John Bradshaw - The March of Death
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This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Welcome to the Philippines and to Manila, the nation's capital, 1.8 million people call the city of Manila home, and almost 13 million live in the metropolitan area, placing metro Manila in the world's top 20 populations. And if you drive through Manila, and you'll do so slowly, you'd believe it. It can take a long time to get from anywhere to anywhere in Manila. But when it comes to getting around Manila, at least you have options.
The Philippines is an archipelago, an island nation. But although there are 7,500 or so islands here, only 11 of them are larger than Oahu. The Philippines sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so earthquakes are common, while the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century and caused temperatures around the world to fall. TIME magazine said the Philippines was "the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms". A typhoon in 2013 killed more than 6,000 people.
The country's favorite son is boxer Manny Pacquiao, Senator Manny Pacquiao. He's so popular in the Philippines, police say that crime stops in Manila whenever he fights, and the busy streets of Manila go quiet. Imelda Marcos was the well-known Philippines First Lady for more than 20 years, who became famous for her collection of shoes, some say more than 1,000 pairs; others say almost 3,000 pairs. Although the national language is Tagalog, or Filipino, more people speak English in the Philippines than in the United Kingdom. The Philippines was colonized by Spain in the 16th century. More than 300 years later, the United States took control of the country following the Spanish-American War. But two years into World War II, the country would be ruled by yet another power: Japan.
Japan attacked the Philippines on December the 8th, 1941, just hours after it attacked Pearl Harbor. The combined US-Filipino force in the Philippines was under-resourced and under-prepared. So Japan made fairly easy work of rolling through the Philippines, occupying Manila on January the 2nd, 1942. Fighting a war on two fronts made it harder for the United States in the Pacific, and as important as it was to defeat Japan, defeating Germany was the priority. Filipinos had felt secure, believing that American military might would see off any attack. But that confidence was misplaced. American forces had no option but to retreat.
When General Douglas MacArthur left the Philippines in 1942, with thousands of American servicemen still in the Philippines, he gave a speech at a train station in South Australia, where he said, "I shall return". But more than two years passed before MacArthur made it back to the Philippines. Two-and-a-half years or more is a long time to be at the mercy of an invading army. General Edward King was ordered by Douglas MacArthur to defend the Bataan Peninsula at all costs. MacArthur told him that if it came down to it, US troops were to charge the enemy. Well, of course, that would have led to a complete slaughter. With his men on a peninsula, water on three sides, and an advancing enemy on the fourth, King knew what he had to do, and he chose to disobey MacArthur's direct command.
On April the 9th, he stated that all forces on Bataan were to lay down their arms and surrender to the Japanese. It was the worst military defeat the United States had ever suffered. Twelve thousand Americans and 58,000 Filipinos were captured that day. As King was negotiating surrender, he asked a Japanese military leader if his men would be well-treated as prisoners of war. He was told, "We are not barbarians". Well, the events of the next few weeks and months would prove that statement to be inaccurate. The Bataan Peninsula would become the starting point of a journey of horror, a march of death. American forces were at a low point, many overcome by malnourishment and diseases such as beriberi and scurvy, as well as dysentery.
But the Japanese decided they needed to move 12,000 Americans and 58,000 Filipinos out of the Bataan Peninsula. They would move them to Camp O'Donnell, a distance of about 65 miles. The prisoners would be marched to a train station. Then they'd march again to Camp O'Donnell when they got off the train. It's fair to say Japan had no idea it would suddenly be stuck with having to deal with 70,000 prisoners of war. And if Japan kept those prisoners weak, they'd be easier to manage. But what unfolded would be an unbelievably dark chapter of World War II, and it would prompt the asking of some questions that are not easy to answer.
One of the questions most asked by people wrestling with matters of faith is, "Why does God allow tragedy to happen"? I've been asked that question all over the world, and it's a fair question, a question that comes close to everyone because wherever you have people you have heartbreak and pain and loss and grief and all that comes with it. Why do horrible things like this happen? Why do babies die of cancer? Innocent people get killed by drunk drivers? Why, if there's a God, would people be subjected to inhuman cruelty? Which is precisely what came to the men unfortunate enough to be forced into the Bataan Death March. The answers exist, but they're not easy. And the answers demand something of us. I'll be back in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. One thing about war is that it ordinarily takes place a long way away from where you are in time and place. Even though World War II happened a long time ago, the horrors of World War II were very real. Try to imagine what it was like for the men on the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, and you can't. Seventy thousand men were forced to march most of 65 miles from the Bataan Peninsula across the bay from Manila in the Philippines to a prisoner-of-war camp. Thousands of them died along the way. Put yourself into that situation, no doubt you'll find yourself struggling to deal with it.
