Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History

Khalid Elhassan - January 20, 2021

It is hardly a surprise to anybody to learn that people could be jerks at times. We all know the old cliche surrounding the high school jock picking on the other kids in high school. That kind of jerk isn’t only in the movie, but many people don’t realize how many terrible people are out there. Our society worships celebrities and famous historical figures and seems to overlook their uglier sides. And of course, a nice person could do something that would be out of character and mean, but this article takes our qualifications to the next level.

There are jerk moves, and then there are jerk moves like the time Howard Hughes bought a major movie studio just to wreck an ex-girlfriend’s acting career. Powerful people in Hollywood and history itself found ways to be terrible jerks because they simply could. We know there are bad people today who would do things like that, but what about history’s sweethearts? You’re about to see the ugly side. Following are thirty things about that and other remarkable jerk moves from history.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Jane Greer in 1947. Wikimedia

30. Unsurprisingly, America’s Most Famous Weirdo Billionaire Was Also a Jerk

Not many people would be that surprised to learn that Howard Hughes (1905 – 1976), the billionaire recluse, eccentric, and all-around weirdo, could be a jerk at times. It is the extremes to which he went – and the extreme pettiness involved – in order to pull off some of his jerk moves that are surprising. Like that one time when he bought a major movie studio to which an ex-girlfriend was contracted, just so he could mess with and wreck her career.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Jane Greer with Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past. Associated Press

His victim was Jane Greer (1924 – 2001), a film noir actress who made a splash in the 1940s with femme fatale roles in movies such as Dick Tracy, Out of the Past, and The Big Steal. In 1942, when she was eighteen, Greer caught Hughes’ eye when he saw her modeling in Life magazine. Infatuated, he sponsored Greer and sent her to Hollywood to become an actress. When she showed an interest in other men, it enraged Hughes. He reasoned that he had made her, and had every right to break her.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Jane Greer, center, modeling a Women’s Army Corps (WAC) uniform in 1942. KHOU

29. The Creepy Tycoon Who Signed a Teenager to a “Personal Contract”

Jane Greer’s mother, who worked for the War Department, saw to it that her daughter was one of three young women chosen to model uniforms for the new Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1942. When her modeling appeared in the June 8, 1942, issue of Life magazine, many across the country were smitten, including Howard Hughes. The eccentric tycoon liked collecting people – especially beautiful women – like normal folk collect stamps. So he signed the teenaged model to a personal contract.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Howard Hughes in the 1940s. Pinterest

“Personal contract” was as creepy as it sounds. Soon after she signed, Hughes told the teenager that he never wanted her to marry anyone. At first, that was no problem for the inexperienced Greer, who initially liked Hughes. As she put it years later: “I found him rather endearing, like a child. His idea was to go to the amusement park … He won a large collection of Kewpie dolls for me“. When Greer welcomed the attentions of other men, however, Hughes’ jerk side came out.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Rudy Vallee. Library of Congress

28. Howard Hughes Went Into Jealous Jerk Mode When He Lost the Object of His Affection to Another Man

Howard Hughes taking Jane Greer out to amusement parks was all well and good – for a while. Things got awkward, however, when Greer welcomed the attentions of other men who saw her as a woman and not a child, and had more in mind than taking her to amusement parks. Hughes wasn’t the only one captivated by Greer’s 1942 modeling photo. Star Crooner, Rudy Vallee, was also smitten. He tried unsuccessfully to get her address from Life magazine. When he eventually found it, things got complicated.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Jane Greer. Christie’s

Greer might have liked hanging out with Hughes, but a wealthy eccentric treating her like a child with trips to amusement parks was no competition to a star singer romancing her like a woman. Rudy Vallee swept Greer off her feet, and after a whirlwind courtship, they wed in 1943. That left Hughes seething with jealousy. Whatever the legality of the “no marriage” clause in the personal contract that Greer had signed, Hughes had meant it, and felt betrayed. So he went from doting to destructive and set out to wreck Greer’s career.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
RKO Pictures. RKO

27. Buying a Major Movie Studio to Wreck an Ex’s Career

Howard Hughes had brought Jane Greer to Hollywood and got her acting lessons, but after the romance with men like Vallee, he kept her shelved with no screen tests or acting gigs. So she sued to get out of her personal contract to Hughes, succeeded in buying it back, and joined RKO – one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Greer had a run of successful films with RKO – until Hughes bought the studio to wreck her career. He called Greer to his office, and told her he would not use her anymore.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Howard Hughes on the cover of Time Magazine, July 19th, 1948. Wikimedia

