During the siege of Bastogne in December 1944, the German general Heinrich von Lüttwitz sent his American adversaries a note, explaining how “the fortune of war is changing” and that “there is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town.”
The note was received by Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe of the U.S. Army, who famously replied: “NUTS!” The siege went on, but the Americans prevailed.
It’s fortunate the commander under attack was not from the United Nations. For when a U.N. peacekeeping contingent recently found itself outnumbered and surrounded by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, the commander in charge ordered his troops to lay down their arms and surrender.
But the peacekeepers, who are all part of the Philippine military, had other thoughts. As General Gregorio Pio Catapang explained to the Associated Press, “I told them not to follow the order because that is a violation of our regulation, that we do not surrender our firearms, and, at the same time, there is no assurance that you will be safe after you give your firearms.” (The unit was able to escape, although fighting between the rebels and U.N. peacekeepers is ongoing.)
The head of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force had his reasons: Syrian rebels were already holding 45 other peacekeepers from Fiji. But delivering one group of hostages in hopes that the terrorists would release the others simply didn’t make any sense to Catapang (or to The Scrapbook, for that matter). And considering the vast majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholic (more than 80 percent of the country’s population), there’s a good chance the terrorists would not have taken kindly to this fresh batch of prisoners.
The Philippine armed forces have faced such perils in the past—and much worse. It is estimated that 5,000 Filipinos perished during the Bataan Death March in 1942 (along with 750 Americans). In Ghost Soldiers, author Hampton Sides mentions “one notable mass execution in which 350 members of the Philippine 91st Army Division were herded up, tied with telephone wire, and systematically beheaded by sword.”
Clearly General Catapang was not about to let that happen again.