Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Long War

Okay Company, this might be a little bit of a surprise to you, but I absolutely LOVE those Japanese guys who held out on little islands all throughout the Pacific fighting World War Two for years and years and years after the war actually ended.
Oh, you have no idea what I am talking about? Well let me give you a little background information, to bring you up to speed. See, the Pacific Ocean, although the world's largest, is dotted through most of its mid and western sections with thousands of tiny islands. Since the Pacific is so large (even today planes don't fly straight across it, they go around the edges or stop in places like Hawai'i, Samoa, or the like) these islands have always been of strategic importance. This became even more so during the Second World War as the United States and Japan fought on the Pacific front. The Japanese knew that these little islands held the key for the Americans to attack their homeland, and they also knew that they couldn't compete with the resources and weaponry of the Americans. So what they did was flood these tiny, remote, islands with superbly loyal soldiers and told them to fight and wait until replacements arrived or until they received other orders. The idea was that once it became clear which islands the Americans intended to use they could redeploy their resources in a more appropriate manner.
Good plan, Japan. Hey, that rhymed. Anyway, the problem was that the Japanese sort of forgot some of their soldiers on these islands. Well, maybe forgot isn't the appropriate word. Many of them, through many different sets of circumstances, were isolated on these islands for long periods of time. Now, most of them fought to the death, died of natural causes, or eventually were brought back home. But a few of them lasted for years, even decades, without knowing or acknowledging that the war was over.
Oh yeah. There were groups of people who lived for years, hidden and fighting in the dense Pacific jungles. There was one commune that lasted like twelve years by hunting, fishing, making coconut wine, building huts, etc. The best was one man who lasted for thirty years, long after the war ended, long after the Americans and Japanese had dropped leaflets advertising the end of the war onto his island, long after his parents had come to the island looking for him, long after the Japanese government declared him dead. Now that's a guy who is committed to the cause. At one point they knew he was there because the groups searching for him and trying to convince him to come out and stop fighting were leaving him gifts and he was leaving thank you notes. In the end, a Japanese student had to bring the soldiers former commanding officer to the island to order him to "surrender." To his own people. His army unit wasn't even in existence anymore, and his former commander was now a bookkeeper. Yeah, it took a bookkeeper to bring Gilligan in from the wild. When he came back he simply stated that he was ashamed to have come back alive.
I absolutely love these guys though, I can't get enough of them. I mean, I am not going to go out to the Pacific and root around for any surviving Japanese soldiers, but this truly fascinates me. I understand that a peculiar, at least to Western brains, idea of honor was deeply rooted in Japanese culture, but it seems to me that at one point your common sense sort of has to take over. When a Japanese man and woman in Bermuda shorts, glasses, and big hat carrying a Nikkon on a strap and wearing sandals is telling you that the war you are fighting, and your parents are standing there throwing out leaflets about the end of the war, that maybe would be a clue that something wasn't right here. But that's just me. They were told to fight until they heard otherwise. So that is what they kept doing. For years. After about two weeks of not hearing anything I would have been like "Fuck this shit, there are no chicks here and the food sucks." and I would have walked down to the beach to see what I could see. That is deep commitment.
In a way I am sort of in awe of these men and women - yes, there were women who did this too - because I am not sure I could be committed to that kind of thing for as long or as deeply as they were. Just look at the statements in the last paragraph. And they were showing like classic examples of a person in denial. Everything that was sent their way in order to convince them to give themselves up, that their battle was over, was met with some sort of skepticism. The leaflets that the thirty years guy's parents left for him had minor typographical errors. He decided that was a code form his parents that the leaflets were a hoax and he should stay in hiding. That's delusional behavior. That's the same logic that I use when I don't want to go to an event.
The stories are fascinating, and there is a little bit for everyone: The geographer, the historian, the sociologist, the archaeologist, the psychologist. The survivalist too I suppose. I can't give these guys enough respect and admiration for what they have done, but at the same time I just can't seem to shake my head at them quite enough. It's a strange dichotomy, I know. And somewhere on a idyllic tropical Pacific island I would like to think that there is a Japanese army soldier from World War Two who is not a successful businessman who owns a ferry or something, sitting with his feet in the sand and sipping a coconut-based drink, still loyal to the cause, still fighting the war. But doing so very covertly so as not to be discovered.

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