Since I was under exclusive contract to Howard at RKO, that meant I would not be able to work for anybody else, either. I told him directly that this meant that he was ruining my film career. He replied by saying, ‘Yes, that’s right’“. Greer managed a few roles, but only when Hughes could find nobody else. After six years of barely any work, she paid the final installment to buy out her contract. By then, Hughes’ jerk move had cost Greer her best and most lucrative acting years.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Steven and Elena Steinberg. Epub Bud

26. Steven Steinberg: The Jerk Who Got Away With Killing His Wife

Howard Hughes’ jerk move was epic, but at least nobody died. Not so with some of the other jerk moves below. One such was that of Steven Steinberg of Scottsdale, Arizona. He was accused in 1981 of murdering his wife, Elena, by stabbing her twenty-six times with a kitchen knife as she cried out for her children. Steinberg initially blamed it on burglars and a home invasion gone wrong, but after police investigators debunked that possibility, he confessed to killing her.

However, he claimed to have done it while sleepwalking, a condition caused by excessive stress from his wife’s constant nagging for money. In the ensuing trial, the prosecutors put all their eggs in one basket by making a case for premeditated murder, without bringing any other charges. Steinberg’s lawyer made a case for not guilty by reason of insanity. Steinberg testified that he was unaware of the killing when it happened, that he was sleeping at the time, so it must have occurred while he was sleepwalking.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Book about the Steinberg murder and trial. Pinterest

25. Steven Steinberg’s Acquittal Led Arizona to Change Its Insanity Defense Laws

Steven Steinberg was helped by evidence of police sloppiness and incompetence during their investigation. A defense psychiatrist also testified that Steinberg killed his wife while in the grip of a dissociative reaction, and so he could not have been aware of what he was doing. Steinberg himself was a presentable person who came across as a nice guy. After deliberating, the jury returned its verdict, finding that he was not guilty on grounds of temporary insanity when he killed his wife.

Because Steinberg’s insanity was only temporary and he was sane when acquitted, Steinberg walked out of court a free man. As a result, Arizona changed its insanity defense law to require judges to impose a “guilty but insane” sentence in temporary insanity scenarios such as that of the Steinberg case. Now, criminal defendants who are found guilty but insane are sent to a mental institute, where they might be interred for as long as if they had been sentenced to prison.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Pierre Laval in 1913. Bibliotheque Nationale de France

24. World War II’s Most Infamous French Jerk, Pierre Laval

Pierre Laval (1883 – 1945) was the most infamous French traitor – and jerk – of World War II. Before the war, Laval had twice been Prime Minister of France during the Third Republic, first in 1931 – 1932, and again in 1935 – 1936. He started off as a socialist, but steadily drifted into conservatism until he became an extreme right-winger. When the Nazis defeated France in 1940, Laval became an eager collaborator and went on to serve prominently in the German-aligned Vichy Regime.

A lawyer, Laval was a member of the Socialist Party from 1903 to 1920. Early in his career, he made a name for himself defending leftists and trade unions. He became more conservative after WWI. When France fell to the Germans in 1940, he persuaded the French Assembly to dissolve itself and cede all powers to Marshall Petain. That ended the Third Republic and inaugurated the Vichy Regime, in which Laval secured his place in infamy as the most prominent Nazi collaborator.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Pierre Laval, second from left, with Hitler and Herman Goering. L’Histoire par L’Image

23. Laval Met a Well-Deserved Traitor’s Death

Pierre Laval was convinced that Germany would win WWII, so he eagerly collaborated with the Nazis to secure France a favored position after the war. During the Vichy Regime, he served as vice president of the Council of Ministers for five months in 1940, until dismissed by Petain. Laval returned to power and headed the Vichy government from 1942 until the liberation of France in 1944. In an infamous 1942 speech, he declared his hope that Germany win the war. A traitorous jerk through and through, he avidly persecuted the French Resistance.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Pierre Laval on trial for treason after the war. Encyclopedia Britannica

