Friday, October 10, 2014


Book: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Edition: eBook from Fresno County Library
Read: Oct 10, 2014
879 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

This is a biography of Louis Zamperini. It tells of his life as someone who was a thief as a youngster. He then gets turned around by his brother through running track. Not only was he good, he was very good-making the 1936 Olympic team in the two mile race. He was very close to be the fastest miler of his time.

Then the war hit and he became a bombardier on a B-24D in the Pacific, stationed out of Hawaii. He made many flights and helped save his plane during one particularly hard bombing run. But on another flight his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean-ironically looking for another plane which had gone down in the Pacific. Three men were able to escape from the plane and were a drift on a life raft for 40+ days, without food or water. Two of them surviced only to be picked up by the Japanese.

The book describes the tortures he faced at the hands of his Japanese captors for two years. It traces Zamperini's time on the island where he was first captured then onto Japan. Here he was detained at three POW camps, each progressively worse than the previous one.

After the war ended, he returned home to marry, have a child, become an alcoholic and to plot out his vengeance on a particularly evil POW prison guard. Along the way, his wife takes him to a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles. There his life changes. It then briefly tells of his life and others lives, including some of his captors. 


Eugenics.When Zamperini was running, eugenics (39) was a major scientific theory, attracting a lot of attention. At this time Zamperini was only interested in running, not in understanding implications of philosophical bents. So when he ran in Germany, he did not recognize how eugenics was affecting life there. Eugenics is the thought that if we can be selective about human breeding, we can improve a race.

Running.He ran because it was what his body wished to do. (48) This is very reminiscent of the Eric Liddel statement about the I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure. When we do what we are made for, we usually feel good about doing it and we do it effectively.

Kunichi James Sasaki (91). He was one of the strangest characters in the book. He was a college friend of Zamperini. But in reality was a Japanese spy before the war. He eventually became attached to the Japanese embassy in Washington DC and returned to Japan at the outbreak of war.  Sasaki then meets Zamperini in Japan, introducing himself as the chief interrogator-but never interrogating Zamperini. After the war, it is revealed he was only a low-level perfunctory. Later on he is accused of beating a prisoner to death.

Aircraft Loss. Hillenbrand brings many details into the book. One of them talks about the amount of loss of aircraft. She states that combat losses of aircraft and crew was less than those by accidents-this was by a ratio of 1 combat loss to every six accidental losses. (159) It would seem like this would have been a great realization and something would be done. Would it have been better to stopped training and doing the actual combat? Was the equipment that unstable?
Hillenbrand really does not go into the causes of the accidents.

Mental strength. Mental strength at least as important as physical and innovation abilities. This is why Phillips and Zamperini survived and Mac did not. In Zamperini case, it was built both through his long distance running and his schooling once he decided to concentrate. He also undertook perpetration for survival by getting himself schooled in what if's. His intuitiveness was based upon knowledge. This mental strength is the biggest take away from the book. It is what make the difference in survival when lost and the hopelessness of those who will not be found.

Japanese POW Camps. The thing which impresses you about the Japanese in this book is there viciousness. How being the masters of the earth gave them the right to be cruel and barbarous to those who they had conquered. To them strength equaled rightness of action. The weak were to be beaten.

Does the US engage in this? By what standards do we now engage in warfare?

Hillenbrand points out that they were able to hold out after the crash despite the loss of food, water and shelter. It was at the Japanese hands where they were most at risk: the loss of their dignity. It is interesting that what the Japanese treasured the most and feared losing was what they sought to remove from their prisoners.

The results of racism was similar to what happened with slavery in our South. The belief of inherent superiority leads mistreatment of the believed inferior.

The kill all orders-see chp 32. These were orders from the highest up in Japan. If an area looked like it was going to fall to the Allied forces, then kill all the POW's. The Japanese had a history of killing their prisoners anyway and several examples of this was given throughout the chapter, including the massive killing of Chinese.

Truth. When you tell the truth, you are in a good position to do one of two things: continue to tell the truth or lie. When you lie, you can only do one thing: continue to lie.
Japanese Good Guys. After the war, the histories of the various people were recounted before progressing on to Zamperini's.  It is interesting to see two of the "good guys" on the Japanese side of things. One there is no record of him after the war-he was likely killed in battle when the American's took over an island he was on. The other noted sympathetic person was Yukichi Kano. They both saved Zamperini's life, and other POW's as well. Why did they do something which their other countryman doing? Even their own country was advocating-cruelty to the POW's, killing them off by deprivation? Was it because they both were Christian? Was it the Western influence which comes with Christianity? or the teachings which they submitted themselves to? They both did not benefit from their actions.

