January 17, 2014

29 years on an island fighting a war that had ended, Hiroo Onoda thought of "Nothing but accomplishing my duty."

He didn't believe the pamphlets that said Japan had surrendered. He thought they were a trick. And the last order he'd received was never to surrender but to fight to the death, a fight that included killing islanders whom he took to be enemy guerrillas.
The last holdout, Lieutenant Onoda — officially declared dead in 1959 — was found by Norio Suzuki, a student searching for him in 1974. The lieutenant rejected his pleas to go home, insisting he was still awaiting orders. Mr. Suzuki returned with photographs, and the Japanese government sent a delegation, including the lieutenant’s brother and his former commander, to formally relieve him of duty.

“I am sorry I have disturbed you for so long a time,” Lieutenant Onoda told his brother, Toshiro.

In Manila, the lieutenant, wearing his tattered uniform, presented his sword to President Marcos, who pardoned him for crimes committed while he thought he was at war.
The link goes to the long NYT obit, which stresses how important Onoda was to the Japanese in the 1970s because he represented values that contrasted to then-prevalent materialism. From paragraph 4:
[H]is homecoming... stirred his nation with a pride that many Japanese had found lacking in postwar years of rising prosperity and materialism....
From paragraph 12:
More than patriotism or admiration for his grit, his jungle saga, which had dominated the news in Japan for days, evoked waves of nostalgia and melancholy in a people searching for deeper meaning in their growing postwar affluence.
From paragraph 15:
In an editorial, The Mainichi Shimbun, a leading Tokyo newspaper, said: “To this soldier, duty took precedence over personal sentiments. Onoda has shown us that there is much more in life than just material affluence and selfish pursuits. There is the spiritual aspect, something we may have forgotten.”
That says something about Japan in the 70s, but it also says something about the United States right now, the United States as seen by The New York Times, which did not need to publish such a long, elegant, respectful obituary and to put it top and center on its website front page and which chose to highlight the idea that affluence is or can be experienced as a deep spiritual problem.

What is the NYT trying to say to us? (Multiple answers allowed.)
  
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ADDED: If you answered that poll, please go on to answer one more question:

Is the NYT trying to help Obama by massaging us into acceptance of our bad economy and more taxation and regulation?
  
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56 comments:

David said...

The New York Times is uneasy about materialism?

Giggle.

Have they checked out their entire marketing plan?

MadisonMan said...

Let's talk about a dead WWII soldier. It distracts from uncomfortable goings-on in Washington DC.

Unknown said...

The story is odd enough to merit comment, the dedication and commitment aspect particularly so.

Hagar said...

Never mind that the economy is in the tank; it is for the common good, so suck it up and do your duty.

EDH said...

Wasn't that a recurring theme on Gilligan's Island?

No, not anti-materialism (well, that too), but lost WWII Japanese soldiers.

Hagar said...

(But you, not us!)

rehajm said...

Affluent, effete liberals are all that's left of their audience. Shoot yourself in the foot whydontya.

Curious George said...

This guy is the poster child of why Harry S had to drop the bomb.

Paul Zrimsek said...

What is the NYT trying to say to us?

* It is a lying trick to say the Revolution has ended. Though we have not heard from our comrades since 1970, we will hold out on this island in the name of the Proletariat.

PB Reader said...

The Times is all-in and stuck on stupid.

RecChief said...

just remember this is the "news" organization that said, only a couple of weeks ago, that Benghazi was a spontaneous demonstration to a youtube video, when that has proven to be a false statement.

I think what the Times, the propaganda arm of the Obama admin, is saying that all the obama followers should fight to the death, just like this japanese soldier's orders were to keep fighting and never surrender. It's meant to buck up the faithful who have already submitted to this travesty. "Don't give up now, single payer is around the corner," "#FullCommunism" and all the rest of the progressive leftist agenda.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The Professor... Hiroo Onoda... Expect one more death of a person famous for being stuck on an island.

Henry said...

More than patriotism or admiration for his grit, his jungle saga, which had dominated the news in Japan for days, evoked waves of nostalgia and melancholy in a people searching for deeper meaning in their growing postwar affluence.