Laval also rounded up Frenchmen for labor in Germany and the German war effort, and helped round up and deport French Jews to the concentration and extermination camps. Arrested by the Free French after the liberation of France, he was tried alongside Petain after the war on charges of high treason. Laval tried to justify his treason by arguing that he had France’s best interests in mind all along, but to no avail. He was convicted and sentenced to death. After a failed suicide attempt by poison, he was executed by firing squad on October 15, 1945.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Sigurd the Mighty. Ranker

22. A Viking Jerk Who Terrorized Scotland

Sigurd Eysteinsson, also known as Sigurd the Mighty (died 892), was a fearsome Viking Earl who ruled the Orkney and Shetland Islands off Scotland’s north coast. From his base in the Shetlands, Sigurd formed an alliance with other Viking chieftains, and launched an invasion of the Scottish mainland. The invaders swiftly conquered northern Scotland, overran Sutherland and Caithness, and asserted Viking control as far south as Moray. Sigurd’s exploits during that conquest earned him the epithet “the Mighty” from fellow Vikings.

He had gained his earldom after a recently-unified Norway’s Viking king sent Sigurd’s brother, Rognvald Eysteinsson, to conquer the Shetland and Orkney Islands. Those locales were a thorn in the side of Norway’s king; they had become a refuge for Norwegian exiles, from which they raided their homeland. During the conquest, Rognvald lost a son, so the king compensated him by giving him the islands and making him earl. Rognvald had interests elsewhere, however, so he gave the islands, and the title, to his younger brother Sigurd.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Sigurd the Mighty. An Exploring South African

21. Sigurd Was Killed by an Enemy He Had Already Slain

Sigurd the mighty was a great warrior, and an even greater jerk. Karma eventually caught up with him, and brought him to a bizarre end. It began during the course of his conquest of northern Scotland. Sigurd challenged a local chieftain, Mael Brigte the Bucktoothed, head of the Mormaerdom, or kingdom, of Moray, to a 40 man per side battle. However, Sigurd cheated and showed up with 80 men. Outnumbered, the Scots were defeated and massacred, and Sigurd personally beheaded Mael Brigte.

Cheating on the challenge might have been underhanded and dishonorable, but it worked – which is probably all that mattered to Sigurd. Tying the defeated leader’s head to his saddle as a trophy, he rounded up his men and rode back home to celebrate the victory. On the way back, as the severed head tied to the saddle bounced around, the bucktooth that gave Mael Brigte his nickname cut Sigurd’s leg. The cut became inflamed and infected, and Sigurd died of the infection before he got back home.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Al Mutanabbi. AZ Quotes

20. The Greatest Arab Poet Was Also a Great Drama Queen and Jerk

Abu al Tayib Ahmad ibn Hussayn, AKA Al Mutanabbi (915 – 965) is the most influential and prominent poet to have ever penned lines in Arabic. His verse is widespread and proverbial throughout the Arab world. Most of Al Mutanabbi’s work was odes to patrons, but he was an egomaniac who managed to turn a significant portion of his panegyrics into odes to himself, his talent, and his courage. However, he crafted with such consummate skill and artistry that he is commonly deemed to have attained a pinnacle unequaled in the Arabic language before or since.

As with many gifted creative types, Al Mutanabbi’s great gifts were accompanied by great downsides. Chief among them was being a thoroughgoing jerk. A prickly and quarrelsome man, Al Mutanabbi sooner or later – often sooner rather than later – managed to antagonize those around him. His touchiness and over-sensitivity to slights, real or imagined, frequently led him to quarrel with those with whom he came in close contact, transforming fans into foes and admirers into avowed enemies. It ended up killing him.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Al Mutanabbi statue in Baghdad. Wikimedia

19. From False Prophet to Master Poet

Al Mutanabbi’s precocious talent for verse won him a free education. During his childhood, the Qarmatians, a heretical cult discussed below that combined Zoroastrianism and Islam, began pillaging the Middle East. In his teens, the budding poet joined them. Claiming to be a Nabi, or prophet, at age seventeen, Al Mutanabbi led a Qarmatian revolt in Syria. The rebellion was suppressed and its teenaged leader was captured and imprisoned until he recanted two years later. The Nabi claim earned him the derisory nickname Al Mutanabbi, or “would-be prophet”.

