On Being Uninformed
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
In 1974 a young Japanese adventurer named Norio Suzuki, came upon Hirō Onoda a former intelligence officer with the rank of second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army who had been in hiding for 29 years on Lubang Island in the Philippines. The island had fallen to the forces of the United States and Philippine Commonwealth on 28 February 1945. Onoda and three other soldiers took to the hills from where they held out, occasionally carrying out guerrilla activities and shootouts with the police. They did not believe that the war had ended. Eventually Onoda's companions fled or were killed and he remained alone until the arrival of Suzuki who found him still dressed in a tattered army uniform. He agreed to surrendered only when his aged commander was found and brought to him to relieve him of his duties.
This story is somewhat reminiscent of an episode that took place six centuries earlier. In 1340, Suzuki's counterpart, a German pilgrim named Ludolph of Suchem, who was travelling down to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem, came upon two elderly men. Ludolph got into conversation with them, and discovered that they were former knights from Burgundy and Toulouse who had survived the fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem. They were married, had families and worked in the service of the Mamluk sultan. Although they knew of the defeat of the crusaders, like Onoda, they did not know that the army that they belonged to, that of the Order of the Knights of the Temple, had long since ceased to exist (the Templars had been suppressed nearly three decades earlier, their possessions confiscated, and their leaders, including the Grand Master, executed as heretics).
We might think that there are rather obvious difference between these two stories, the former one seeming to illustrate a tenacious clinging to a reality that no longer existed. But if, as he claimed, the entire time that he was in hiding Onoda did not believe that Japan had surrendered, the tales are both in fact of simple, but quite remarkable, ignorance.