This quote is also usefully applied to Godzilla.

azaniamindset said...

Wait, why isnt "Increase taxes to pay for social services" an option

Timothy Stone said...

100th vote for the second poll. Woohoo!

Mitch H. said...

I was just watching my new DVDs of Leiji Matsumoto's 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock. It is about the most Nietzschean text you can imagine, being about the titular space pirate defending a degenerate, Last-Man Earth from an impending invasion and conquest by a more virile race of aliens. (The sub-text is that the alien race is either exclusively female or just matriarchal - I swear the writers can't make up their mind on the subject - and thus is kind of scaldingly misogynistic.) The whole plot of the series is how this rebellious son-of-earth keeps fighting a war that the utterly feckless, greedy, irresponsible, democratically-elected government doesn't even believe is happening.

Leiji Matsumoto was very much an exemplar of this anti-materialist, fascist-nostalgist trend in Seventies Japanese pop culture. (He also was involved in the creation of Space Battleship Yamato, which also can be read as a love-letter to pre-war demi-fascist Japanese militarism.)

When people complain about the "right-wing" tendency of anime, they're usually talking about Matsumoto and those he influenced, although sometimes the people complaining are commie-symp jackasses who think that anything that isn't intrisically Maoist is "right-wing", and probably consider actual ex-Maoist Hayao Miyazaki to be "right-wing".

Actually, now that I think about it, this NYT article probably isn't about American politics at all, but rather a fellow-travelling swipe at the Abe administration for edging its way around the anti-military articles of Japan's constitution and general right-wingery (international definition, not American definition).

Scott M said...

My answer: "No. The NYT doesn't want it's reader to realize how commercially successful an American patriotic story about a soldier (The Lone Survivor) has been at the box office."

Crimso said...

"Expect one more death of a person famous for being stuck on an island."

Then I should pick Woody Allen in S.Weasel's Celebrity Death Pool.

Timothy Stone said...

@Mitch H, you're "my people." Great examination of anime.

And looking at pop culture c. 1975, Lee Majors as Colonel Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man sees the titular hero working with a WWII Japanese holdout to secure a lost atomic bomb in The Last Kamakazi.

Donald Douglas said...

Take honor and duty along with some batshit crazy Japanese kamikaze ideology, and you get crazy old coots like Onoda. Japan loved it because they lost the freakin' war and this dude held out for 29 years while everyone else was porking their geishas and sucking down too much sake! For the fatherland!

James Pawlak said...


The distance between the New York Times and truth can be measured by its reporting as to "Behghazi" Vs. reality.

William said...

In the left's hierarchy of heroes, the highest echelon is occupied by third world guerrillas fighting in the jungle for the freedom and liberation of their people. Che is the patron saint of such causes, and Pol Pot is tactfully left unmentioned. This soldier is far down in the pecking order, but some credit must be given because he wasn't white and he was fighting against America. At the very bottom of the pecking order are Ameican special forces. Some credit is given when their mission fosters Obama's reelection or when they die as the result of a military blunder, but otherwise their deeds and death pass unnoticed.

Balfegor said...

There's actually a lot of WWII nostalgia going around in Japan these days. Eien no Zero (Eternal Zero), a novel about two siblings trying to find out about their grandfather, a Zero pilot, was made into a movie that just came out in December 2013. Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated movie, Kaze Tachinu ("The Wind Rises") is about the inventor of the Zero (though Miyazaki's sympathies are generally pacifist). That was 2013 too. A few years ago, there was Otoko-tachi no Yamato, about men serving on the battleship Yamato. And while it's not WWII per-se, there was also a movie based on the old anime series Space Battleship Yamato (in which the battleship Yamato is converted into a space battleship, as you might have guessed from the title, and used to fight aliens).

I feel like there was another one I'm forgetting, but oh well. It's enough for me to feel like there's a trend.

Skeptical Voter said...

The New York Times suffers from the delusion that it is a serious newspaper--rather than simply a blog supporting Obama.

Smilin' Jack said...

