This month, Wendy and I tackled the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamporini written by Laura Hillenbrand. I have actually had this book in my to-read pile for a couple of year and now that I have finished it, I cannot believe that I didn’t read it earlier.
Unbroken is a fascinating book. The story of Louis Zamporini is undoubtedly one of the fullest, most difficult, yet most inspiring I have read. Louis is known to most people as the man who was going to break the 4-minute mile mark in running until WWII got in the way. His childhood was intensely difficult, for him and his parents. He just could not find what fit him and so he was troubled and caused a lot of trouble. But his older brother finally got him into running and he found his stride in life.
After running in the Olympics in Germany in 1936, he was poised to really make his mark in the 1940 Olympics. WWII began just months before them and they were cancelled. Louis joined the military and became a bombardier. After training, he was sent to the Pacific and it was there that the remainder of his military career was spent. One fateful day, the crew he was with were sent to look for a downed plane. Their own plane went down and they crashed in the Pacific Ocean.
Louis and two others were the only survivors. After drifting on a raft for weeks, they were picked up by the Japanese. This is the point where the unbelievable part of the story begins. Sent to camp after camp, Louis and Phil, the final two survivors spent the remainder of the war in POW camps. Louis was never registered with the Red Cross and so was presumed dead. What they survived in the camps is just about unspeakable. It is truly a testament to Louis’ fortitude, strength of character, attitude, and stone-cold will that he came out of the camp alive. That any of them did but Louis was a target – a target of rage.
When he came out of the POW camp at the end of the war, he was a very different man. After marrying, he fell into the power of the nightmares, flashbacks, and other trauma that afflicted him. He didn’t know how to fight it and it consumed him. His wife did much to stick by him, help him, and eventually, drug him to tent revival held by Billy Graham. He was touched by the message. He heard God’s love and was changed. His life was given back to him and he grabbed it with two hands, as he had done everything else in his life.
From then on, he worked to help and bless others. He created camps to help struggling boys find their way. He gave speeches about what he had endured during the war. He traveled far and wide to talk to those who wanted to hear him. He was never able to regain enough strength and overcome his injuries from the POW camp and become a strong runner again but his life touched so many more. He was used by God for a force of good and encouragement.
What a story!
These questions are from the back of the book:
Is Louie a hero? How do you define heroism?
I think he is a hero because he fought for what was right. I think that is the simplest definition of a hero – someone who fights for what is right, even at risk of personal comfort or safety. Louie was a hero because he fought not only in the military but in his own way, day-by-day, each day of the war. He did all he could to be strong, to show strength to others, to stand tall and not let others down. He wasn’t going to be broken.
Louie was especially close to his brother, Pete, who devoted himself to him. If Pete hadn’t been there, what do you think would have become of Louie? Does Pete deserve credit for shaping Louie into a man who could endure and survive his Odyssean ordeal?
Absolutely, there is credit due to Pete. He saw the potential in Louie when others were ready to dismiss him and give up on him. Pete pushed Louie to be the best he could and helped him in all the ways he could find to do so. Pete definitely helped Louie become the man who survived the war. There were other forces at work, as well, but Pete was a defining force for Louie.
What are your feelings about Mac? Do you feel sympathy for him? Anger? If you endured the trauma of a plane crash and were placed in a situation that you knew very few men survived, might you have reacted as he did? In the end, do you think he redeemed himself?
I do feel a lot of sympathy for Mac. Mac reacted with fear to a fearful situation and, in eating all of the food supplies they had, made things worse. But he didn’t do it in his right mind. Extreme fear and trauma can make people do strange, unreasonable things. I found Louie’s response so amazing and generous – a glimpse of the person deep inside that hadn’t had tons of opportunity to shine yet – a person of strength and leadership and responsibility. Mac found out that day just how forgiving one can be. In the end, I do believe he redeemed himself as best he could. There was little that he could do but he did it, fighting off the sharks and helping to keep the raft safe and afloat. It wasn’t enough to save himself but his actions helped keep Louie and Phil alive. That is also an act of heroism.
The POWs took enormous risks to carry out thefts, sabotage, and other acts of defiance. Men would risk their lives to steal items as trivial as pencil boxes. What benefit did they derive from defiance that was worth risking death or severe beatings?
I can only imagine. In that, I imagine that it was an act that gave them a feeling of control, something they had little of. Also, in these acts, they were doing little things to hamper the enemy and “help” the war. These acts strengthen character and give encouragement to continue on. Every little bit of encouragement is helpful when you are in the dark days.
Unbroken reveals that, under the “kill-all order,” the Japanese planned to murder all POWs, a plan that was never carried out because of the dropping of the atomic bombs. The book also explores the lengths to which the Japanese were prepared to go to avoid surrender. How did the book make you feel about America’s use of the atomic bomb on Japan?
This is a really hard one because all I have is the book and information. I wasn’t there but I do struggle with the amount of lives lost and permanently damaged from it. I don’t know how much America knew of the damage that would really come from it but in some ways, it is easy to justify and say “it was worth it. It ended the war and thus, in the long run, saved many, many lives.” At the same time, the long term effects of the bombs is crazy and the fear reported in the book are significant. So, I can accept it without issue but am thankful we are not currently in a position where there is need to consider something like this. And I pray we are never in that kind of a position again.
Why do you think most WWII literature has focused on the European war, with so little attention paid to the Pacific war?
No clue. My guess is that we in America are predominantly linked through ancestry to Europe. That is kind of our “history.” As I read more and more, there are truly stories though from around the entire globe about the battles and effects of WWII. There is much, much more to WWII than the European theater and we need to help our children see this because the effects of it are still visible today. Broader world-views give us all a more compassionate view of others.
I’m going to close it here. I could go on. There are actually 23 questions in the book and some of them are very deep-thinking ones. I encourage you to read what Wendy wrote about Unbroken on Ladybug Daydreams.
The selection for next month is Waiting for Rachel by Kimberly Rae Jordan. It is currently available for free on Kindle over on Amazon.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.