November 29, 2014

Give up or learn how to live in the jungle for 30 years



The map above shows the Lubang Island, which is a small island (25 km by 10 km) in the Philippines. Maybe the most famous citizen of the island is Hiroo Onoda. He lived there for about 30 years. 

You might have heard of the Japanese soldiers who never wanted to surrender. The Japanese soldier who held out the longest was Hiroo Onoda, who surrendered in 1974. He came to the Lubang Island in 1944 with the goal to blow up the airfield and the harbor. The Japanese had about 200 soldiers on the island when he arrived, but most of them would die or surrender when the US Marines invaded the island in 1945. But Hiroo Onoda and 3 other soldiers escaped into the jungle and became guerrilla fighters.

The war in the pacific ended in September 1945. Hiroo Onoda, who was an officer, trusted nobody except his superior office who never gave him the order to surrender, so he and his 3 fellow soldiers continued to live in the jungle. They were not fighting anyone - they thought they were too few to do that - so they decided to hide and wait for reinforcements.

The first of the four surrendered in 1950, but the rest of the soldiers never trusted him when he came back and told them the war was over. The second of the four was killed by gunfire in 1954. The two other would held out the longest. This is how and why they did it.

How:
  • People lived on the island so they could steal food and kill the villagers cows. They killed about 6 cows per year.
  • They moved around the jungle and no matter what they did they were very careful. For example, they washed the upper body in the morning, and the lower body in the evening, to minimize the risk of being discovered.
  • Fortunately, the were living on an island that was warm (except during the rain season) and they could find both bananas and coconuts.
  • They took care of themselves. Hiroo Onoda was sick in bed with fever only twice during 30 years.

Why:
  • The Philippine Air Force used a part of the island for target practice, so they thought the war was still going on and the planes were bombing them.
  • They got photographs of their families, but they thought the photographs were fake. Remember that all Japanese citizens had orders to die for the country. If the war had really ended, the photographs were fake because then all Japanese would have been dead.
  • Both the US Air Force and the Philippine Air Force dropped letters. But they analyzed the text and came to the conclusion that everything was made-up. This is a common psychological trait and is called confirmation bias.
  • They made up their own world-story by reading the newspapers they stole from the villagers on the island which suited their world-story. For example, they came to the conclusion that the Vietnam War was a part of World War II.
  • When they found a radio and heard about the Tokyo Olympic Games, they thought "After all, people were always saying there were no national boundaries in the world of sports." 

Sounds interesting? Then you should read the great book No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War. But what the book will not tell you, but Wikipedia will, is that Hiroo Onoda had killed several of the villagers on the island. 

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