An Island of Killing and Slaughter: Anti-Guerrilla Warfare and Civilian-Targeted Violence in Panay, 1943

Document Type


Publication Date



Between July and December 1943, Japanese forces in Panay, the Philippines, perpetrated large-scale and widespread atrocities that deliberately targeted the civilian populace of the island. Houses were burned, crops destroyed, livestock slaughtered, and thousands of civilians of all ages and genders were killed. These atrocities were employed strategically as part of an anti-guerrilla campaign designed to compel civilians to give up their support for a guerrilla resistance movement which had flourished in Panay since the surrender of USAFFE troops in May 1942. The conduct of Japanese troops during this campaign was a drastic departure from earlier anti-guerrilla efforts which had avoided attacks against the civilian population in favour of pacification policies. In this article, I draw on Japanese, Philippine and US sources to reconstruct the history of anti-guerrilla warfare and civilian-targeted violence in Panay, a case that has received limited scholarly attention, to build a more complete picture of the context in which Japanese strategy shifted so dramatically in 1943. I explore the circumstances in which Japanese commanders decided to employ violence against civilians and offer some insights into the factors that shaped the radicalisation of military strategy useful for understanding atrocities perpetrated by Japanese forces in other contexts.