Exposing Some of the Meanest and Pettiest Men in History
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

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 a 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. Afterwards, 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 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 (1988)

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)

Madelung, Wilferd – Medieval Isma’ili History and Thought: The Fatimids and the Qarmatis of Bahrayn (1996)

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