Amazing story. If it weren’t so heavily footnoted and corroborated, I would find it difficult to believe such a miraculous survival story. Louis Zamperini, the subject of this riveting biography, was an Olympic runner. He won a bronze medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and he planned to compete in the 1940 Olympics. Louie, as he was called, was getting close to breaking the four minute mile, but World War II derailed Louis’s Olympic and world record hopes. However, the rest of the story which chronicles Louie’s experiences during and after World War II is even more astounding and transcendent than any world record in a sporting event. I don’t think I’ve ever read about anyone who survived the multiple ordeals that Zamperini was able to live through and then also managed, by the grace of God, to live a full and joyful life afterwards.
One of my urchins says she doesn’t believe in miracles. I think she’s saying she’s never heard a Voice from on high or seen a person instantly healed or witnessed the sudden appearance of manna from heaven. However, if what happened in the life of Louis Zamperini wasn’t a series of miracles, I don’t know what to call it. First of all, Louis and the pilot of his B-24 bomber survive a crash in the Pacific and forty plus days on a raft without supplies in the ocean. And it only get worse when the two Americans land on the Marshall Islands and are “rescued” by the Japanese army.
But the greatest miracle of all comes after the war is over for everyone else, when Louie is still trapped in the prison of his own mind.
No one could reach Louie, because he had never really come home. In prison camp, he’d been beaten into dehumanized obedience to a world order in which the Bird (a cruel Japanese prison guard) was absolute sovereign, and it was under this world order that he still lived. The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder.
The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer. In seeking the Bird’s death to free himself, Louie had chained himself, once again, to his tyrant. During the war, the Bird had been unwilling to let go of Louie; after the war, Louie was unable to let go of the Bird.
This book actually brought me to tears, something that seldom happens to me while reading. I was reminded that as Corrie Ten Boom often said, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”
I was also reminded of my conviction that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary evils. The Japanese were not planning to ever surrender to the Allies. In the book, Hillenbrand tells how the POWs in Japan saw women and children being trained to defend the homeland to the last person. And the Japanese had a “kill-all policy” which ordered prison camp commanders to kill all the prisoners of war if it ever became evident that they might be rescued and repatriated. This policy was carried out in several Japanese prison camps, and “virtually every POW believed that the destruction of this city (Hiroshima) had saved them from execution.”
Man’s inhumanity to man continues on into this century, but if we are to avoid and prevent future horrors, we must remember the past. And we must be presented with stories that affirm the possibility of redemption, even from the darkest of atrocities.