I had a friend recommend to me Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  Have you read it?   It's the true account of Louis Zamperini.  Louie was an Olympic athlete who would later serve in WWII.  I'm currently only halfway through this book and already Louie has shaken the hand of Hitler after his remarkable race and survived a brutal 47 days lost at sea, fighting hunger, thirst, Japanese fighter pilots shooting from the skies, and vicious sharks leaping at him on his raft and is currently enduring P.O.W. captivity.
Here was passage I read the other night that really struck me:
"The crash of Green Hornet had left Louie and Phil in the most desperate physical extremity, without food, water, or shelter.  But on Kwajalein, the guards sought to deprive them of something that had sustained them even as all else had been lost: dignity.  This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind.  Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain.  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.  One American airmen, shot down and relentlessly debased by his Japanese captors, described the sate of mind that his captivity created: "I was literally becoming a lesser human being."
Few societies treasured dignity, and feared humiliation, as did the Japanese, for whom a loss of honor could merit suicide.  This is likely one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers in World War II debased their prisoners with such zeal, seeking to take from them that which was most painful and destructive to lose.  On Kwajalein, Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler's death camps, the slaves of the American South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people.  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 at which 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.  In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet."
(Hillenbrand, Laura Unbroken 182-3) 


kris said...

I'm reading that, too, Trevor. I'm only about 1/4 of the way into it though.

tobybar said...

have just finished the book. Excellent. unbelievable, but true, story of an incredible member of "the Greatest Generation," with an interesting/surprising twist at the end. Well worth the read.