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The Hiroo Within


I watched a documentary recently that illustrated a man's incredible dedication to duty. It was about a Japanese soldier who was stationed in The Philippines towards the end of World War ll. Hiroo Onoda was so dedicated to his country, he retreated into the jungle where he stayed until 1974. Because of Hiroo’s isolation, he was unaware that Japan had surrendered and the war was over. Hence Hiroo’s dedication was for all intents and purposes, misplaced. 


Hiroo continued to believe that the war was still going. He wouldn't listen to people from the villages who told him the news about the war ending. Hiroo thought it was propaganda designed to get him to surrender. Eventually Hiroo’s ex-commanding officer was flown over to see him. Being the loyal obedient soldier he was, Hiroo only stood down on his ex-commanding officer’s orders. In March 1974, Hiroo Onoda walked out of the jungle and handed over his ceremonial sword to the authorities. 


During the time he was in the jungle, Hiroo killed several people from the villages. Whilst the killings could be seen as murders, in the context of war, they were Hiroo’s enemies. In his eyes, he was fulfilling the sworn oath he made to the Japanese Emperor. Hiroo’s duty was to fight to the end and never give up. Surrender was not an option. To be captured would bring shame to his family, his nation and to himself. He never contemplated anything but war until his ex-CO issued the order to stand down. 


The government of the Philippines did the sensible thing and formally pardoned Hiroo for the killings. With this forgiveness and the ex-commanding officer's orders, Hiroo became a hero on his return to Japan and was held up as an example of dedication, despite that dedication being misplaced. 


Hiroo dabbled in politics but eventually found his calling amongst the young of Japan. He dedicated his life to helping young people discover traditional Japanese values, which he thought were missing in modern Japan. Hiroo also led camps on nature and donated money to conservation of nature reserves. This time the dedication was to real issues, instead of fighting in an imagined world of war. 


What I find most interesting in the story of Hiroo Onoda, is the freedom he found on exiting the jungle. Hiroo gained freedom because of two fundamental things. 


Firstly, it was only by good fortune that Hiroo’s ex-commanding officer was still alive, and was able to be tracked down. If the ex-CO had died or was unable to be found, Hiroo would have kept fighting an imagined war. 


Secondly, the Filipino government issued a formal pardon for any crimes committed whilst in the jungle. 


Without that command from the ex-CO, and without the pardon, Hiroo would have perished. He would have suffered a lonely and unjust death, either in the jungle or locked in a Filipino prison. There would have been no Hiroo to help the Japanese young understand their culture. There would have been no Hiroo to help children find beauty in nature. Hiroo’s gift was obviously his dedication to duty. Despite it being misplaced for nearly 30 years whilst fighting an imaginary war, he never lost his gift and used it to help others. 


I believe Hiroo’s story is something we can all draw lessons from. Certainly in my life, dedication to difficult tasks hasn't always been that great. In my young years, when the going got tough, I backed away. When hard times came, I curled up and denied them. When I was told everything was OK and that peace was mine to have, I never believed it. When I was offered forgiveness, I never trusted it was true. 


I lived a life of complete denial and hence, I could never be free. Just like Hiroo, I was trapped in a world of my own fantasy. It did immeasurable harm to my mental health and reduced me to thinking I was not even human. I was merely something that existed in a make believe world of an Orwellian big brother game. Other people controlled me. Only other people could set me free, but then when they tried, I called them liars. I was at war with myself and with my world. 


Just like Hiroo, I needed my commanding officer to give me the freedom I never knew. Just like Hiroo, I needed true forgiveness from the authorities. Just like Hiroo, I had something to offer my world but only if I found true freedom and forgiveness. Just like Hiroo, the war was in my head. It didn't truly exist. 


There was only one person who could tell me that the war was over. 


There was only one person who could order me to surrender my sword 


There was only one authority who could forgive me. 


Most importantly, there was only one person who could set me free. 


They are all the same person. 


That person was, and is me. 


So many people are trapped like I was, caught in their own world of denial, hurt and guilt. It is tragic that even those who believe in the forgiveness of the God they worship, still can't find freedom. Too many people don't lay their swords down. Too many people are fighting a war long since passed. Too many people tragically kill relationships because they are locked in a false battle. 


Nobody else can truly bring freedom within. Whilst friends, family, colleagues and even God can OFFER freedom and grant us forgiveness, it is of no use unless we accept it. 


One of my favorite quotes is… 

“The true breath of life will only come to those who seek future peace, whilst accepting the forgiveness already received”


The war is over. 


Cheers Pete 



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