When You Are Unable To Forgive And Forget

Harold Sala

Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:11

When he went to war in 1941, his brother told him, “Be strong!”  And for 30 years, Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier, was strong!  He refused to quit fighting. Even when the war was over, he kept on hiding, running, sabotaging the enemy, striving to be as strong as was humanly possible.

Here’s what happened.  Onoda was sent to the Philippines and his division landed on the island of Lubang, in the south.  There, jungle growth quickly covers paths, shacks, and very quickly adds camouflage to someone who digs in and hides himself.

Towards the end of the war, Japanese forces were faring badly.  Most of his comrades had been killed.  There were four of them who went into hiding in 1945.           One deserted, and the other two were killed.  His commander had told him, “Death is as light as a feather, duty is as heavy as a mountain.”  He was told to carry the mountain, not to surrender ever, and year after year, he held out.

He refused to believe that the war was over.  Locals knew that a Japanese was holed up there. Onoda killed the carabao in the fields, and ate the meat. He burned rice caches, thinking the fires would be beacons for the Japanese.  Even the Japanese were unsuccessful in getting him to surrender.  Stacks of Japanese newspapers and magazines were left where he could find them. He refused to believe that they were not simply political propaganda prepared by the enemy.  His own brother came to the island, and by a powerful public address system, told him that it was he, the one who had said, “Be strong!” who was urging him to come on out and go home with him.  “He’s an imposter,” he thought.

Photographs of his family were left where he found them, but this, too, didn’t work.  Trick photography, he thought.  Nothing worked for 30 years.  Finally, the officer who gave him the order to hold out at all cost was located, working in a bookstore in rural Japan.  Only when he was flown to Lubang and formally relieved Onoda did he give up and go home.  That was March 9, 1974, almost thirty years after the war was over.

The Stars and Stripes, a U.S. military newspaper, reported, “And so Onoda carried on, mastering a hostile jungle in which swarms of wasps were as deadly as volleys of bullets, corroding dampness rotted away his uniform and put him to the necessity of ‘requisiting’ clothes from villages, and he often had to step around snakes ‘as big around as a man’s thigh.’ With a type 99 rifle, now sought only by arms collectors, he made a thin handful of bullets last 30 years.”

Talk about a world-class hold out–that’s your man!  He refused to believe the war was over and it was time to quit.

While we view Hiroo Onoda as unique, quaint, perhaps a bit weird, he has lots of company.  A lot of us refuse to quit fighting, to forgive and be reconciled, going home and making peace. While most of us know God wants us to forgive, few of us know He also asks us to go one step beyond forgiveness, which is to be reconciled to our estranged brothers, our husbands and wives and teenagers, and to Himself as well.

When you spend lonely nights, and eat meals alone, and go to bed in an empty house where you hear the floor creak and the clock tick ominously, remember the Japanese soldier who year after year hid in fear, coming out only to raid and plunder, and ask yourself, “Is it worth it to bear the grudge?” thinking you are upholding your honor.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are God’s way–the only way back home, no matter where you live.