The truth of war is unfathomable. The stories of facing the enemy, capture and POW camps (where the laws of the Geneva Convention were ignored and sadistic people were in charge) seem unimaginable. The depths at which the human soul can go is heart breaking.
But in the midst of reading such hate and brutality, there are stories like Unbroken, telling of the strength of a person’s will to live, choosing to stand up and even stories of compassion.
Laura Hillenbrand does her research well and writes in a way that keeps you reading (with enough footnotes to make any history dork like myself happy). She does an incredible job. And the story itself is amazing. At one point Louis Zamperini was under a raft in the Pacific Ocean hiding from the Japanese bullets while kicking a shark in the nose so the shark wouldn’t eat him. In case you skimmed that last part, here it is again: while hoping a bullet didn’t hit him, he was kicking a shark in the nose. Repeatedly. I can’t even make that stuff up.
While reading the story, I was angry, heartbroken, sad and cried plenty. But it was worth it – every single word I read. I hope it turns into a movie like her first book, Seabiscuit.
To close, I leave with two quotes from the book and Hillenbrand’s dedication. My hope is that they’ll give you a glimpse of what had me crying and the power of forgiveness. I can’t imagine the path Louis has lived, but wow, it’s one of the most inspiring tales I have ever come across.
“In Sugamo prison, as he was told of Watanabe’s fate, all Louis saw was a lost person, a life now beyond redemption. He felt something that he had never felt for a captor before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized that it was compassion. At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louis Zamperini, the war was over” (page 379).
This is from a letter he wrote to The Bird/Watanabe:
“Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war, but as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end.
The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God though the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them.”
As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 [sic] and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison…I asked then about you, and was told that you probably committed the Hara Kiri, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.”
“Finally, I wish to remember the millions of Allied servicemen and prisoners of war who lived the story of the Second World War. Many of these men never came home; many others returned bearing emotional and physical scars that would stay with them for the for the rest of their lives. I come away from this book with the deepest appreciation for what these men endured, and what they sacrificed, for the good of humanity. It is to them that this book dedicated.” – Laura Hillenbrand
Here’s a clip about Louis and the book, first aired on CBS. What an amazing story and really an amazing man!