Thursday, September 5, 2013

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken is the true story of WWII Japanese POW Louis Zameperini, also an Olympic medalist runner in the 1936 Olympics.

I had tried to read this book a couple years ago but had book ADD at the time and had to turn it back in after only 2 weeks because someone else had a hold on it. When someone chose it for my current book club, I was determined to read it. However, it is not a quick read, although some parts were page turners. I found the audio book and since I had to return this book after 3 weeks due to another hold being on it, I uploaded the audio and listened to probably the last 2/3 of it.

It's funny how at this point literature is starting to intertwine for me. Reading this book has also opened a new perspective for me from the previous book I read "The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" where a Japanese girl and her family are put in a camp here in America just because they are Japanese-even though they are all born American. However, because of the horrors that the Japanese did to their POW's-37% of Japanese POW's died compared to the 1% of Nazi POWs-WOW- I can totally understand now why people in America would be so afraid of anyone Japanese that they would feel it absolutely necessary to put them in camps. Again, does that mean I agree? No. But it DOES make it easy to understand the time and the circumstances MUCH MUCH better. The Japanese did many things similar to the Nazi's. Medical "experiments", procedures without anesthesia, starvation, work camps, beatings, and the worst of them all, de-humanization.

Louis went through some remarkable circumstances. When his plane initially went down, he was in a raft with 2 other men, his friend Phil and another they didn't know as well. They were adrift 47 days. 47 days!!! Drinking water when it fell from the sky, beating off sharks, eating birds or fish or whatever they could-raw-for sustenance. Then when they were finally found-they were captured. And the 47 days in the ocean with sharks suddenly seems like a much more friendly place to be. As with the Nazi's, learning more about the Japanese side of the war, I am appalled and disgusted with the amount of pain and humiliation that humans can do to one another. But I am buoyed up by the stories of Japanese soldiers who, like some of the Nazi soldiers, risked everything in order to be humane, even kind to their captives. Not subscribing to the philosophy that they were superior. And then the human spirit that in some people cannot be broken. Amazing.

It's also interesting how much was left out of my education on WWII. I have been well versed in the European front, but realized how little I knew about Japan. Did you know, for instance, that prior to the bombing of Hiroshima and other cities, our bombers flew all over Japan and dropped leaflets that stated the cities being targeted for bombings and urging citizens to evacuate? Hello, what? When does that happen in war? Why didn't anyone tell me, WE TRIED TO WARN THEM. We are not ruthless bad guys policing the world. We did not WANT innocent lives to be lost! The Japanese government confiscated those leaflets and punished people who had them. Now who's the bad guys not caring about citizens?

One of the most amazing things was the general attitude all the POWs had at the end of the war. Immediately the Japanese soldiers were afraid of retaliation, but from the accounts to write this book, most of the men instantaneously forgave their captors. They shared any food with the citizens in the area and their captors.

The book also talks about post war life and PTSD and other things. It touches on the American history we no longer teach-because it became apparent that we needed the Japanese as allies more than we needed retribution against the guards who treated other human beings so badly. It told of a small town which wished to erect a memorial to the war prisoners held there, because they felt bad. They even raised 85% of the funds themselves! One of the citizens had been a POW held by the US and had been treated so kindly he referred to his time as "lucky prison" or something similar. Now, since I don't know much about it, I don't know that we DIDN'T have brutality in some prison camps in the US, but it makes me feel good to know that for at least 1 man's experience (and probably the others at the same location) they were treated civilly and in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

War is a complicated situation and sometimes people view it as an excuse to be more brutal than necessary. But on another hand, sometimes people see no other way of extracting intelligence that would protect us. I hate that there doesn't seem to be a clear black and white, but a theory I've held fast to for the past year or so that is that very rarely is there a blanket statement that tells the exact right way for every single person to do in every situation and achieve the same results. What is right in one situation would not be right in another. What would normally be intolerable could be absolutely necessary in another. And we just have to make the best judgements we can based on the knowledge we have, and then we have to allow ourselves to be open to new or additional information as it comes along. As much as I don't care for Dr. Phil anymore, he's had a saying that I've really liked that says "You do what you know and when you know better, you do better." Sometimes we make snap judgements without knowing, but if once we know we refuse to take it into account, then we pass from sins of ignorance to sins of disobedience, which is worse.

Louis got to run the Olympic torch through the place he'd been held captive. Full of forgiveness even for the most brutal and inhumane of all guards who personally had it out for him. He wrote a letter detailing his experiences and explaining his post war trauma and symptoms and how he found, though Billy Graham, God and forgiveness and had it delivered to this particular guard. It truly is incredible.

And it's a slap to the face. For me, or anyone who hasn't faced the horrors of being a POW, how on Earth can we justify holding a grudge and withholding forgiveness when chances are VERY good that whatever the offense was pale in comparison to the way those men were treated in Japan? This book teaches how hate can consume you and drive you to ruins, but forgiveness-whether you do so for religious reasons or not, will give you peace. Forgiveness is NOT easy for anyone. But if Louis Zamperini could do it. Then I sure as heck have no business not attempting it in my life.

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