  As I was reading about these two people who if caught would have been disciplined at best and may have had their actions judged as betrayal to their country, I was thinking what caused them to take action? I suspect it was the complete lack of humanity shown to the POW's by their country and countrymen. They felt the need to be human and care those in life-threatening need.  Now you move 60 years later and think about the wars in the Middle East and how America has treated their prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.  Has America treated their prisoners with respect for their humanity? Have we beaten them? Have we starved them? Deprived them of their senses? Has any of our guards stepped up and tried to restore that sense of humanity? Would we be judged equally as hard as the Japanese were judged? Most importantly, how would I react when I see cruelty and inhumanity?

After the War. After being released from being a POW and returning to LA, Zamperini would eventually be consumed by two things: alcoholism and vengeance. The alcoholism was because as a war hero and an Olympian, he was in constant demand to tell his story. It was his story which he wanted to forget. The alcohol helped deaden that sensation of reliving his story. But it fed into behavioral problems which came close to ruining his life. We do this to our heros. Build them up and when their feet are exposed as clay, tear them down.

Vengence. The vengeance part is really potent. The chief tormentor of Zamperini was constantly in his dreams, constantly torturing him This man had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed and powerless... (644) This caused Zamperini to want to restore himself by killing his former tormentor. Here Hillenbrand makes the same point which Desmond Tutu makes in his book, The Book of Forgiving. The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them... (646) This chained Zamperini to his former tormentor. It is a lesson for all of to remember: to release the hold a person has on us, forgive them.

Relief from Vengence. Billy Graham asks, why do good men suffer? Why does it seem like a God I'd silent in the midst of our suffering? Graham's answer is we see good all around us-in the sunsets, in nature. But he Is not too busy for us. He is there with us. These thoughts stirred in Zamperini the turmoil which had been raging within. Eventually he turned to God and obtained relief. The book concludes with a summary of his history and accomplishments after his conversion.

There is a good reason why this book is called Unbroken. It is the biography of a child hoodlum, Olympic runner, World War II bombardier, ocean crash survivor,  Japanese prisoner of war, and alcoholic. Through it all, Louis Zamperini found ways to survive, to continue his struggles.

Hillenbrand tells Zamperini's story well. It flows smoothly, letting us ponder both his strength and weaknesses. She also exposes the thin layer between humanity and human cruelty. For both reasons, this is a book worth reading.

New Words:

  • Cahuilla (47): Iviatim are Native Americans of the inland areas of southern California.
  • Fundoshi (149): the traditional Japanese undergarment for adult males, made from a length of cotton
  • Immolated (571): kill or offer as a sacrifice, especially by burning
  • Cenotaph (695): an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere.
  • Raconteur (708): a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way.

Good Quotes:

  • First Line: All he could see in every direction was water.
  • Last Line: There was no trace of them here among the voices, the falling snow, and the old and joyful man, running.
  •  Goodwill needs no translation (335)
  • After three and a half years in person camp, I had been liberated by the great American blonde! (572) quote by Tom Wade, pow upon being greeted in a Japanese railroad station
  • Life is cheap in war. (165) words from Martin Cohn.
Table of Contents:
Part I
  1. The One-Boy Insurgency
  2. Run Like Mad
  3. The Torrance Tornado
  4. Plundering Germany
  5. Into War
Part II
  1. The Flying Coffin
  2. "This Is It, Boys"
  3. "Only the Laundry Knew How Scared I Was"
  4. Five Hundred and Ninety-four Holes
  5. The Stinking Six
  6. "Nobody's Going to Live Through This"
Part III
  1. Downed
  2. Missing at Sea
  3. Thirst
  4. Sharks and Bullets
  5. Singing in the Clouds
  6. Typhoon
Part IV
  1. A Dead Body Breathing
  2. Two Hundred Silent Men
  3. Farting for Hirohito
  4. Belief
  5. Plots Afoot
  6. Monster
  7. Hunted
  8. B-29
  9. Madness
  10. Falling Down
  11. Enslaved
  12. Two Hundred and Twenty Punches
  13. The Boiling City
  14. The Naked Stampede
  15. Cascades of Pink Peaches
  16. Mother's Day
Part V
  1. The Shimmering Girl
  2. Coming Undone
  3. The Body on the Mountain
  4. Twisted Ropes
  5. A Beckoning Whistle
  6. Daybreak


      • Publisher's Web Site for Book
      • Author's Web Site
      • Wikipedia-Book
      • Wikipedia-Author
      • Wikipedia-Louis Zamperini
      • Amazon-Book
      • Amazon-Author
      • Barnes and Noble
      • Facebook-Author
      • GoodReads-Book
      • GoodReads-Author
      • GoodReads-Book-Devil at My Heels
      • GoodReads-Author-Louis Zamperini
      • Senate Resolution S531
      •  LA Times review of Louis Zamperini's book Devil at My Heels
      • Washington Post on Laura Hillenbrand
        Wall Street Journal review
        NPR review
        New York Times review

