What Was the Bataan Death March?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Bataan Death March was an infamous transfer of prisoners from the Philippine province of Bataan to inland prison camps. Thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war died during the Bataan Death March, which was later deemed a Japanese war crime. In both the United States and the Philippines, annual memorials commemorate the event, and in some cases survivors of the Bataan Death March are present to talk with people about the experience. Survivor accounts are also available in numerous books.

Men on the Bataan Death March were weakened by exposure to malaria.
Men on the Bataan Death March were weakened by exposure to malaria.

This event was the culmination of the Battle of Bataan, a struggle between Japanese troops and American and Filipino forces for control of Bataan. The Japanese ultimately won, negotiating the surrender of an estimated 90,000 prisoners of war from Major General Edward P. King, who asked the Japanese forces if the men would be treated humanely, receiving the response “we are not barbarians.” On 9 April, 1942, the Japanese began to transfer the men to camps.

The men on the Bataan Death March were already weak from lack of food and exposure to malaria, which is endemic in the region. Some were transferred on trucks, but most were ordered to walk, with the Japanese forces believing that the roughly 60 mile (97 kilometer) walk to the camps was not unreasonable. Over the course of a week, the men slowly worked their way to the camps; upon arrival, somewhere between 54,000 and 72,000 men remained.

Many men died on the Bataan Death March due to lack of food, and the inability to stop and rest. Many more, however, died as victims of wanton cruelty and abuse. Japanese soldiers rode along the line of marching prisoners of war, beheading them, shooting them, beating them, slitting their throats, and gutting them, largely for fun. The marchers were also deprived of food and water, which would have been especially brutal in the extreme heat of the region.

News of the Bataan Death March quickly reached the rest of the world, with Americans being quick to condemn the actions of the Japanese forces. Prisoners of war have generally been regarded as sacred, and the failure to treat the men humanely was viewed with horror and dismay, even by nations not directly affected. In 1945, several of the individuals in command during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines were tried for their actions in the Bataan Death March, with at least one commander, General Homma, being convicted and sentenced to death for his role in this wartime atrocity.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Before attempting to make a profound judgment, try walking in the shoes of another person, 500 miles as you suggest, and then decide whether this will resolve the conflict.


What horror are you people talking about? Death March is the greatest invention of the Japanese military. I think, it's about time the Philippine government implemented this punishment for captured NPA or Moro rebels.

Force these captives to walk five hundred (500) kilometers, fully naked, all the way to established prison camps, with no food. And let us see if these insurgents will ever think of rising up against the government.

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