Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura HillenbrandI was cleaning up after the wife and I had dinner last night and there was a small amount of green beans left. There weren’t nearly enough for another serving to make them worth saving so I dumped them in the sink, but just as I was about to turn on the garbage disposal, I realized that to the POWs described in Unbroken those few green beans I was about to mulch would have been a feast they would have risked torture and beatings for. I was disgusted with myself for the rest of the night. You know the book you’re reading is hitting you hard when you feel that much shame for letting a tiny bit of food go to waste.
Louie Zamperini is one of those guys who definitely earned that Greatest Generation label. The son of Italian immigrant parents, Louie was a rebellious kid who was constantly into one form of mischief or another, but when he finally channeled his energy into running, he became a high school track star in California. Louie was so good that he made the 1936 Olympics in Berlin at the age of 19, and even though he didn’t medal, he ran one lap of a race so quickly that he electrified the crowd and even caught Hitler’s attention.
As a college runner, Louie held several national records and many thought that he’d be the man to eventually break the four minute mile. He was poised to do well in the 1940 Olympics, but then World War II cancelled the games. Louie left college and ended up in the air corps even though he was scared of planes. He became a bombardier and went to the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Louie survived several missions, including one where their B-24 barely made it back with over 500 holes in it.
While on a search and rescue mission, Louie’s plane crashed in the ocean, and only he and two others survived. With few supplies on two tiny life rafts, they’d endure exposure, starvation, thirst and sharks.
However, after finally reaching an island and being captured by the Japanese, Louie’s hellish experience as a POW would make him miss the raft and the sharks. Starved, beaten, tortured and degraded, Louie also faces extra punishment at the hands of a brutally sadistic guard who singled him out. Louie and the other prisoners desperately try to hang on long enough for America to win the war and free them.
I didn’t care anything about race horses, but found Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit an incredibly interesting read. She’s surpassed that book here with this well researched story. Hillenbrand creates vivid descriptions of Louie’s childhood, the Berlin Olympics, the life of an air man in the Pacific, and a Japanese POW camp while also telling the stories of the people around Louie.
She also does a superior job of describing a phase of World War II that tends to get overlooked, Japanese war crimes against prisoners. The number of prisoners killed by the Japanese through starvation, beatings and forced labor are staggering, but Hillenbrand also shines a light on the Japanese policy of killing all POWs if that area was about to be invaded. Per her research, they were preparing to begin slaughtering prisoners in Japan in late August and September of 1945, but the dropping of the atomic bombs and the surrender of the emperor probably saved those POWs lives. If the war would have carried on or a conventional invasion done, then mostly likely those prisoners would have been killed.*
*(Do not take this as my personal feelings about whether nuclear weapons should have been used or not. I’m just relaying a part of the book here, and Hillenbrand makes no argument as to whether dropping the bombs was justified. She writes that many of the POWs believed that the bombings probably saved their lives and leaves it at that. And if you feel like trying to start a comment fight about it, I’m just going to delete it so don’t bother. I left my sword and shield at home today and don’t feel like battling trolls.)
Ultimately, while this is a book about people enduring incredible hardship and cruelty during war, its a hopeful book, not a depressing one. Great writing and the care that Hillenbrand took with the people and places make this compelling reading.
World War II - Prisoners of War: Books
A prisoner of war POW is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant , who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to Belligerents hold prisoners of war in custody for a range of legitimate and illegitimate reasons, such as isolating them from enemy combatants still in the field releasing and repatriating them in an orderly manner after hostilities , demonstrating military victory, punishing them, prosecuting them for war crimes , exploiting them for their labour, recruiting or even conscripting them as their own combatants, collecting military and political intelligence from them, or indoctrinating them in new political or religious beliefs. For most of human history, depending on the culture of the victors, enemy combatants on the losing side in a battle who had surrendered and been taken as prisoners of war could expect to be either slaughtered or enslaved. Typically, victors made little distinction between enemy combatants and enemy civilians, although they were more likely to spare women and children.
Flanagan, 53, who was born in Tasmania, is the third Australian to win the prize, following Thomas Keneally and the two-time winner Peter Carey. The philosopher A. It was inspired by a painful piece of family history: Mr. Flanagan described how he had written five different versions of the story before he was satisfied. In the end, he spent 12 years working on the novel. To research it, he traveled to Thailand and walked along the railway, also known as the Death Railway, occasionally carrying rocks to mimic the experience of the prisoners. In Japan, he interviewed several former guards who had worked on the railway.
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