After his release in 935, he became a wandering poet, traveling around the region’s courts and composing poems in praise of their rulers in exchange for patronage. Poems praising patrons have a long history that cuts across cultures. From ancient Sumer through ancient Greece and Persia, and among the Anglo Saxons, Arabs, Vikings and others, bards and poets sang and recited for their supper. But when they sought richer fare, the surest ticket was to compose something that flattered a wealthy and powerful figure.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Al Mutanabbi. Inside Arabia

18. Bragging Came Back to Bite Al Mutanabbi Big Time

Al Mutanabbi’s patrons often handsomely rewarded him with generous gifts of cash. However, Al Mutanabbi’s greatest hope was to get appointed as a governor of some province. He impressed as an unsurpassed poet, but did not impress as a potential governor. Being a jerk, his personality was prickly and his overweening pride was often off-putting. Such traits, combined with the dramatics frequently accompanying creative genius, gave his patrons pause, and his ambitions of ruling a province were never fulfilled.

Al Mutanabbi was also known for devastating verse insulting those who rubbed him wrong – usually rival courtiers competing for a patron’s attention, but sometimes patrons who failed to reward Al Mutanabbi as richly as he thought he deserved. Such insulting poetry got him killed in 965 when a subject of his disses waylaid him near Baghdad. Outnumbered, he sought to flee, but then his pursuers derisively recited some of Al Mutanabbi’s bold lines, in which he bragged about his courage. He was stung into turning around to live up to his verse, and was killed in the ensuing fight.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Qarmatians. Flickr

17. A Medieval Jerk Religious Cult That Started Off as Bandits

The medieval Qarmatians were a Muslim religious cult that combined elements of Zoroastrianism with Shiite Islam to form a radical sect that was deemed heretical by other Muslims. They started off as bandits who earned a living attacking trade and pilgrimage caravans, but got religion after coming under the sway of a mystic. Their leader transformed the bandits into a millenarian cult that preached the End of Days was near, and began gathering a large following of fanatics. They rose in the ninth century and captured eastern Arabia and Bahrain, where they founded a utopian religious republic in 899.

From that base, the Qarmatians went full jerk and terrorized the Middle East for generations. They pillaged their neighbors, engaged in widespread banditry, massacred pilgrims by the tens of thousands, and seized and sacked Mecca. They believed that pilgrimage to Mecca, a Pillar of Islam, was a superstition, so they sent raiding parties to interdict the pilgrimage routes. In one such raid in 906, they massacred over 20,000 pilgrims. In 930, as part of a millenarian quest to speed up and usher in the End of Days, the Qarmatians seized Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, and sacked both.

Also Read: History’s Out of the Ordinary Radicals.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Pilgrims jostling to touch the Black Stone of the Kaaba. Wikimedia

16. The Muslims Who Sacked Mecca and Defiled the Kaaba

When they sacked Mecca, the Qarmatians slaughtered over 30,000 pilgrims, desecrated religious sites, and ritually and literally polluted the holy Well of Zamzam by stuffing it full with the corpses of their victims. They also seized the Black Stone, a meteorite rock affixed to the Kaaba and deemed holy by Muslims, took it back to their republic, and smashed it to pieces. Cementing their jerk reputation in the minds of contemporaries, the Qarmatians held the Black Stone’s shards for a huge ransom. It was paid by the Abbasid Caliphate, who reassembled the bits and restored them to the Kaaba.

Pilgrimage came to a halt for nearly a decade. It only resumed after the Qarmatians were paid protection money from the region’s states, the Abbasid and Fatimid Caliphates, to refrain from attacking the holy cities. The tribute payments continued until a defeat in 976 to the Abbasids sent the Qarmatians’ fortunes into a decline. Their radicalism waned along with their power, and by 1058 they had abandoned the beliefs deemed heretical by mainstream Muslims and reverted to orthodox Islam. A decade later, the Seljuk Turks inflicted a decisive and final defeat upon the Qarmatians, and brought their republic to an end.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
A CIA archival portrait of Aldrich Ames. National Public Radio

15. The Traitorous Jerk Who Thrived For Decades in the CIA

Aldrich Ames (1941 – ) was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official who rose to high rank within the agency’s Soviet and East European division, which afforded him access to Soviet counterintelligence. He abused that access to sell secrets, and became America’s most infamous modern era turncoat. The son of a CIA analyst, Ames’ connections paved the way for his joining the CIA in 1962. He turned traitor and sold his services to the Soviet KGB as a deep mole within their enemy’s camp, and became one of the USSR’s, and later Russia’s, most effective double agents in the US.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Aldrich Ames and his wife Maria del Rosario Casas. Paul Davis on Crime

