Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ignorance is the Mother of all Religions

I am reminded of a story one of my professors in college told. The story was about the power of the imagination exhibited by a little girl at play. She and her parents were on their vacation and one night at a hotel and the little girl was craving something to do. Her father retrieved three matches from the book in the ashtray near the bed and told her to use her imagination. The little girl played with them for a little while reenacting the story of Hansel and Gretal. It was not long before the little girl screamed and started crying. When her father asked what was wrong she held up one of the matches and said the witch had frightened her and she didn't want to play with that match anymore.

It is remarkable what one's imagination can do, especially in children or those with limited capacity. I have seen how capacity can be limited by lack of education or simple ignorance even in myself. Take the human body for an example. For a long time people believed, and some still do, that the simplest act of human machination or operation is a miracle. It is ignorance of physiology that creates the miracle. The same goes for natural phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and lighting and sometimes they are still thought to be caused by a deity when we can explain these things through plate tectonics and the gravitational effects of the sun and moon on the earth's crust, patterns of oceanic currents of warm and cold water, and electro-static dishcharge caused by the friction of clouds. Take a plastic fork and rub it on your hair and let a slow thin stream of water come out of the faucet and hold the fork near the stream. The path of the water will bend towards the fork. Is that magic? Am I god for being able to move water without any visible explanation? Not too long ago I would have been.

It is well known that the Ancient Greeks revered their heroes and legends. In Greece we found something interesting. Elephant bones that were re-buried in the form of giant men. An elephant skeleton reformed in the shape of a man would give the impression of a giant with one eye socket where the elephants trunk would be. Could this be a Cyclops? In China, bones have been found of dinosaurs, could these be the Chinese dragon? In every good lie there is a hint of truth and sometimes the unexplained and mysterious are explained through myth. Paleontologists find dinosaurs, this does not mean that people a thousand years ago did not as well. It is not new science that we have today, it is just not as crowded with religious ignorance as it used to be. Consider the elephant/Cyclops when you read the Genesis account for the Nephalim, or Leviathan. Imagine what the imagination can do with fossils exposed by the elements of no living creature that is seen today and when found by ignorant shepherds and tribesman 5000 years ago! Now imagine the stories that could be spun through the centuries from these accounts to explain what, and sometimes why, they are there.

From the time we are children we have always asked questions. Why is the sky blue? Where did we come from? Religions have always attempted to answer these questions and usually through ignorance until they are faced with irrefutable proof. The world is flat, the Sun revolves around the Earth, and the Earth is the center of the Universe were all once believed to be universal truths in religion that were infallible. People were imprisoned for thinking otherwise. Every time science shoots a hole into ignorant religious beliefs the religious either deny it outright, make up excuses and in the case of apologists today they adapt the science to explain the religion. Infallibility is consistency with truth and only religion claims infallibility.


His home was a dense area of rainforest and he lived on the wild coconuts that grew in abundance.

Hiroo Onoda: never surrender
His principal enemy was the army of mosquitoes that arrived with each new shower of rain. But for Hiroo Onoda there was another enemy - one that remained elusive.

Unaware that the Second World War had ended 29 years earlier, he was still fighting a lonely guerrilla war in the jungles of Lubang Island in the Philippines. His story is one of courage, farce and loyalty gone mad.

Lubang Island: news travelled slowly
Hiroo Onoda was born to be a soldier. He had enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army at the age of 20, receiving training in intelligence and guerrilla warfare. In December, 1944, he and a small group of elite soldiers were sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines.

Their mission was to destroy the island’s little airstrip and port facilities. They were prohibited, under any circumstances, from surrendering, or committing suicide.

US landing at Leyte: beginning of the end for Japanese
occupation of Philippines
‘You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand…’ read Onoda’s military order. ‘So long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that's the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.’

Onoda was unable to destroy Lubang’s landing facilities, enabling US and Philippine forces to capture the island in February, 1945. Most of the Japanese soldiers were either imprisoned or killed. But Onoda and three others fled to the hills, from where they vowed to continue the fight.
Japanese soldiers in the Philippines
Lubang Island was small: 16 miles long and just six miles wide. Yet it was covered in dense forest and the four Japanese soldiers found it easy to remain in hiding. They spend their time conducting guerrilla activities, killing at least 30 Filipinos in one attack and clashing with the police on several other occasions.

In October, 1945, the men stumbled across a leaflet that read: ‘The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains.’ Onoda did not believe it: he was convinced it was Allied propaganda.

A couple of months later, the men found a second leaflet that had been dropped from the air. It was a surrender order issued by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, Commander of the Fourteenth Army.

Once again, Onoda and his men did not believe it to be genuine and vowed to continue Japanese resistance.
General Tomoyuki:
'You can surrender now.' 
Four long years passed and still the little band were living in he forest. But by now, one of the four - Yuichi Aktsu - had had enough. He abandoned his comrades, surrendered to the Filipino army and returned to Japan. He informed the army that three of his comrades still believed the war to be ongoing.

Another two years passed before family photographs and letters were finally dropped into the forest on Lubang Island. Onoda found the parcels but was convinced it was all part of an elaborate trick. He and his two companions remained determined to continue fighting until the bitter end.

They had little equipment and almost no provisions: they survived by eating coconuts and bananas and occasionally killing a cow. Their living conditions were abominable: there was the tropical heat, constant rain and infestations of rats. All the while they slept in makeshift huts made from branches.

Years rolled into decades and the men began to feel the effects of age. One of Onoda’s comrades was killed by local Filipinos in 1954: another lived for a further 18 years before being shot in October, 1972. He and Onoda had been engaged in a guerrilla raid on Lubang’s food supplies when they got caught in a shoot-out.

Onoda was now alone: the last Japanese soldier still fighting the Second World War, a conflict that had ended 27 years earlier.

By now his struggle had become a lonely one, yet he refused to lay down his arms. He was still conducting guerrilla raids in the spring of 1974, when a traveling Japanese student, Noria Suzuki, made contact with him.

Suzuki broke the news that the war had ended a long time previously.
Suzuki meets Onoda
Onoda refused to believe it. He told Suzuki he would never surrender until he received specific orders to that effect from his superior officer.

Only now did the Japanese government get involved in trying to bring Onoda’s war to an end. They managed to locate his previous commanding officer, Major Taniguchi, who was thankfully still alive.
The major was flown to Lubang Island in order to tell Onoda in person to lay down his weapons.

He was finally successful on 9 March, 1974. ‘Japan,’ he said to Onoda, ‘had lost the war and all combat activity was to cease immediately.’

If it's 1974, the war must be over. Onoda lays down
his weapons
Onoda was officially relived from military duties and told to hand over his rifle, ammunition and hand grenades. He was both stunned and horrified.

‘We really lost the war!’ were his first words. ‘How could they [the Japanese army] have been so sloppy?

When he returned to Japan, he was feted as a national hero. But Onoda disliked the attention and found Japan a mere shadow of the noble imperial country he had served for so many years.

Hiroo Onoda is alive to this day. Now 90 years of age, he remains grateful to Major Taniguchi for tracking him down in the Philippines.