On August 6, 1945, the United States did the unthinkable; they dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and on Nagasaki three days later. The resolute Japanese finally surrendered. The Second World War ended three weeks later. While the rest of the world was coming to terms to the post war reality, deep in the jungles of Philippines, four Japanese soldiers stood their ground; for them the war was still on.
Hiroo Onada and his three comrades were part of the Japanese guerilla soldiers deployed on the Lubang Island in December 1944. Lieutenant Onoda was a 22 year old intelligence officer who was given orders to disrupt and sabotage enemy efforts. One thing he could not do was surrender or take his own life.
In early 1945, US led allied forces landed on the island and reclaimed it for the Philippines. The four men retreated deep into the jungles and planned to continue their fight.
As the war ended, Japanese soldiers were recalled home from all warfronts. As Hiroo and his men were still missing, in late 1945 leaflets were airdropped into the forest announcing Japan's surrender, signed by the Japanese chief of staff. After careful consideration, the four dismissed it as a trick and American propaganda. They survived on bananas, coconut milk and stolen cattle from nearby villages and engaged in sporadic shootouts with local police.
Despite several attempts to contact them, things remained unchanged till 1950 when one of Onoda’s companions surrendered. Few years later, one of them was killed by a search party in 1954 and Hiroo’s last companion was shot by police in 1972. Still convinced that his country was at war, Onada kept fighting all alone! By then the legend of Hiroo Onada had spread throughout Philippines and beyond.
In 1974, a young Japanese adventurer, Norio Suzuki, set out to Lubang to find Onada at any cost. The two ran into each other deep in the jungle and become unlikely friends. Norio told Hiroo all about the life in Japan after the war and the prosperous nation it had become. He implored Onada to surrender and return to Japan with him. Hiroo would not budge. He said that only if his commanding officer would come in person and relieve him of his duty will he surrender. Suzuki returned to Japan, and with the help of the government tracked down Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, and flew him down to Lubang.
When Hiroo finally met his officer, he was in tears and on March 9, 1974, he was formally relieved of his duties, nearly 29 years after the war had ended! The President of Philippines pardoned Hiroo for his crimes post-war including the killing of 30 villagers from his hideout.
Renowned British author H.G Wells described World War I as the ‘war that will end all wars’. But he was wrong. Many wars have been fought since that war and unfortunately many will be fought in the future too. But the biggest war on earth is one that is unseen - it goes on within human hearts. We fight insecurity, guilt, ego, lust, pride, jealousy and hatred, the root of which the Bible calls Sin. This war just like other wars, creates collateral damage. My anger, lust and ego puts others in harm’s way and hurts them emotionally and even physically.For centuries people fought against this sinfulness within their own heart.
Jeremiah, a prophet in Jerusalem, wondered, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
God finally answered that question through Jesus. He was the fulfilment of God's promises for a Messiah, a saviour. While the Jews looked forward to a warrior Messiah who would war against the Romans and deliver them, God sent Jesus to fight the biggest war - the war within the human heart. He lived a perfect life and overcame sin. One of the last words of Jesus on the cross was “tetelestai” which means “it is finished”.
Jesus paid in full the debt that we owed to God. He fought the war we could not. He invites us to be forgiven of all our war crimes and live in peace with God through the strength that he gives.
Though now revered in Japan as a war hero for his courage and loyalty, Hiroo Onada missed 29 years of peace and prosperity in Japan. Because he refused to heed to repeated appeals to surrender, he ended up killing innocent villagers in Lubang fighting a non existent war.
Our stories aren't much different - the war against sin is real and demanding. But in the midst of all of this God offers us his freedom and rest. We need not keep fighting. Jesus has won the war!
So the question you need to answer is - will you surrender? Will you lay down your arms? Will you accept God’s offer of peace?