Ames had a track record of heavy drinking, alcohol-related problems that included inebriated run-ins with the police and drunken brawls in public with foreign diplomats. Plus sloppiness that once led him to forget secret documents in an NYC subway car. It did not stop him from rising steadily through the CIA’s ranks. After a stint in Turkey recruiting Soviet spies in the 1960s, he returned to America in the 1970s, before getting posted to Mexico in the early 1980s. There, he met his second wife, a Colombian whom he had recruited.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Maria del Rosario Casas Ames. BBC

14. America’s Most Infamous Traitor of the Modern Era Was Paid Millions by the Russians, While The CIA Ignored Warning Signs

In 1985, Aldrich Ames married Maria del Rosario Casas Dupuy, a CIA informant who worked as a cultural attache in the Colombian embassy in Mexico City. That same year, the newly-weds began selling secrets to the KGB. In 1985, Ames handed the Soviets information that established his credentials as a CIA insider, then asked for $50,000 to continue the relationship. The Soviets promptly paid. During their run of treason, which lasted until they were finally unmasked in 1994, Ames and his wife received over $2.7 million from the Soviets, and after 1991, the Russians.

There were warning signs aplenty. They included conspicuous consumption and extravagant spending on things ranging from a $520,000 house paid for in cash, luxury vacations, premium credit cards whose minimum monthly payment exceeded Ames’ salary, and luxury cars that stood out in the CIA’s parking lot. Those were things that no honest public servant could afford on government pay. However, no alarm bells were raised for years. When suspicions were finally aroused, it took years more, until 1993, before the CIA took a serious look at Ames’ finances and activities.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Aldrich Ames. Documentary Tube

13. Aldrich Ames Demonstrated That It Was Shockingly Easy to Smuggle Secrets Out of CIA Headquarters

Aldrich Ames passed two polygraphs while he was selling the CIA’s secrets to the Russians. It was discovered after he was finally unmasked that he had needed no high-tech means or complicated Oceans Eleven type capers to smuggle out secrets from his workplace. Instead, he simply stuffed whatever documents he wanted to give his KGB and FSB handlers in his briefcase or in trash bags, and brazenly carried them out of the CIA headquarters at the end of the workday. Nobody questioned him.

Because of Ames’ treachery, at least 12 CIA spies within the USSR were captured, of whom 10 were eventually executed. By the time they were caught, Ames and his wife had revealed to the Soviets and Russians the identity of every CIA spy operating in their country. After he was arrested in 1994, he cut a deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty, and ensured that his wife got no more than a five-year sentence. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Andrey Vlasov. Executed Today

12. Russia’s Most Infamous Traitor of WWII

The most infamous traitor of the Soviet Union and modern Russia is probably Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov (1900 – 1946), one of Stalin’s favorite generals early in WWII. Vlasov went from golden boy to redheaded stepchild after he turned on the Soviet dictator, and switched sides after he was captured by the Germans in 1942. Throwing in his lot with the Nazis, Vlasov turned coat, and went from hero to reviled jerk when he fought against his countrymen at the head of the so-called Russian Liberation Army.

Vlasov was drafted into the Red Army in 1919. He fought in its ranks during the Russian Civil War that followed the communists’ seizure of power in 1917, and distinguished himself. Rising steadily through the officer ranks, he earned a reputation for his ability to whip poor units into shape. In 1930, Vlasov gave his career a boost by joining the Communist Party, and in 1938, he was sent to China as a Soviet military advisor to its generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Andrey Vlasov shortly after his capture by the Germans. World War Two in Pics

11. Vlasov Went From Acclaimed Hero to Reviled Jerk When He Sided With the Nazis

Vlasov was a mechanized corps commander in the Ukraine when the Nazis invaded the USSR in 1941. He was one of the few generals who managed to get their units to safety, as he successfully fought his corps out of multiple encirclements. Vlasov’s skill and aggressiveness brought him to Stalin’s attention, who summoned him in November, 1941, and promoted him to command an army in Moscow’s defenses. Vlasov and his army played a key role in keeping the Germans out of Moscow, and in January 1942, he spearheaded a counteroffensive that pushed the Germans 100 miles from the Soviet capital.

