Holdouts, or Leftovers

Second Update: Disregard This Post
The Japanese government is now (late Sunday) pretty sure [thanks again, Jerry] that the reports are a hoax, a ruse by the Moro Liberation Front to attract Japanese into their territory for hostage-taking purposes. Nobody, official or otherwise, has spoken directly to any of the supposed holdouts directly, and attempts at contact have been suspiciously interrupted. It is worth noting that the names were apparently genuine, and the men whose identities were being used had living relatives in Japan (who will be, I’m sure, deeply disappointed by this news, as they were reportedly elated before), so it’s possible the Moro were working from recovered WWII era documents.

Original Post:
It’s been widely reported (NYTimes and Mainichi [thanks to Jerry West]) that former Japanese soldiers may have been identified on the Philipine island of Mindanao. In fact, according to the Mainichi report, there may be as many as sixty former Imperial soldiers living there, under the protection of (and in collaboration with?) the Moro people and their Liberation Front.

Details are still sketchy, but it doesn’t look to me as though this is a case like the last one (31 years ago) of someone who doesn’t know the war is over. This is a group of soldiers who may or may not have known the war was over immediately, but who clearly settled down as a group. If it turns out that they were important in training the Moro Liberationists, that would be interesting (I can’t, offhand, think of another case where former Japanese soldiers got invovled in other peoples’ liberation movements, unless you count the pseudo-alliance with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists against the CCP after formal surrender), but that’s a different story.

First Update: Konrad and I posted on this almost simultaneously, and he has more links than I do. Pravda [thanks, Ralph] is reporting that the two men found were indeed unaware of the end of the war and concerned about courts-martial on their return. Konrad’s links, though, make it clear that the Japanese government has not yet had direct contact with the men, and it is unknown how or why they remained in the Philippines this long. We shall see.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bother posting on this: I’m still trying to figure out how this is historically interesting. It’s a curiousity, to be sure, but not a new thing. It’s a potentially powerful story, indeed, but I’m having trouble seeing that it is going to add much to what we already know about WWII Japan and Japanese, about the Pacific war and post-war development, about human nature or human societies. If anyone wants to suggest interesting historical questions to which these men and their experience might hold answers, I’m all ears.


  1. Thanks for the post.

    I’ve put up some new information on this developing news at my blog.

    It looks like this third guy was a military doctor who joined the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. So you might’ve guessed right!

    Also, your question about a Japanese soldier joining a liberation movement, wasn’t there an officer-level man in Indonesia who decided to stay to train the nationalist movement against the Dutch?

    By the way, great team blog. I’ve been enjoying reading it.

  2. I think you are right to question the historical importance. I can only tell you why it captures my own interest. It is merely one of the many “leftover” aspects part of the aftermath of war. As a friend of mine at Asahi newspaper who is working on the 60th anniversary articles to be published in the paper as we approach August, in the coming 10 years (in other words before the 70th anniversary comes around) we will have a Japan which has no direct experience of the war. It is a fascinating time to see how memories of the war and all the experiences that surrounded it are transferred. The media attention on this kind of case and the degree of its perceived importance is one small way we can watch this transferal taking place.

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