Who is Hiroo Onoda and What Can He Teach Catholics About Morality?
Meet Hiroo Onoda. Lt. Onoda was a commando in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II and, in 1944, was stationed on an island in the Philippines with a group of three other solders. Their mission was to remain in the mountains and enact guerrilla warfare on the fishing villages below. When his commanding officer, Maj. Taniguchi, gave Onoda his orders, it was included that the Lieutenant should not, under any circumstances, leave his post unless Taniguchi gave him orders to do so – in person.
World War II ended on September 2nd, 1945, but news was slow to spread. It wasn’t until October of that same year that Onoda and his companions found a flier announcing the end of the war and the need for Japanese solders to give themselves up. Naturally, it was considered to be a trick and ignored. Similar messages were dropped by airplanes over the next several months, but all were believed to be propaganda.
In the following years, each of Lt. Onoda’s three companions either surrendered or were killed in gunfights with local police, leaving the officer to continue fighting the ended war on his own. Despite the somewhat remote location, stories of Onoda developed into a sort of urban legend status that worked their way into the vacation plans of a young man named Norio Suzuki, who was determined to find Hiroo Onoda, a panda, and the abominable snowman, in that order. The year was 1974.
After four days of searching in the Philippines, Suzuki found Onoda and the two became friends. It was through this friendship that Suzuki discovered the Lieutenant was still waiting on orders from his original commanding officer. After returning to Japan, Suzuki relayed his encounter with Onoda to the government. Lt. Onoda’s commanding officer, Maj. Taniguchi, was found and flown to meet Onoda, finally giving him the order that relieved him of duty.
How strongly would you have to believe in something to stay in the jungle, alone, for 30 years? I’m sure Hiroo Onoda had some tough nights debating whether or not to surrender his position. Still, he believed that the war continued and did so with a admirable passion. In spite of the strength of his belief, it did not cause his belief to be true.
Many individuals hold a belief to be true, simply because they believe it. Moral relativism refines truth and objectivity down to a belief. Naturally, certain things are true regardless of whether or not a person believes it to be so. Getting drunk, for instance, is an immoral action; however many people, when told drunkenness is immoral, will say something along the lines of, “It may be wrong for you, but it isn’t for me.” Simply being ‘okay’ with or giving consent to an action does not make the action acceptable. Similarly, the simple belief that something is moral or immoral does not make it so. There are truths, visible and invisible, that apply to all persons regardless of what they think the truth is.
An exercise I use in my classroom begins with my telling the students to stand up and close their eyes. Once everyone has their eyes shut, the students are told to point North. An uneasy moan resounds in the room as fingers go in every direction – one or two students will usually point up. The students open their eyes to discover that two truths are in active application: Only 1/5 of their classmates know which way is North and that North is out the front windows. A student may believe with all of their heart that any other direction is North, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is only one North and it applies to all of us equallyUnless you're on the North pole, in which case every direction is South. The moral relativist believes each direction they choose, analogously, is North and if they suddenly feel that drunkenness is wrong… well, that way is North, too.