Vlasov earned decorations and acclaim, plus the admiration of Stalin, who promoted him to deputy commander of the Volkhov Front, 300 miles northwest of Moscow. Later, Vlasov was put in charge of the 2nd Shock Army after its commander fell ill. His army got cut off and encircled as it advanced towards Leningrad, however, and was destroyed in June 1942. Vlasov escaped temporarily, but was captured ten days later. In captivity, he agreed to switch sides. Taken to Berlin, he and other Soviet traitors began drafting plans for a Russian provisional government and for recruiting a Soviet turncoat army.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Andrey Vlasov with Russian turncoat soldiers. Bundesarchiv Bild

10. A Last-Minute Change of Loyalty Failed to Save This Traitor From a Traitor’s End

Vlasov wrote an anticommunist leaflet in 1943, of which millions of copies were airdropped on Soviet positions. Using Vlasov’s name, the Nazis recruited hundreds of thousands of Soviet defectors for the so-called Russian Liberation Army. Although the Russian turncoats were nominally under Vlasov’s command, they were kept strictly under direct German control, with Vlasov exercising little or no authority. His only combat against the Red Army took place while in charge of a turncoat division near the Oder River in February 1945, during the war’s closing stages. Afterward, he was forced to retreat to German-controlled Czechoslovakia.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Andrey Vlasov with SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Signal

In May 1945, a few days before WWII ended, Vlasov’s division turned coat once again, this time against the Germans and in support of a Czech uprising. At war’s end, he tried to escape to the Western Allies’ lines, but was captured by Soviet forces, who discovered him hiding under blankets in a car. He was flown to Moscow and held in its dreaded Lubyanka prison, where he was tortured for months. He was tried for treason in the summer of 1946 along with 11 of his leading subordinates. All were found guilty and sentenced to death, and on August 1, 1945, Vlasov and his fellow traitors were hanged.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Hiroo Onoda. Hulton Archive

9. The Jerk Who Kept Killing People in a War That Had Already Ended

Japanese WWII holdouts – diehards who refused to surrender after Japan did, and kept fighting for years on end – are often depicted as paragons of steadfastness and devotion to duty. In reality, many were plain jerks. Initially, some diehards were genuinely unaware that Japan had surrendered. Once informed, most of them laid down their arms. Others, however, knew that the war had ended, but kept on fighting because their warped egos and macho pride refused to accept that they had lost.

The most famous of the latter jerk brigade was Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese Imperial Army lieutenant who, in 1944, at age 22, was sent on a reconnaissance mission to Lubang Island in the western Philippines. An intelligence officer specially trained as a commando, Onoda’s mission was to spy on American forces in the area and conduct guerrilla operations. He was ordered to never surrender, but was also ordered to never take his own life, no matter the circumstances. As seen below, he ended up twisting those instructions to justify a private one-man-war that lasted for decades.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Hiroo Onoda, right, and his younger brother Shigeo, in 1944. Wikimedia

8. A Japanese Lieutenant Cutoff in a Backwater Island

When Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda arrived at Lubang, he joined forces with Japanese forces already in the island. They included officers who outranked him, and who took exception to Onoda’s orders that allowed him to operate independently. So they meddled, interfered, and ended up preventing him out his reconnaissance mission. Within months, American forces invaded Lubang, and in short order and with rare exceptions, killed or captured all Japanese personnel in the island. The rare exceptions included Onoda and three other Japanese soldiers. He took charge of the survivors, and took to the hills.

Elsewhere in the Philippines, American forces overran the archipelago and crushed organized Japanese resistance. Onoda, scurrying about the rugged terrain of Lubang, was cut off from communications with his chain of command. Thus, he did not receive official word of Japan’s capitulation in 1945 and orders to surrender. Without new orders countermanding his last received instructions to fight to the death, Lieutenant Onoda abandoned common sense and, as seen below, went full jerk to fixate on an odd definition of duty.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
The rugged terrain of Lubang Island, in which Hiroo Onoda and his men hid. Inquirer

7. This Jerk Dismissed Japan’s Capitulation – and Specific Orders for His Surrender – as “Fake News”

Without clear-cut orders to surrender, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda chose to interpret his duty as an obligation to hide and fight on – for 29 years. For nearly three decades, Onoda survived with his tiny command in the jungles and mountains of Lubang. They erected bamboo huts and eked out a living by hunting and gathering in the island’s jungle. They stole rice and other food from local farmers, and killed the occasional cow for meat. Tormented by heat and mosquitoes, rats and rain, Onoda’s band patched their increasingly threadbare uniforms and kept their weapons in working order.

