I recently finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It is the true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner who became an Army Air Force bombardier in World War II. The book follows Louie through his extraordinary life.
Unbroken is well written and riveting. Ms. Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit as well – and clearly knows what she is doing. The incredible amount of research that went into this book is evident while reading it.
Despite this, I struggled to finish the book.
It was around chapter twenty-two that I almost quit. By that point, Mr. Zamperini had been through unbelievable horrors. He crashed into the ocean on a B-24 plane and was captured and placed into POW camps in Japan. The readers were taken through sharks throwing themselves at Louie when he was on a raft to horrible acts of cruelty inflicted against him by Japanese guards. It was wearing on me; it was mentally exhausting.
Everyone kept telling me that I had to keep going. And then I hit what was to me, almost, the final straw.
In one of the POW camps, there somehow came to be a duck that hung around the prisoners. It became a pet and the only positive in their otherwise lonely and brutal days. Recognizing this, one of the guards committed a vile act to the duck, and it died. “Of all of the things he witnessed in war, Louie would say, this was the worst.” If you read the book, you know that Louie witnessed true atrocities – multiple times daily.
I really wanted to throw the book off of my deck after reading this. It made me very angry – at everyone, really, including Ms. Hillenbrand (not a rational response, I know).
I didn’t quit though; I am stubborn enough that I persevered and completed the book. And I am glad that I did, as Mr. Zamperini (who is still alive) is very worth knowing.
But this act haunts me.
And my reaction has caused me to wonder about myself. Why does this upset me even more than the awful things that the guards did to the human prisoners?
Animals are so innocent and trusting. I know that acts of cruelty occur to animals often, but I cannot stand to hear about them. When the ASPCA or Humane Society commercials come on the tv, I rush to press mute or change the channel. The images stay with me. If I see an article about an act of animal cruelty, I throw the paper away without reading it.
I do not want to know that humans are capable of doing these things. Although I donate financially to the causes, I have avoided becoming otherwise involved, as I am afraid of what I will see.
One of my goals in writing this blog is to become more self analytical and challenge myself. In reading what I have written in this post, it strikes me as incredibly self-indulgent (and embarrassing) to turn away from known abuses because “it upsets me.” Maybe it is time to face my fears and become more active in these causes.
Mr. Zamperini did that, but on a much larger scale. After the war, Louie found God, which gave him the strength to move beyond his fears. He then worked to carry the messages of God to others in need, including even his former captors.
Maybe it is time for me to become involved and to give of myself.
So, while Unbroken almost broke me, it didn’t – and it may have made me stronger.