Sometimes it pays to listen

Just finished reading Mark Manson’s best seller “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck”. My initial impression was that this was a book about carefree and unrestricted living….as in not giving a f*ck. But I was wrong.

It’s a book about values. It asks you to discern what is important (what you give a f*ck about) and what is not important. It talks about some values to ignore such as a nice house, good job and plenty of money. Even positive thinking and seeking happiness is overrated. It encourages you to accept pain as an inevitable part of the human condition and move on.

There is a lot more to this book than described above. It is a valuable life guide to which you will return time after time. I highly recommend it.

But I digress. What I wish to write about today is a true story told in the book about Japanese Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda. The year was 1944. The war was turning against the Japanese. The US was gaining ascendancy in the Pacific.

In December 1944, Onoda was deployed with a small number of troops to the Filipino island of Lubang. He was ordered to slow American progress in the region and never to surrender.

A few months later US troops overran Lubang with overwhelming force. Within days most of Onoda’s men had surrendered or been killed. But Onoda and three men escaped US detection in the island’s jungle.

From their concealed position, they deployed guerrilla tactics against the American troops, killing some, disrupting supplies but never surrendering.

In August 1945, the world entered the atomic age with the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese capitulated and the war ended. …. But not Onoda.

In fact, there were many Japanese troops hidden in jungles and mountains in and around the Pacific. The US government in conjunction with the Japanese government dropped thousands of leaflets informing Japanese troops that the war was over and it was time to return home.

Onoda read these leaflets but did not believe their message. He was ordered never to surrender and he would obey his orders.

Five years passed and the leaflets ceased. Lubang was returned to its people who tried to resume their normal lives. However, Onoda and his men continued to disrupt and attack what was otherwise a quiet fishing and farming community.

In 1952, the Japanese government tried one final time to bring home lost and missing troops. It embarked on another leaflet campaign. The leaflets identified missing troops and contained messages from loved ones and a personal note from the emperor.

Still, Onoda did not surrender.

In the mid 1950s, the locals began to respond in kind to the terror from the jungle. They armed themselves and began firing back. One of Onoda’s troops surrendered and another was killed. By 1959, Onoda was on his own. Onoda had now spent more than half his life in the jungle!

In 1972, the Japanese and Philippines government organised search parties to locate Onoda and the others that were still missing. Surely, Onoda could not still be holding out almost 30 years after the conclusion of the war? Onoda was not located.

The story has a quirky ending.

In 1972, a young Japanese hippy adventurer Norio Suzuki, decided to travel to Lubang to find Onoda.

Despite the lack of success of previous and larger search parties, Suzuki was confident. His approach was simple. Unarmed, he proposed to walk into the jungle calling out Onoda’s name.

Suzuki succeeded and stayed in the jungle with Onoda for a short time.

Onoda returned to Japan in 1974 but not before his commanding officer travelled to Lubang to personally order him home. He turned over his sword, his functioning Arisaka Type 99 rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, several hand grenades and a dagger given to him by his mother who told him to use it on himself if he was ever captured.

Only Teruo Nakamura who was arrested in December 1974, held out longer.

Onoda was upset by what he saw on his return home. Japan was a busy consumerist society reading from a Western script. Onoda’s values of emperor, loyalty and obedience were long forgotten.

Onoda, feeling out of place, fell into depression.

In 1980, he moved to Brazil where he died in 2014.

It’s a breathtaking story with many takeaways. For me the important lesson is to open our minds and listen. The universe is often telling us where to go and how to get there but the noise of modern life and our own ego drown out these messages. We do not believe or accept or hear what we are being told.

Every now and then we should shut down our devices, switch off the television, remove the plugs and phones from our ears, find a quiet place and just listen. You will be surprised at what you may hear.

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