Eighty years ago, the Japanese Army occupied the Philippine Islands. General Douglas MacArthur had fled, leaving thousands of American soldiers, and their Filipino allies at the mercy of Japan. The Japanese gathered them all together, nearly 78,000 men, and marched them 65 miles through interminable heat, with little water and food, to a centralized prison camp. Torture and summary execution were commonplace, and those who managed to survive the hunger, exhaustion and thirst could be bayonetted on the side of the road without warning.
On April 9, we remember this particular horror of war as the Bataan Death March. Rather than focus on the abject cruelty that comes with the clash of cultures with the machinery of modern warfare, I would rather focus on the tremendous heroism, tenacity, and bottomless well of strength that enabled so many men to survive. It is here, rather than in the exploration of human depravity, that we might find some positive light in such a dark moment in history.
Even in the midst of so much savagery, acts of selfless generosity meant the difference between life and death for many of the prisoners. Marine veteran Irvin Scott passed out on the side of the road. He was kept alive by a prisoner he didn't know, with the help of a Japanese guard, who secretly provided Scott with food. Thanks to their selflessness, Irvin Scott went on to live a long and fulfilling life, far removed from the horrors of Bataan. He was even able to let go of any animosity to the Japanese, a decision many of his compatriots could not make.
In business and in life, adversity is as inescapable as gravity. I'm thankful that I've never had to face something as horrific as Bataan, but the suffering endured by the prisoners during those miserable 65 miles can teach us a lot about how we respond to the adverse situations we face.
Today we live in a world dominated by bad news. On the heels of a virulent, deadly pandemic comes the new specter of brutal warfare in Europe. We're facing rising gas prices, runaway inflation, and supply chain disruptions that leave store shelves bare and place added pressure on businesses and customers alike. Both business and consumers are feeling the pinch with little relief in sight. Everywhere we turn, there are whispers of disaster and impending doom. How can we keep marching in the face of all of this?
Like Irvin Scott, we put one foot in front of the other. We lean on others and allow others to lean on us. We focus on what is immediately important and leave tomorrow's worries in the future. We rejoice in the little victories and feel gratitude for the little blessings that we will inevitably find if we look for them. We can forgive, as Irvin Scott did.
Everybody, from the fry cook to the CEO has a choice. We must live in a way that makes the world a better place, or we can choose to make it worse. The survivors of Bataan teach us that adversity does not have to define us. We can't choose our circumstances, but we can choose how to respond to them. And that, my friends, is what it means to be free.