Sunday, April 7, 2013

Listened: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

Listened: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010, download.

If I remember correctly this was on the bestseller charts for quite a while.  No surprise since this is a great story.

Louie Zamperini grows up poor in Torrance, CA in the '20s and '30s. He's a handful and always getting in trouble.  Once he is in middle school - or so- Louie starts burglarizing the neighborhood and taking food and baked goods.  Louie is often in trouble but his older brother gets him involved in track.

Louie is great at distance running.  Louie wins races across the L.A. area and devotes himself to training.  Louie ends up wining a few trials races and joining the '36 Olympic team.  Louie finishes low in the ranking - he's too young and inexperienced to rival the best runners. Louie heads back to CA and USC and trains for the next Olympics.

The '40 Olympics are cancelled and Louie joins the Army Air Force and becomes a bombardier on B-24s.  Louie is posted to Hawaii.  Louie drinks and plays pranks.  Louie almost runs a four minute mile in sand. Louie has a few combat missions and his plane crashes on a search and rescue mission for another crew.  Louie and two others drift for 47 (or so) days.  One guy dies.  Japanese capture Louie and his pilot.  Louie and pilot shipped from island to island and then to Japan.  Louie shipped from prison to prison.  Louie suffers under horrible and sadistic guards.  The worst tormentor is the mentally unbalanced "Bird".

Louie survives the camps.  Louie does not adjust upon return.  Louie was already a star in Los Angeles for his running victories and his war hero status gains him many free drinks that assist his new hard core drinking. Louie boozes it up hard and heavy for 2-3 years until a religious awakening at a Billy Graham tent show.  Louie turns himself around.  Louie remains spry.  Louie carries the torch in several Olympics.  Louie carries torch at Nagano Olympics.

NBC network interviews the Bird as part of a television profile of Louie.  The Bird escaped arrest in 1945 and was included in a politically expedient mass-pardon of war criminals a few years later.  Bird is unrepentant for the many, many, many, many, many. many awful things he did.

1.  Many reminders of Max Hastings's Retribution.
- Hastings wrote about the high failure rate for U.S. planes.  The B-29 is a godsend to the POWs in this book.  In Hastings's book it was as much a deathtrap as the B-24 was here.
- Japanese brutality.  This is POW (or PW as they were then called) abuse and murder.  Hastings covered the many civilian abuses as well.  Especially during the battle for the U.S. to reclaim Manila.
- Incredible cruelty of people.  This sent my thoughts off on a tangent about state-sponsored and supported cruelty.  That creating rules and giving orders makes the behavior more palatable to the abuser.    People are given permission.  Give something a scientific bent with physician approved rules and that makes it okay.  It's okay to sterilize mentally disabled people.  It's okay to use poor people for secret medical experiments.  It's okay to drown someone when using certain protocols.
2.  37% death rate of POWs in Japanese camps.  Did I remember that correctly?  Holy moly.
3  I did not realize how many camps were in Japan.  There is a guy who lives up the street who was in a Japanese camp.  When he said that I was surprised he survived the experience.  He was captured at the very tail end of the war.  I recall stories of the immediate execution of airmen who bailed out over Japan.
4.  Good research by Hillenbrand and she put the story together with plenty of suspense.
5.  Information on post-war Japan and the hunt for war criminal fugitives was interesting.  Men with death sentences and life sentences had those terms commuted.
6.  Civilians always get it in the neck during wars.  Always.

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