On my run yesterday I came across two of the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard. The first came from Petra Bartosiewicz, a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who is working on a book about the Justice Department’s terrorism trials since 9/11. She followed the case of the US government against Hemant Lakhani, a British-Indian rice trader and sari salesman who was convicted in 2005 of illegal arms dealing and supplying an Igla missile to terrorists. The hour-long segment on This American Life originally aired in 2005 but was re-broadcast after the May arrest of four men allegedly involved in a New York bomb plot. The entire program is a must-hear, from the history of government informants in the war on terror to the ethics of amorality to the role that post-9/11 patriotism played in the jury deliberation.
The second story comes from the Stuff You Should Know podcast which might be the ultimate example of the idiosyncratic phenomenon that is American humor. Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese army intelligence officer who was sent to fight on Lubang Island in the Philippines on 26 December 1944, about seven months before Japan surrendered in WWII. The thing is, Onoda never surrendered. In fact, he refused to believe that the war was over; when his small band of guerilla fighters came across leaflets declaring that the war had concluded, they figured it was just propaganda by the allied forces. Onoda continued his guerilla fighting activities for nearly 30 years after the end of WWII. Finally, in 1974 a Japanese student decided to drop out of college and travel the world in search of “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.” I’m not sure about the panda and abominable snowman, but Suzuki did find Onoda in the Philippine jungle on February 20, 1974. (The black and white picture above is a snapshot of their encounter.) What did Onada tell Suzuki? Here is how the March 25, 1974 issue of Time Magazine described their encounter:
Last month, a young Japanese adventurer named Norio Suzuki went to Lubang to hunt down Onoda. When the two men finally met in a remote jungle clearing, the lieutenant laid down his condition: “Only in case my commanding officer rescinds my order in person will I surrender.” Last weekend Suzuki returned to Lubang accompanied by former army Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, 63, a Kyushu bookseller who had been Onoda’s last military superior. Dressed in a shapeless cap and a tattered uniform and clutching his old regulation infantry rifle, Onoda stood at attention as Taniguchi read out an Imperial Army order dating from September 1945: “As of this moment, all officers and men under this command shall terminate all hostilities.” Onoda bowed stiffly in acknowledgment that his war was over—and then proceeded to brief his commander about his 29 years of intelligence gathered on “enemy movements.”
Onoda’s Wikipedia article adds:
Lieutenant Onoda emerged from the jungle 29 years after the end of World War II, and accepted the commanding officer’s order of surrender in his uniform and sword, with his Arisaka Type 99 rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades. Although many sources in modern culture poke fun at Onoda for “not believing the war was over”, the primary motivation related to his devout belief in military discipline and honor: he had been ordered to never leave his post until he received a specific order enabling him to do so. Those orders did not arrive until 1974.
Though he had killed some thirty Philippine inhabitants of the island and engaged in several shootouts with the police, the circumstances of these events were taken into consideration, and Onoda received a pardon from President Ferdinand Marcos.