Wouldn't you imagine yourself battling to deal with the senselessness of it all, the bitter cruelty of it all, marching in sweltering heat without food and water, soldiers being killed indiscriminately, completely without reason? How do you make sense of senselessness like that? You might even be trying to make sense out of your own difficult situation. In the Bible, there were plenty of people who tried to make sense out of their difficult situations. In the story of Job, Job wrestles with the terrible affliction that came upon him. He lost his home, his children, his possessions. So Job tries to figure out what's going on. But behind the scenes there's something taking place that Job can't possibly know about. Satan is behind the affliction that Job is suffering, and the whole episode reveals that there are issues more important than our suffering or our well-being, issues that God wants us to understand.
Now, Job's friends are convinced that Job has done something to cause his misfortune. They're thinking, "You had to have done something to deserve this". Which isn't uncommon. One day, Jesus was told that Pilate had killed some Galileans while they were offering sacrifices. Jesus said, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no". And He said in verses 4 and 5, "Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no". People like to have neat explanations for suffering.
Take the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The common thought in Jesus' day was that if you were rich, you were clearly blessed by God, and poverty was proof of God's displeasure. Well, wrong. Jesus turned things upside down in that story when He had a beggar in glory and a rich man in torment. How could that be? Neat explanations for life's deep mysteries might be neat, but they're inadequate. It sits better with a lot of people to reduce God down, to find throwaway answers to explain the workings of God. So I wonder what might have gone through the minds of the men on the Bataan Death March. They were soldiers fighting for their countries, Americans and Filipinos. And now their captors were marching them 65 miles, and it was beyond miserable. It was obvious that many of them were going to die a ghastly death, unnecessarily. How do you explain that?
Men who were on the march said the temperatures were up over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 38 degrees Celsius, or higher. It was the hottest time of the year in the Philippines. And the men were forced to march without food or water. They were already weakened before the march; 25 percent of the men on Bataan were in hospital or were being treated for illness; about 40 percent of the men had malaria. They were so short of food they'd been eating iguanas, monkeys, and snakes. They had eaten the cavalry horses. By the time the Bataan Death March started, they were out of food, with nothing to drink, marching in the blistering heat for 65 miles. Many of the men on the march had survived the furious bombing and the fierce combat on the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, only to find themselves marching to death. The brutality was difficult to imagine.
Death March survivor Lester Tenney said, "It wasn't called the Bataan Death March only because people died. It was called the Bataan Death March because of the way men died. If you stopped, you died. If you fell down, you died. If you had a malaria attack, you died. If you couldn't take another step, you died. Use the bathroom, you died. We had no food and no water. Either they cut your head off, they shot you or they bayoneted you". Many POWs were killed simply for sport. While 1.5 percent of American prisoners of war held by Germany died in captivity, more than 40 percent of American POWs held by Japan died in captivity.
Do you ever ask yourself the question why? "Why me"? "Why my grandfather with Alzheimer's"? "Why my grandmother with cancer"? "Why is my brother in prison"? "Why did I have that accident"? "Why did I lose my family or my future? Why"? Fair questions, that's for sure. But no matter what answer you come up with, it's almost always unsatisfactory when you're experiencing your own, your own private hell. Well, the men on the Bataan Death March would eventually arrive in the town of San Fernando, where they would board trains to take them on the next leg of their journey. So things were gonna get better for them, right? Well, I'll have more in just a moment.
When the Bataan Death March reached the train station, this train station in San Fernando, American and Filipino prisoners of war were crammed into metal boxcars for the journey to Karpas, which took more than a couple of hours. One hundred men were pressed into boxcars large enough to hold only 40. They were jammed in so tight they couldn't sit down. There were no sanitation facilities. Now, remember, the men were sick. They had dysentery. There was no medical care provided. It was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The boxcars were like ovens. Hundreds of men who survived the march didn't survive the journey by train. When the trains arrived in Karpas, the men had to march again, often holding each other up because they knew should anyone fall or stop walking, that man would be executed. The men leaned on each other for survival. The psychological pressure was immense.
During the march, their Japanese captors referred to the POWs as cowards, told them that they were lower than dogs because they surrendered. Decades later, survivors of the march would talk about the great difficulty they had just thinking about it, the graphic images that would come to mind when they reflected on their time here. Once they arrived at what's now known as Camp O'Donnell, the ravages of the march really began to take hold. Hundreds of men were dying every day. Some men died with a canteen in their hand waiting to get water.
