Hiroo Onoda died on January 16, 2014 at the age of 91. He was one of a number of Japanese soldiers who remained in hiding on remote Pacific islands after the end of World War II. He survived on bananas and coconuts, occasionally killing local villagers whom he believed were enemy forces invading the island of Lubang in the Phillipine archipelago. It was not until 1974 that he was coaxed out of hiding by one of his former commanders. His remarkable story was featured in a book entitled No Surrender: My Thirty Year War, published shortly after his rehabilitation. His story is actually a Jewish story and hre is why.
In Japan, Onoda was something of a hero. His rank was that of second lieutenant but, in fact, he lived as a modern day samurai. As a youth he studied martial arts and philosophy. He still worshipped the Emperor of Japan as a demigod. He lived by the requirements of duty and an unshakable faith in the rightness of his cause. The last orders he received were to hold out as long as he could even if it would take years before being relieved. His devotion to duty captured the imagination of the public. They saw in him strength of character and deep resolve that is rare in the modern world.
Jews cannot help but admire a man such as Onoda. He evinced all the courage that Jews had to muster for millennia. Often isolated, reduced to a meager existence, compelled to live by wits alone, and despite every reason to give up, Jews have lived with an unyielding devotion to God and an unswerving belief in the message of Torah. Jews have refused to surrender to the temptations of majority culture since the days of slavery in Egypt.
Ironically, a public that would lionize Onoda as a kind of hero who lived by an ancient but respected code would have little regard for Jews who do the same. In reality, however, there is no difference. When God gave us our mission at Sinai it was to carry out our duty; a duty no less important or substantial that of Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda.
Perhaps it is time to recognize that devotion to duty is not simple a military virtue. It is a religious one as well.