“To this soldier, duty took precedence over personal sentiments. Onoda has shown us that there is much more in life than just material affluence and selfish pursuits. There is the spiritual aspect, something we may have forgotten.”

Yeah, you can spend your life in the jungle killing innocent people for a war that was delusional to start with.

Give me material affluence and selfish pursuits any day.

Robert Cook said...

"The New York Times is uneasy about materialism?"

No, they're not, and the poll question is silly beyond belief.

John Lynch said...

So... how many Filipinos did he murder?

It was murder.

James Wolf said...

Onoda was not the last IJN soldier to be found. A few months after he surrendered a Taiwanese born private was discovered.

As for the Japanese attitude toward the war, the way the war ended may have let many Japanese feel they have no reason for soul searching over their atrocities like the Germans did.

Larry J said...

James Pawlak said...

The distance between the New York Times and truth can be measured by its reporting as to "Behghazi" Vs. reality.


The distance between the New York Times and the truth can be measured in parsecs.

John Lynch said...

how many Filipinos did he murder?


Reportedly, about 30.

Illuninati said...

"Onoda has shown us that there is much more in life than just material affluence and selfish pursuits. There is the spiritual aspect, something we may have forgotten."

WWII Japan was a pagan nation whose emperor was a God. When their emperor spoke to the nation and surrendered, their religion was destroyed. That is one reason why Japan adapted so readily to Western culture while Muslim countries like Afghanistan are unchanged - Japan's religion was destroyed while Islam was untouched by the war.

Right now the Japanese are living within the values set by the Judeo-Christian religion. As Judeo-Christian culture is eroded, eventually the Japanese will probably need to reassess their own spiritual heritage and will probably try to reestablish their own religious consensus.


The Drill SGT said...

Duty, Honor, Country...

Balfegor said...

Re: Illuninati:

.

Right now the Japanese are living within the values set by the Judeo-Christian religion.

Eh, what? Why would you think that? Their religion was certainly not destroyed. The old shrines to deified national worthies are all still quite active. The shrine to General Nogi, who won the victory at the siege of Port Arthur. The shrine to Togo, who smashed the Russian fleet at Tsushima. And of course, the immense shrine to the God Emperor Meiji. I visited the Meiji shrine in December. There were two wedding processions in the short time I was there, and a huge number of people lined up making offerings, and bowing to the inner sanctum of the shrine.

It's not like the old rites have come to an end. The Shrine at Ise was rebuilt in 2013, on the 20 year schedule they have kept punctually these many centuries. Descendants of the imperial bloodline still hold the high offices at the shrine.

Nor is it like the old families have relinquished their hold on power. The Prime Minister's grandfather (Nobusuke Kishi) was at one time imprisoned as a suspected Class A War Criminal, for his role in the wartime government. The Deputy Prime Minister's sister was married to the Emperor's cousin, Prince Tomohito; his great-great grandfather was one of the leading figures of the Meiji Restoration.

Westernisation in Japan long predated their defeat at the end of WW2. It started with the Meiji Restoration, with the adoption of model constitutions and diets and aristocratic hierarchies and legal codes based on the most advanced Western monarchies like England, or the German Empire.

We had to force the Japanese to abandon militarism. They had already Westernised themselves, as much as they ever will.

Anthony said...

Translation: "In this sucky economy you need to be happy with your awful station in life and provide service to the State for fulfillment."

Anthony said...

Translation: "In this sucky economy you need to be happy with your awful station in life and provide service to the State for fulfillment."

Mitch H. said...

Balfegor: I started responding to that destroyed-religion thing, but disappeared down the Wikipedia rabbit-hole trying to nail down the exact nature of the Imperial Family's current religious duties, which are, of course, divorced from the state by a chinese-wall of at least five, six milimeters of cheesecloth technicalities.

So yeah, the shrines are run by private corporations, and the Emperor is technically not a god anymore - but his godhead in prewar Japan was... ehhh, that sort of thing means different things to different religions, and especially different things to animists like Shinto believers.

State Shinto, that's definitely gone, in the more important facets like the whole children-swearing-allegiance-in-school daily ritual and the militant "in the name of the emperor" business. Although try telling the unquiet spirit of Mishima that last one, eh?

