance of a "constituted government", or overly strict interpretations of what "intrastate" means drift away from the essence of what makes insurgcy. In effect, they are distinctions without a difference.

I personally break insurgency down by 3 broad categories: Revolutionary (change all or some critical aspect of one's own government through illegal means for political purpose); Separatist (break some part of a country off to form a new country under new and separate government); and Resistance ( efforts by a populace to remove some government that has been forced upon them by outsiders).

Certainly in Iraq all three forms existed at the same time; with AQ there conducting UW with the Sunni Arabs and also bringing in foreign fighters to conduct Guerrilla Warfare against the US Coalition as well.

If Afghanistan there is both a Revolutionary movement (focused primarily in the leadership of the various Taliban factions that are more politically driven and operating out of Pakistan) and within Afganistan a very powerful resistance against both the Coalition forces and the Northern Alliance-based GIRoA forces as well in the rural areas where we have pushed out into in an effort to force this govenrment that we elevated into power by external means onto a populace that (quite reasonably) does not accept that situation.

In many ways we find ourselves in the same shoes in Afghanistan today as the Japanese found themselves in the Philippines during WWII. Understanding the distinctions between resistance insurgency and revolutionary insurgency is CRITICAL to our making any true headway in Afghanistan.

Currently the debate is much more on rural vs urban insurgency. Silly stuff there. Talk about distinctions without a difference. No, we need to come to appreciate that within Afghanistan proper we are primarily engaging the resistance, and that the harder one pushes against a resistance the harder it pushes back. The more we are there the more it resists our illegitimate presence. We can achieve temporary suppression of such a movement, but so long as the political issues driving the Revolution are alive and well, the resistance will endure.

By understanding resistance we come to realize that less is more in terms of our efforts there. Night Raids, Clear-Hold-Build operations; Massive Development projects; and yes, even VSO and security force capacity building are all programs that by there very nature ignore the issues driving the revolution, and by their very implementation tend to make the will to resist within the populace stronger than ever.

So, yes, we need to understand resistance (and yes, people will resist "good guys" like the US just as hard as they resist "bad guys" like WWII Germans in France and the Ukraine; or Japanese in the Philippines or Manchuria. It is human nature.

Once we understand this we then need to completely re-tool our approach in Afghanistan to being much more political in nature and directed at the issues of GIRoA governance (a monopoly formed by us, led by a man we picked, and made the law of the land in a Constitution we helped produce and now protect) that has a much smaller footprint among the people.

Bottom line is that the people of Afghanistan is not failing the government there, it is the government that is failing the people. It is not the government that needs to exercise greater control over the populace, it is the populace that has lost control of the government.

just a couple of thoughts to consider.


Nancy Barone(Bouse) (not verified)

Wed, 01/19/2011 - 9:32pm

Please direct any info about the 655th field artillery battalion which my father, Adam Bouse fought with to Any help would be appreciated.

Nancy Barone(Bouse) (not verified)

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 2:16am

Please direct any information regarding the 655th
battalion activity in WWII (Philippines) to
Nancy Barone. email

Nancy Barone(Bouse) (not verified)

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 1:33am

I am looking for any information regarding the
locations where the 655th artillery battalion fought in the Philippines during WWII. My father, Adam Bouse, fought with that group and I
am trying to gather information to fill in the locations missing in the many letters he sent for
about 2 years leading up to 1945. He left out all
military details due to censorship rules.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Mark O'Neill

Fri, 05/01/2009 - 8:33am

This paper confuses resistance with insurgency, and in doing so overreaches. The Japanese occupation of the Philippines did not constitute a legitimate sovereign state authority within that country. The fight against it was not an insurgency.

The practise of guerilla warfare, like that practised by Filipinos against the Japanese in the Philippines, is not necessarily synonomous with insurgency. The allies conducted and supported guerilla warfare in several theatres against both German and Japanese occupations - yet one cannot, and should not, characterise these as insurgencies.

Guerilla warfare is merely a method (a 'way' in the sense of strategy - just like terrorism) that can be used by a range of actors, not just insurgents.

One of the key element of insurgency is that the conflict is an intrastate one - this, clearly, does not apply to the example cited. Japanese 'authority' in the Philippines was neither indigenous or lawful. The conflict being analysed in this paper, whilst an interesting study in guerilla warfare, is not an insurgency. It is a case of resistance to occupation.