Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If we could look ahead 15 years to view the results of our actions, we could avoid so many disastrous events. Monday morning quarterbacking would not exist if we could only make judgments based on foreknowledge. Those were my first thoughts as I began this book. If only we had seen the very height of the stock market foretelling the eventual crash of ’29, the success of Hitler against all odds in the 30’s because the timing was right, because people were being played like pawns and falling for his grandiose speeches, grabbing at any pipe dream that might make their lives easier, seeking solutions outside themselves, the dangers of eugenics. If only we had seen the duplicity of the Japanese government as it engaged in peace talks and plotted our destruction, seen also the beginning of the seeds of socialism which would eventually lead to the debacle we are experiencing today, led there by the glib tongue of another possible narcissist and politician who was worshiped as a savior, then later proven to have clay feet. We had all the same warning signs. We didn’t heed them then, and we didn’t heed them now. Everywhere, all over the world, parallels exist as we are seeking scapegoats once again. We are reaping what we have sown.
This book is about a tragedy that befell our heroes in the events surrounding World War II. It is about, in particular, one such hero and survivor …Louis Zamperini. Born in 1917, with an indomitable spirit which showed itself when he was just a toddler, his headstrong and incorrible behavior led him onward. Committing various illegal acts , he raced through life, flying in the face of rules and defying regulations until one day, after many failed trials and errors, with the help of his brother Pete, he awoke to the joy of running and racing competitively, eventually competing in the Olympics in Germany with Jesse Owens. It must have been that wild spirit refusing to cave and never say uncle, that probably gave him the courage and fortitude to survive the tale told on these pages. The horrors of war, the courage of the victims, the cruelty and madness leading to the waste of human life are all covered in this book.
At first, Hillenbrand tells this story using various snippets from Louie’s colorful life, trying to expose the character of the man and the ultimate reason why he was able to survive his tragic circumstances. He was always able to come up from behind. He had the power to win, but perhaps did not always have the will. She makes this clear with all of her anecdotal recollections. She pegs his personality which was a winning one, but obviously, at times, he was missing an important ingredient called ethics, but always possessed another called compassion.
Reading Unbroken makes me wonder why we are always expected to apologize or make excuses for bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and yet, I never hear the Japanese being forced to apologize to us for what they did in the brazen, duplicitous attack on Pearl Harbor, resulting in the deaths of thousands, some still buried in their ships, under the sea. I was aghast when I read that for the sake of political expedience the Japanese POW's received amnesty, and even those that committed the most heinous crimes eventually went free. Some were never punished. Unlike Louis, I had no epiphany while reading the book. I actually became less compassionate toward the people who engaged in such despicable behavior. I am no longer an apologist for the dropping of the bombs which caused such devastation for the Japanese people. Without that, we would have lost thousands more. The arrogance exhibited by the Japanese was unending and intolerable.
I do wonder where are the Americans who should be demanding the unending sorrow and continuous apology from Japan, demanding that they attempt to make right the wrong they committed against the United States by declaring war with the attack, on a country with which they were engaging in peace talks? Why are Americans so quick to judge themselves and not others for their heinous acts of monstrous destruction and loss of life. I know we are supposed to turn the other cheek, but at what point does that become foolish?
The Japanese were the most horrible taskmasters and jailers. When I think of how our soldiers were reamed out for what happened at Abu Ghraib and compare it to what the Japanese did to our POW's, I am astonished that we were so outraged. It was child's play by comparison in its effect, and we seem to have grossly over reacted, considering we have forgiven our enemies for doing far worse.
I often became infuriated while reading this. The very personal experiences reached out from the pages and into my gut so that I felt as if I had been wrenched out of my own world into theirs. I could almost understand the panic that forced America to place the Japanese in internment camps. What else could the do after witnessing the brutality of the leaders in Japan. There was an amazing arrogance present in that community and one’s allegiance was surely apt to be questioned. How could anyone know who was guilty and who was innocent, in those early days?
When I read of the cruelty and lack of any morality or ethics, in terms of war rules or Geneva Conventions on the part of the Japanese, when they ignored or mocked rules regarding POW’s, it became easier to understand why, as a last resort, after fighting people who used barbaric methods to win, tortured their prisoners, starved them or worse, ultimately murdering them in cold blood, dropping the bomb was the only answer to end the war. Truman was a hero. The Japanese have nothing to complain about but their own government’s narcissism and their mindless obedience.
It was really hard to read more than a dozen or two pages at a time without feeling my blood pressure rise or my head begin to ache, yet I could not stop reading. The author has managed to write this book in a matter of fact way so that it is tolerable to read about the hardships, pain, suffering and trauma of survival that the book describes and yet the subject matter is far from matter of fact and the effects on you will surely be enormous and unforgettable. You will be left wondering, once again, how could there have been so many insane human beings capable of such extraordinarily barbaric behavior? This book is a masterful achievement.