But Shinto, even shrine Shinto, is as alive and well as any religion practiced by a population on the downward slope of a demographic collapse *can* be.

Illuninati said...

"Eh, what? Why would you think that? Their religion was certainly not destroyed."

Here is the description of Mr. Onoda:
"Caught in a time warp, Mr. Onoda, a second lieutenant, was one of the war’s last holdouts: a soldier who believed the emperor was a deity and the war a sacred mission"

I have never known a Japanese person who believes the emperor is a deity. I'm not saying that there are none, perhaps you know some. In fact most of the Japanese I know are like those described in the article who are worlds apart from the people who fought in WWII.

After WWII the emperor signed the following statement:

"The ties between Us and Our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world. (official translation)"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanity_Declaration

In a country as large as Japan, your description of the activity at the Shinto shrines is not surprising and does not mean that the old religious structure which led to WWII is still intact. As the United States declines the Japanese will need to assert themselves and strengthen their army to survive. Lets hope that the activity around the shrine of the "God Emperor Meiji" is not a prelude to reestablishing the old religious/political structure with a new Japanese militarism like that which led to WWII.

Balfegor said...

Re: Mitch H:

State Shinto, that's definitely gone, in the more important facets like the whole children-swearing-allegiance-in-school daily ritual

Ah yes . . . they don't sing the hymn to the Emperor daily anymore, just at important events, eh? But the reverence for the Emperor survives in various ways. I thought it particularly moving when he spoke after the earthquake in 2011.

Balfegor said...

Re: Illuninati:

I have never known a Japanese person who believes the emperor is a deity. I'm not saying that there are none, perhaps you know some.

I think it stems from a confusion of categories. To say that the Emperor is arahitogami is not to say that he's necessarily God in the Western sense. Japan is famously the country of 8 million gods (yaoyorozu no kami) of which some are big and some are small. The nature of worship in Japan is not -- and has never been, as far as I am aware -- totalising in the sense that it is in the western tradition, where you have one God, who will suffer no other gods before him or behind him or along side him in any way. Ordinary people, like Nogi or Togo, could become Shinto gods too (even against their wishes, in the case of Nogi, if I recall correctly), so the fact that the Emperor was a kind of kami in the Japanese sense was never equivalent to saying he was God in the English sense.

Do the Japanese think the Emperor is God? I'd be surprised if they did -- I don't think they did even during the war. Do they think he is different from other men, a little holy in some sense? Well, I think a lot of them do, actually.

Not all to be sure -- you certainly see people talking online about how they don't think having an Emperor is consistent with their modern system of democracy and formal equality and all that. All the time. But occasionally you see these people also admit that if they met the Emperor they're worried they'd start weeping in his presence.

Illuninati said...

Balfegor said...

"But the reverence for the Emperor survives in various ways."

The Guardian has an article about the attempts by some Japanese to resuscitate belief in the divine emperor. This sentence sums up the entire article quite well.

"The slick, Shinto-oriented rewrite of history at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo denies that Emperor Hirohito renounced his divinity in 1946, as most westerners and Japanese believe."

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/aug/21/japan.jonathanwatts

Illuninati said...

Balfegor said...

"I think it stems from a confusion of categories. To say that the Emperor is arahitogami is not to say that he's necessarily God in the Western sense."

I'm not how many Westerners understand that aspect of Japanese culture. Your point is well taken, but it is difficult to accept that the Japanese regarded the emperor as just one among 8 million gods. In most polytheistic religions there seems to be a hierarchy of gods. I'm not sure where the emperor ranked but I'd bet he was quite close to the top. I doubt that a man like Mr. Onoda would hide out in the jungle for decades for just any of the 8 million gods.


Balfegor said...

Re: Illuninati:

the old religious structure which led to WWII is still intact

Also, I don't think it's accurate to blame State Shinto for WWII -- the link is tenuous at best. At root, the problem was that you had a total breakdown in civilian control over the Army and the Navy. In 1931, a bunch of Army officers tried to overthrow the government and were not punished at all in any meaningful way. 1932, a bunch of Navy cadets assassinated the Prime Minister, and were let off with a slap on the wrist. There were other coup attempts in 1934 and 1936. Only after the 1936 incident did they actually start meting out severe punishments (including executions) for soldiers going around assassinating high civilian officials and trying to overthrow the government, and even those punishments were only over the strenuous objections of the Army.