During their long holdout, Onoda and his men came across various leaflets announcing that the war had ended. They dismissed them as “fake news”, enemy propaganda, and ruses of war. When they encountered a leaflet upon which had been printed the official surrender order from their commanding general, they examined it closely to determine whether it was genuine, and decided that it must be a forgery. Even when they recovered airdropped letters and pictures from their own families urging them to surrender, Onoda’s band insisted that it was a trick.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
The Japanese hippie backpacker who found Hiroo Onoda, posing with the famous holdout and his rifle in February, 1974. Rare Historical Photos

6. Hiroo Onoda Went Beyond The Bounds of Reason to Continue a Private One-Man-War

As the years flew by, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda’s tiny four-man-contingent steadily dwindled, as he lost comrades to a variety of causes. In 1949, one of them decided that he had had enough, and simply left the group. He wandered alone around Lubang for six months, and eventually surrendered to the local authorities. Another of Onoda’s men was killed by a search party in 1954. His last companion was shot dead by police in 1972, when law enforcement came upon him and Onoda as the duo were trying to burn some farmers’ rice stores.

Onoda was thus finally alone, yet he kept on fighting. He insisted that he was being faithful to his last received orders, refused to acknowledge the authenticity of numerous leaflets that he came across containing new orders to surrender, and doggedly continued his one-man-war. Then in 1974, a Japanese hippie backpacker found Onoda in the depths of Lubang’s wilderness, befriended him, and managed to convince the holdout that the war had ended decades earlier. Even then, Onoda – still as big a jerk as ever – insisted that he would not surrender unless he received orders in person from a superior officer.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Hiroo Onoda coming out of the wilderness to turn himself in. Rare Historical Photos

5. A Drama Queen to the End, Lieutenant Onoda Engineered a Dramatic Ending to His Holdout

When Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda’s hippie backpacker friend returned to Japan with photographic proof of his encounter with the war’s most famous holdout, the news caused a sensation. The holdout’s new buddy contacted the Japanese government to let them know, and officials in Tokyo tracked down Onoda’s former commanding officer from WWII. Traveling to Lubang, Onoda’s wartime commander tracked down the holdout, and personally informed him that the war was over. He instructed Onoda that he was released from military duty, and ordered him to stand down.

In 1974, clad in his battered and threadbare uniform, Lieutenant Onoda handed in his sword and other weapons in a televised ceremony. Thus, this epic jerk finally ended his private war almost three decades after the conclusion of WWII. He returned to a hero’s welcome in Japan, but admiration for his supposed single-minded devotion to duty was not universal. Back in Lubang, the locals did not have such a positive view of Onoda as a conscientious and honorable man devoted to duty.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Hiroo Onoda back in Japan. New York Times

4. The Civilians Terrorized and Preyed Upon by This Jerk for Decades Did Not See Him as a Heroic Paragon of Devotion to Duty

While Hiroo Onoda was being lionized in Japan and around the world, those most impacted by his decades-long holdout – Lubang’s civilian population – did not hold him in such high regard. Back home, Onoda released his autobiography, No Surrender: My Thirty Year War, in which he detailed his years as a guerrilla in the Philippines fighting a long-since-ended war. However, a documentary interviewed the locals upon whom he had preyed during those years, and it revealed details that Onoda had omitted in his self-serving book. Such as the fact that he had murdered dozens of innocents.

The people of Lubang viewed the famous holdout the way we would view a psychopathic serial killer terrorizing a community with a decades-long violent crime spree. To the Lubangese, Onoda was a bloody-minded idiot and a jerk who, during his 29-year-holdout, had inflicted sundry harms upon them such as stealing, destroying, and sabotaging their property. He also killed about 30 local police and farmers with whom he and his band had clashed while stealing or “requisitioning” food and supplies in order to continue fighting a war that had ended decades earlier.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
A search party that tried to track down Hiroo Onoda in 1972. Observer

3. A Lionized Hero Who In Reality Was a Murderous Jerk

Although Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was lauded as a paragon of honor and devotion to duty, what he had done in Lubang Island was anything but honorable. Onoda had indulged in a decades-long violent tantrum, in which the only devotion he exhibited was a devotion to his ego and to a warped sense of honor that was actually quite dishonorable. In a nutshell, the famous Japanese holdout had his feelings hurt. He was upset that he and his country had been thoroughly defeated in war.

