Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Hillenbrand, Laura

Random House, 2010

pp. 182 - 183

Louis Zamperini and the other American POWs in the Pacific were horribly treated by the Japanese, terribly debased and degraded. The worst here was the loss of dignity, this “inmost armament of the soul,” which we need so much that to lose it is to be cast down below mankind. Its loss is wretched, lonely, horribly disorienting. “Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.” Hillenbrand speculates that because honor was so precious to the Japanese they had special zeal in removing it from their prisoners. How more could they hurt them? They sensed what oppressors have always known: “Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point when the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty.” (183). Guards were usually washouts from the regular Jap military–stupid, sadistic, or both. Some were crazy . Most had often been beaten, under the current Japanese idea that you can’t make a solid, murderous soldier without almost daily beatings. Brutality was what they had suffered; it was now their chance to beat someone else. All fit under the Japanese doctrine that everybody else, including all these “Anglo-Saxon devils” were subhuman. And the Japanese had to satisfy themselves that the cruelty they inflicted was justified: hadn’t these officers permitted themselves to be captured instead of committing suicide as the Japanese always tried to do? Weren’t they therefore contemptible and worthy only of cruelty? And some surely practiced the maxim that we “hate those we hurt” Surely anybody we have so brutally treated must have deserved it. Why else would we treat them so appallingly?