the tragedy of bataan

Study Guide


Grades: 9-12


On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Within the same 24 hours the Imperial Japanese also attacked Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Wake Island Guam and the Philippine Islands. Within a short time those western territories surrendered-all but the Philippine Islands. Japan believed they were “liberating” the territories by their belief in Co-Prosperity Sphere.

General Douglas MacArthur was commander of the joint American-Filipino Army in the Philippines. They resisted the Imperial Japanese Army for several months waiting for the United States to send re-enforcements and supplies. But the United States adopted a "Europe First" policy and President Franklin Roosevelt ordered General MacArthur to leave the Philippines and go to Australia.

General MacArthur left in command Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright. Wainwright assumed his command on the island of Corregidor. The troops on the Bataan Peninsula were commanded by Major General Edward P. King.

Because supplies were not getting through from the U.S. their rations had been severely cut so many suffered from malnutrition. The American-Filipino troops also endured tropical diseases such as malaria and dysentery. Eventually on April 9 King surrendered these troops to the Imperial Japanese. Nearly 75,000 were surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army-this was the largest surrender in United States military history.

Those prisoners surrendered were not recognized as prisoners-of –war by the Japanese but as captives. Japan had not ratified the latest Geneva Convention (1927)-an international agreement on the treatment of prisoners-of-war.

The 75,000 captives were forced to march out of the Bataan Peninsula north 66 miles to a prison camp known as Camp O’Donnell. It is estimated that on this march over 650 American soldiers and 10,000 Filipino soldiers died.

Meanwhile, Lt-General Jonathan Wainwright commanding the troops on Corregidor Island refused to surrender. His forces continued to fight with the belief that the United States would send help. Wainwright was finally forced to surrender the troops on Corregidor and all neighboring Islands to the Imperial Japanese General Masahara Homma on May 6, 1942.

Historic Figures
Major General Edward P. King
Emperor Hirohito*
General Masahara Homma
General Douglas MacArthur
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Prime Minister Hideki Tojo*
Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright

December 7, 1941/December 8 1941: Japan launches attacks on several territories.
December 24, 1941*: General MacArthur declares Manila an Open City.
April 9, 1942: Major-General Edward P. King surrenders the troops on Bataan.
May 6, 1942: Lt-General Jonathan Wainwright surrenders Corregidor and the rest of the neighboring islands.

The Philippines
Corregidor Island
Bataan Peninsula

*Not mentioned in the program.

Other concepts
International Date Line
The Geneva Convention
Open City
Europe First Policy
Japan’s Co-Prosperity Plan
The Emperor System
Bushido Doctrine


  1. What happened to the horse Calvary during the battle of Bataan and why?
  2. Who was General MacArthur and why did he leave the Philippines?
  3. List three things that contributed to the surrender of American-Filipino forces in the Philippines.
  4. What was the Doctrine of Bushido?
  5. April 9 is also an important date during the Civil War. What happened on April 9, 1865?
  6. What was The Bataan Death March?
Suggested Student activities:
  1. Have the students compare the United States Government System with Japan’s Imperial System the 1920's-1945.
  2. Have the students research why the British were in Singapore and why the Dutch were in the Dutch East Indies. Why was there a United States military base in the Philippine Islands?
  3. Compare the ethics of The Code of Bushido to Western systems of ethics.
  4. Have the students estimate the logistics including length of time for the United States to re-enforce their garrison in the Philippines. (Include distances.)
  5. Have the students figure out the caloric requirement for an American soldier and a Japanese soldier in World War II? How does this differ from present day battle requirements?
  6. Have the students compare the treatment of the American POW with the Japanese Internment Camps in the United States.