Onoda knew or should have known that the war had ended in 1945. Ample evidence, including orders from his chain of command, plus photos and letters from his and his men’s families, had been airdropped in the jungles and mountains of Lubang and picked up by the holdouts. However, in a violent jerk fashion, he decided to dismiss reality as “fake news”. He took out his frustration and the perceived humiliation of his and his country’s defeat on poor Filipino civilians in an isolated island, whom he terrorized and murdered by the dozen.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Hiroo Onoda surrendering his sword to President Ferdinand Marcos. Wikimedia

2. The Unrepentant Maniac Who Got Away With Murder

It was the narrative of Onoda as a heroic holdout that took hold and captured the public imagination in Japan and around the world. The more troubling reality that Onoda was a homicidal maniac was downplayed or ignored. His decades-long crime spree in Lubang, which could have gotten him the death penalty for multiple murders, was instead swept under the rug by the authorities. At the time, the Philippines was ruled by dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a notoriously corrupt kleptomaniac. Marcos was eager for good relationships – and financial support and investments offering opportunities for graft – with Japan.

As a result, the fiction that Onoda did not know that the war had ended in 1945 was accepted as fact when it was anything but. President Ferdinand Marcos granted him a full pardon that was broadcast in a televised ceremony. In true jerk fashion, Onoda never apologized or expressed remorse for stealing the food and burning the crops of poor Lubangese, or for murdering dozens of innocent civilians in the island. Understandably, that did not sit well with the people of Lubang. When Onoda revisited the island in 1996, his return was surrounded by controversy.

Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
Hiroo Onoda in his Brazilian cattle ranch. Observer

1. A Jerk Who Murdered Dozens, Then Lived a Long and Happy Life in Peace and Comfort

Back home, Hiroo Onoda was so popular that he was urged to run for the Diet – Japan’s national legislature. However, he had trouble fitting in. A militarist through and through who thought the war had been a sacred mission, Onoda was unable to come to terms with the pacifist and futuristic country to which he had returned. Japan and its culture in the 1970s were radically different from what he had known growing up, and Onoda was troubled by what he saw as a withering away of traditional Japanese values. So troubled, that he decided to leave the country.

Within a year of returning to Japan, Onoda followed the example of his older brother, and emigrated to Brazil. There, he bought a ranch in Mato Grosso do Sul, and settled down to raise cattle. He tied the knot in 1976, fathered a family, and assumed a leading role in the local Japanese émigré community. He returned to Japan in 1980, where his wife turned to right-wing politics and headed a conservative Japanese women’s association. Throughout much of his remaining life, Onoda returned to Brazil every year for about three months. He died of heart failure in 2014, aged 91.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Arab America – Al Mutanabbi: The Greatest Arab Poet

Cracked – Howard Hughes Bought a Major Studio… to Ruin His Ex-Girlfriend’s Career

Crime Traveler – Homicidal Sleepwalking: To Kill While Asleep

Doyle, David W. – Inside Espionage: A Memoir of True Men and Traitors (2000)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Al Mutanabbi

Encyclopedia Britannica – Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov

Encyclopedia Britannica – Pierre Laval

Frondorf, Shirley – Death of a Jewish American Princess: The True Story of a Victim on Trial (2013)

How Stuff Works – Japanese Holdouts

Los Angeles Times, August 28th, 2001 – Jane Greer, Star of Film Noir ‘Out of the Past’

Maas, Peter – Killer Spy: The Inside Story of the FBI’s Pursuit and Capture of Aldrich Ames (1995)

New York Times, October 9th, 1988 – The Defense Pleaded Nagging

Onoda, Hiroo – No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War (1999)

Orkneyjar – Earl Sigurd the Mighty, the First Earl of Orkney

Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 10th, 2014 – Hiroo Onoda: Hero, or Villain?

Thorwald, Jurgen – The Illusion: Soviet Soldiers in Hitler’s Armies (1974)

Time Magazine, October 15th, 1945 – Devil’s Advocate

Wikipedia – Japanese Holdout