In 1942, Hiroo Onoda was a Lieutenant in the Japanese Army.
After two years training in guerrilla warfare he was sent into the jungle, an island called Lubang in the Philippines.
He was told to sabotage anything the enemy could use.
Major Tamaguchi gave him his final orders:
“Do not surrender. Do not commit suicide. Continue until you hear directly from me.”
Onoda and the others began living off the jungle the way they’d been taught.
They survived on plants, insects, snakes, rats.
Occasionally they managed to find and kill a cow.
Obviously the enemy knew they were there, units were sent to kill or capture them.
Occasionally one of Onoda’s companions would be shot, more often the enemy.
Propaganda leaflets were dropped into the jungle, saying the war was over and they should come out.
It was an obvious a trick.
Onoda and the other didn’t fall for it.
For years, they had fire fights with enemy units, and both sides took casualties.
One-by-one Onoda’s companions were killed until he was alone.
His honour demanded he carry on doing exactly what he’d been ordered to do.
He would never surrender or commit suicide.
He would continue with his mission until he heard directly from Major Tamaguchi.
Eventually, he did hear.
Thirty years later, in 1975, a Japanese student backpacker came across him in the jungle.
The backpacker returned to Japan to tell the newspapers.
They located the elderly Major Tamaguchi, who flew to the island to personally persuade Onoda that the war was over, and order him to stop fighting.
But there was one major problem.
Onoda had been fighting a war that hadn’t existed.
For thirty years he thought he’d been shooting enemy soldiers.
But he’d been fighting farmers and policemen who were trying to stop him killing their cattle.
They thought he was a poacher.
They had killed three of his companions, but he had killed thirty of them.
He thought they were American soldiers.
Each side thought the reality was something it wasn’t.
Each side began with an interpretation and then made the facts fit.
We think we see reality and interpret it.
But actually, it’s the other way round.
We have a predetermined view of what’s going on, then we interpret the facts to reinforce it.
The Philippine government eventually pardoned Hiroo Onoda.
They decided he hadn’t committed a crime in the reality he was living in.
He had no contact with the real world, so he couldn’t know what was going on in it.
Which is exactly like the world most of us in advertising live in.
In the UK, sixty thousand people work in advertising.
But sixty million people don’t.
So we represent 0.1% of the population.
Like that Japanese soldier we can only live in our reality.
But we should know, our reality isn’t the truth.