Meanwhile, the Kwantung army decided to annex Manchuria on the say-so of its commanding officer (and in contravention of orders they received from Tokyo).

Imperial Japan ended up with another military dictatorship because their shiny new westernised military simply wouldn't obey civilian leaders. Or leaders from rival factions of the military.

The problem wasn't State Shinto. It was that their military got taken over by total psychopaths, and then their military took over the country. And all their neighbours.

Mitch H. said...

Also, I don't think it's accurate to blame State Shinto for WWII -- the link is tenuous at best.

Mmm, I don't know if I agree. If there was any totalizing element in prewar Japan, it was State Shinto, and its grass-roots relationship with the militarization of Japanese society. The military got so utterly out of hand *because* it was the effective spine of society, or at least, rural society, and the local cultural matrix consisted of a) military practicalities and b) state shinto ideology. "Duty heavy as mountains, death light as a feather" kind of intertwined with Emperor-worship.

Also, the ideology meant that there was a coherence between the ideology of morality - the religion - and the ideology of the military.

Prewar Japan was kind of strange in that the State was rotting away at the grass-roots, and being replaced by the Military. Marx's Dictatorship of the Proletariat, except instead of union-regimented factory workers, it was clodhopping soldiers and sailors with paddy muck still drying on their boots.

Balfegor said...

Re: Illuninati:

Your point is well taken, but it is difficult to accept that the Japanese regarded the emperor as just one among 8 million gods. In most polytheistic religions there seems to be a hierarchy of gods. I'm not sure where the emperor ranked but I'd bet he was quite close to the top.

I couldn't say. I don't know that a hierarchy is necessarily the best way to view it. Inari, for example, feels like a pretty minor god (or goddess) to me, and his/her shrines are usually pretty tiny, often built off to the side of the shrine buildings for the main god enshrined in this or that complex. But she/he is the god of the harvest, which is concrete and important, whereas it's generally unclear to me whether other Shinto gods actually do anything, other than maybe improve your luck a little or protect you from harm.

While normal gods have shrines and receive offerings, I'm not aware of any such shrines to the Emperor (perhaps we destroyed them? Or perhaps just household shrines, like the ones people sometimes maintain for their ancestors). I think the way people thought of him would have been closer to the Divine Right of Kings, king's touch cures scrofula kind of thing. Which is not actually that far removed from where it is today, at least compared with the Queen of England who seems to be thought of as a pleasant, dog-loving old lady with probably less-than-average supernaturality, by the standard of eccentric old ladies who live in gigantic old houses.

I doubt that a man like Mr. Onoda would hide out in the jungle for decades for just any of the 8 million gods.

Maybe not. But what if he were also your king? And you also had been ordered to fight to the death by your commanding officer, to whom you owed a much more immediate duty of loyalty.

With a lot of these old men, they didn't surrender when they heard the Imperial Rescript on Surrender (they probably thought it was a Yankee trick!). They surrendered when their old commanding officers came out of retirement to order them to surrender.

Balfegor said...

Re: Mitch H:

Prewar Japan was kind of strange in that the State was rotting away at the grass-roots, and being replaced by the Military. Marx's Dictatorship of the Proletariat, except instead of union-regimented factory workers, it was clodhopping soldiers and sailors with paddy muck still drying on their boots.

Fair enough. That's not the sense I have of prewar Japan, "Taisho democracy" and all that, but that was all a phenomenon of the cities, not the countryside, and even there, I generally don't read primary sources, because they changed the kanji after the war, and the old style characters are a struggle for me.

Mitch H. said...