Now, remember they're sick, many of them diseased. They're malnourished, exhausted; they haven't had anything to eat or drink in ages. Within two weeks, the strongest survivors were shipped to Japan to work as slaves in coal mines or factories. The ships that took them to Japan were deliberately left unmarked. Nothing indicated that there were POWs on board. Literally thousands of Americans died on those ships, sunk by American forces. Twenty-six ships carrying American POWs were sunk by the United States because Japan refused to put markings on the ships. So, you're a slave in a Japanese coal mine; you're a long way from home. Maybe you wonder what the sense of it all is.
Now, go back to the time of David, and no doubt there were people wondering why. The Bible says King David numbers Israel. He conducts a census, something he should not have done, because in doing so, he was demonstrating that his hope was in his army rather than in God, who gave him victory over Goliath and brought down the walls of Jericho, and so on. God wanted David trusting Him and sending the message to Israel that their hope was in God and not in men. Now, as a consequence of what David did, God sent a plague that killed 70,000 people. Now, were these people guilty? No, they weren't. They were just... collateral damage.
Now, try making sense out of that. Is that fair? Well, of course it's not fair. But if you want to talk about what's fair, let's talk about Calvary. Jesus was nailed to a cross. He took upon Himself the sins of the entire world. He was ridiculed, falsely accused. He was beaten, tortured, and He hadn't done anything wrong. Now, that was not fair. But what all this reveals is that in God's eyes, there are even bigger questions than our comfort, our earthly well-being, even our survival, or His, for that matter. And why is that? There are things going on in this world behind the scenes that we can't really understand. And remember Job? Job was unaware of the spiritual battle taking place outside of his view. He was also unaware that his misfortune would help us. It would help us to see that there's a spiritual battle taking place behind the scenes today.
What Job learned is that what matters ultimately is that we trust God, that we realize there's a bigger picture, and that ultimately God is in control. He said in Job 42:5, a very important verse, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You". Job was saying, "Finally, I get it. My job is to simply trust You, God, no matter what". And that's it. Trust in God, no matter what. In Job 38, God says, "Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding".
Job 38:3-4. He goes on to say, "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place? Have you entered the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in search of the depths? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this". Job 38:12, 16-18. For four chapters, God answers Job. It's the longest speech given by God in the entire Bible, and God doesn't deal with Job's guilt or innocence. He doesn't even try to make sense out of Job's suffering. He simply reveals to Job one of the most important things a person could ever learn.
There are times when things just don't make sense, and that's when you remember that God is God. That's it. God is God. If you try to make sense out of your own personal difficult experiences, well, you're not always going to be able to. People often say, "Well, everything happens for a reason". So try telling that to a soldier on the Bataan Death March, or to somebody in a concentration camp. What could the reason be for that? The reason is often simply that there's sin in the world. Wicked things happen because of the presence of wickedness. Why did the Bataan Death March happen? Because a nation wanted to be a great empire, plain and simple. Japan's co-prosperity sphere was promoted: "We'll free you from Western colonial oppression, and we'll all prosper".
Well, that was never gonna happen, and it didn't. You go all the way back before Creation, and Satan said basically the same thing. "I will be like the Most High". Isaiah 14:14. Someone wanted to be great. The truth is sometimes there's no reason for human rights abuses like the Bataan Death March, other than sin. I said earlier that when you ask the question why, the answer you find demands a lot from you, it does. When God says, "Just trust me," that isn't always easy. Your child dies. God says, "Just trust me". Let's not kid each other here. That's not easy. You're involved in a terrible accident. You lose your job or your home. God says, "Just trust me". You're facing an impossible future, and God says, "Trust me"? Yes, that's what God says. Because the truth is our time on this earth is very short. The ball isn't always gonna bounce your way.
Life can seem unfair, but ultimately we're here to learn a lesson: Trust God. The Bible says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose". Romans 8:28. So, what worked for good as a result of the Bataan Death March? Well, those who wanted to learn lessons about war and cruelty and war crimes certainly could. General Homma, the Japanese general responsible for the death march, was executed for war crimes.
The Americans and Filipinos played their part in bringing victory, and that's no small thing. But try telling that to someone dying of thirst, or at the wrong end of an enemy bayonet. It takes a lot of faith to accept. But ultimately we have to remember that life isn't about fairness or things that make sense. Often, life just doesn't make sense, not from our vantage point. But if you can trust a God who is working things out behind the scenes, if you can trust that God has your best interests at heart, if you can trust that there's a coming day when there'll be no more sin, no more death, no more war, no more cruelty, then you can look beyond the harsh challenges of this world, and you can know that one day God is gonna make all things new and all things good.