        Reading Guide:
        From Barnes and Noble site
        1. Louie’s experiences are singular: It’s unlikely that one person will ever again be in a plane crash, strafed by a bomber, attacked by sharks, cast away on a raft, and held as a POW. And yet the word most often used to describe him is “inspiring.” What does Louie’s experience demonstrate that makes him so inspirational to people who will never endure what he did? What are the lessons that his life offers to all of us?
        2. Is Louie a hero? How do you define heroism?
        3. In Louie’s boyhood, he was severely bullied, then became a delinquent and hell-raiser. In these experiences, did he already display attributes that would help him survive his wartime ordeal? Did he also show weaknesses or tendencies that foreshadowed the struggles he would face postwar?
        4. Do you think Louie’s athletic career helped prepare him for what he would face in war?
        5. 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?
        6. Hillenbrand explores the extraordinary risks faced by America’s World War II airmen: 52,000 men killed in combat, 36,000 killed in noncombat aircraft accidents, and a stunning 15,000 killed in stateside training—at times, an average of 19 per day. Men faced a 50 percent chance of being killed during combat tours of only 30 to 40 missions. Were you aware of the dangers faced by airmen in the Pacific war? What facts and stories were most surprising to you?
        7. 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?
        8. When Louie, Phil, and Mac were on the raft, a key factor in their survival was optimism. All three men were young and able-bodied, veterans of the same training, experiencing the same hardships and traumas, yet Louie and Phil remained optimistic while Mac was hopeless, seemingly doomed by his pessimism. Why are some people hopeful and others not? How important are attitude and mind-set in determining one’s ability to overcome hardship?
        9. What did you find most remarkable about the things Louie and Phil did to survive on the raft?
        10. After more than forty-seven days on the raft, the men lost half their body weight and were rendered mere skeletons. Yet they refused to consider cannibalism, which had not been uncommon among castaways before them. Would you, in the same situation, ever consider cannibalism? If it could ensure that two men survived, when otherwise all three would almost certainly perish, would it be a moral decision?
        11. Louie believed he was the beneficiary of several miracles, among them his escape from the wreckage of his plane, the fact that he and the other men were not hit with bullets when their rafts were strafed, and the appearance of the singers in the clouds. What is your interpretation of those experiences?
        12. 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?
        13. In the 1930s and 1940s, Germany and Japan carried out what are arguably among the worst acts of mass atrocity in history. What leads individuals, and even whole societies, to descend to such a level? What motivated the notoriously sadistic POW camp guards in Japan, particularly the Bird? Do you think we all carry the capacity for cruelty?
        14. After the war, Louie would say that of all the horrors he witnessed and experienced in the war, the death of the little duck, Gaga, was the worst. Why was this event especially wrenching for him and the other POWs?
        15. Louie, Frank Tinker, and William Harris planned to escape from Ofuna, walk across Japan, steal a boat, and make a run for China. It was a plan that very likely would have ended in their deaths. Was it foolish, or did it offer a psychological benefit that was worth the enormous risk?
        16. Louie joined a plot to kill the Bird. Was he justified in doing so? Would it have been a moral act? Do you think Louie could have found peace after the war had he killed the Bird?
        17. 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?
        18. “Anger is a justifiable and understandable reaction to being wronged, and as the soul’s first effort to reassert its worth and power, it may initially be healing,” Laura Hillenbrand wrote in an article for Guideposts magazine. “But in time, anger becomes corrosive. To live in bitterness is to be chained to the person who wounded you, your emotions and actions arising not independently, but in reaction to your abuser. Louie became so obsessed with vengeance that his life was consumed by the quest for it. In bitterness, he was as much a captive as he’d been when barbed wire had surrounded him.” Do you agree?
        19. Many of us struggle to forgive those who have wronged us, especially since forgiveness is often so difficult to find. What makes it so hard to let resentment go?
        20. “What the Bird took from Louie was his dignity; what he left behind was a pervasive sense of helplessness and worthlessness,” Hillenbrand continued in her Guideposts article. “As I researched Louie’s life, interviewing his fellow POWs and studying their memoirs and diaries, I discovered that this loss of dignity was nearly ubiquitous, leaving the men feeling defenseless and frightened in a world that had become menacing. The postwar nightmares, flashbacks, alcoholism and anxiety that were endemic among them spoke of souls in desperate fear. Watching these men struggle to overcome their trauma, I came to believe that a loss of self-worth is central to the experience of being victimized, and may be what makes its pain particularly devastating.” Do you agree?
        21. Hillenbrand wrote that among the former POWs she interviewed, forgiveness became possible once each POW had found a way to restore his sense of dignity. Was this what Billy Graham gave to Louie? If so, what was it about that experience, and that sermon, that gave Louie back his self-worth?
        22. Do Louie Zamperini’s wartime and postwar experiences give you a different perspective on a loved one who was, or is, a veteran?
        23. Why do you think most World War II literature has focused on the European war, with so little attention paid to the Pacific war?

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