I forget where I got that from, it was some academic secondary source I read back when I was taking a course in the early Nineties, that explained the perplexing whipsawing between "Taisho democracy" and the Showa military state: the author argued that the democracy was an expression of the limited, westernized urban society (which, in its Kanto incarnation, got its teeth kicked in by the 1923 earthquake), whereas the rural countryside was left to its own devices, and became largely for and by the military. How order was maintained, how justice was obtained, how rural society interacted with itself. Also welfare was run through military associations, IIRC.

Illuninati said...

Balfegor said...

"The problem wasn't State Shinto. It was that their military got taken over by total psychopaths, and then their military took over the country. And all their neighbours."

It is sometimes difficult to separate the contributions by the general culture and religion from the contributions by specific individuals. Apparently General McArthur and the invasion forces had reasons for their opinion that it was important to break down the divine position of the emperor. The results speak for themselves.

Mitch H. said...

Illuminati, IIRC, they were reading the research that was published in 1946 as The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, which to my shame I must admit I've never read, although I think I've sat through lectures glossing over the high points. I'm going to sit down tonight and get started on that.

Illuninati said...

Balfegor said...

"I think the way people thought of him would have been closer to the Divine Right of Kings, king's touch cures scrofula kind of thing. Which is not actually that far removed from where it is today, at least compared with the Queen of England who seems to be thought of as a pleasant, dog-loving old lady with probably less-than-average supernaturality, by the standard of eccentric old ladies who live in gigantic old houses."

There is one obvious difference. In Western culture the religion makes a clear distinction between the king and the God. The kings charisma is not allowed to reach the point that the king is god. In many cultures the religion reinforces the divinity of the king.

Mitch H. said...

Illuminati, the "anointed king" was taken quite seriously by High-Church ideology, and at least in England, it took a century, two revolutions, one king's execution, and two scotched invasions to break the idea of bodily divine right ideology. And since in England the Stuart kings *were* the personal heads of the Church, their status was similar to that of the prewar emperors, except there was much less a sense of personal rule with the Japanese. The important point is the bodily and personal identification of the ruler with the State.

Illuninati said...

"Illuminati, IIRC, they were reading the research that was published in 1946 as The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,..."

I will probably do the same.

This statement by one of the reviewers at Amazon,Christopher Fryer, sums up my original point:
"I recommend this book for anyone interested in the origins of Japanese culture. As one reviewer remarked, the US should have done this kind of research before invading Iraq so they could have seen the mess they were getting into. One line from the book that I totally agreed with is that Americans tend to think that deep down inside people around the world are all the same but we are not all the same...."

Jihadis motivated by Islam attacked us. If Balfegor is correct about Japan, the connection between Islam and 911 is much stronger than the connection between the divine emperor and Pearl Harbor. McArthur went to great lengths to eradicate what he perceived were the cultural roots of Pearl Harbor. Bush and Obama have gone to great pains to protect Muslim culture and Islam from any responsibility for 911. The result is that we lose thousands of young lives and have nothing to show for it.

Illuninati said...

Mitch H. said...
"Illuminati, the "anointed king" was taken quite seriously by High-Church ideology,.."

Agreed. People have a strong tendency to view their rulers as divine. Even lefties who claim they don't believe in God still have their human gods. However we feel about the Roman church, Western Europe was blessed to have a separate church and state which often cooperated but never merged. That helped keep the kings human.

Joe said...

Occam's razor: Onoda was insane.

Mitch H. said...

If it was madness, it was a folie à quatre, Joe - he had three guys with him initially, they got picked off or surrendered over the years. He was just the last holdout in his unit.

Kirk Parker said...

Balfegor,

"We"?? Somehow I had gotten the impression that (irrespective of current residence) you were actually from the tribe that inhabited that peninsula a bit east of the Japanese Islands?

Balfegor said...

Re: Kirk Parker:

I'm an American citizen, just of Korean descent (that's west of Japan, incidentally). "We" for me changes depending on context -- I suppose I could say "we" for the other side too, since some of my grandparents were born subjects of the Emperor of Japan.

Kirk Parker said...

Balfegor,

Oh. Dude. East, West, it's one of those direction thingies, right?


Thanks for the clarification. There was one place here where you seemed to say "we" where in your other comments you almost always say "they".

Not sure if it matters...