Today Hiroo Onoda died at 91. He is famous for having refused to accept that WWII ended in 1945. He continued to fight the war for 29 more years, living in the jungle, first with a couple of fellow soldiers then alone. He only accepted it when his commanding officer from 1945 personally delivered his stand down orders in 1974. Initially my reaction to the story was the same as most people's, likely similar to the feelings of the Japanese who welcomed him back home as a hero. I was in absolute awe at his unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to honor. If only more people were like that...
But the more I read about his story and began to think of the reality it represented the more I began to feel like everyone was reading the story wrong. During his three decades "fighting" a war that no longer existed he killed as many as 30 locals. He needlessly, senselessly killed almost three dozen fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc. He killed them because he chose to reject reality. Various efforts were made over those thirty years to contact him and convince him the war was over, but he rejected the evidence every time. And so he went on killing innocent people. But not only that, the praise which he roundly receives relates to his commitment to duty, and yet what was he accomplishing? His final orders were supposedly to stay behind and spy on American forces. Surely by any measure he must have done a fantastically rotten job of that. The purpose of spying is to collect and relay information. What information did he collect in 30 years? What information did he relay in 30 years? Presumably almost none. Perhaps initially (for the first year or so) he was somewhat active in collecting information about troop movements, but clearly he had no one to whom to relay it. And simply senselessly evading capture and killing innocent people cannot count as good spying or soldiering. He was simply wasting his life and worse wasting other people's lives, all in the name of some blind, dumb, pig-headed honor. I can't find anything praise worthy in that.
Why wouldn't his honor require him to make contact with his homeland? Why wouldn't his honor require him to return to his homeland for new orders? Why wouldn't his honor force him to realize that he was failing to fulfill his final orders and that he needed to be given new ones? Those sorts of people we do not need.
I began the day impressed with Hiroo Onoda, and ended it disappointed in him. Ah well... So it goes.