War is horrible. Christ’s love heals all wounds.
I recently listened to the audiobook production by Edward Herrmann of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. The subtitle reads: “A WWII story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.” The subtitle is truth in advertising, even though the main title “Unbroken” is actually ironic. I will explain why.
The book is well-crafted and the story of Louis Zamperini’s life is nothing short of amazing. I also learned many fascinating and macabre things about the Pacific theater of WWII. I would recommend this book to anyone, just as my grandfather recommended it to me recently, when I called to wish him a happy Father’s Day.
Now, I am not a history buff like my Papa—who consumes works of historical nonfiction and historical fiction as voraciously as I devour fantasy novels and gothic romances – but I will occasionally read books in other genres if they come highly recommended by word of mouth. Even though Papa had repeatedly told me that Herman Wouk’s work was good, I had declined to read the books because I’m just not into history or politics (even though these are the milieu within which we all live and breathe). Perhaps I was already feeling a little guilty because of that. Or maybe it was because Papa turned 90 on June 23rd, and I decided it was time I have a proper conversation with him on a topic he enjoyed so much. For whatever reason, this time I decided I would read the book he suggested so we would have something to discuss the next time I called.
Resolved on this course, I checked out the audiobook from my library so that I could listen to it at work while I mindlessly entered data and printed off certificates of analysis for customers. The unabridged script is thirteen hours and thirteen minutes long. It took me over a week to complete, listening for blocks of several hours at a time. The narrative is riveting and interesting. At times, it is absolutely heart-rending. I am glad to have a box of tissues on my desk; I used quite a few of them.
There were many parts of this biography that really cut me to the quick. Any story coming out of war-time is bound to be harrowing, and the man it follows certainly endured horrors I cannot even imagine. However, the grace of God was with Louis Zamperini through it all, preserving and strengthening him and eventually delivering him first from the hungry ocean and then from cruel captivity.
That was my main takeaway from Unbroken – the boundless grace and forgiveness of God.
Like so many other veterans, Louis Zamperini came home after the war as a ticking time bomb, haunted by his memories and terrible flashbacks. He had endured much pain and degradation at the hands of his captors and his experiences left behind deep wounds. This resulted in outbursts of anger, depression, and alcohol abuse. Louis suffered nightmares and violent flashbacks about the psychopathic Japanese soldier—a.k.a. “the Bird”—who had abused him as a prisoner of war. He fantasized about killing the Bird in retribution. These murderous thoughts obsessed him. He strove to accumulate enough money to travel back to Japan—to hunt down and kill his erstwhile tormentor.
I can only admire his wife’s fortitude and fidelity through it all.
Finally, when Louis reached his nadir, his wife dragged him to a Billy Graham tent meeting (I will address the heresy of decision theology in a future post), where Louis heard Billy Graham preach from John 8:1-11. His wife convinced him to attend a second meeting, where a suppressed memory emerged. Louis recalled his prayer while adrift on the Pacific: that if God saved his life, then Louis would dedicate his own life to serving Him. God had delivered him from his ordeal and had now brought him to faith. Knowing Christ’s love, he could no longer cling to his hatred. Louis gave up his murderous obsession, alcohol and cigarettes and went on the serve the LORD as an evangelist. Having learned of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness, Louis extended it to the Japanese soldiers who had abused him—even the psychopathic Bird.
I have not yet seen the film based on the book Unbroken. It’s on my list, but after hearing that the movie leaves out the last chapters describing Louis Zamperini’s conversion, I’m uncertain that I will watch it soon. Assuredly, what the film does cover is probably just as inspiring and poignant as the book. However, by omitting what Louis did after the war, the film only tells the first half of the story. Our increasingly secular culture does not like to hear the rest of the story of this man who found Christ after horrible war flashbacks finally broke him down. Our culture wants to convince us that a man can endure such trials by his own strength and remain unbroken. If you read the book, you see that this is simply not the case.
Louis Zamperini was a brave, resilient, and amazing person. He survived a plane crash and circumstances as a POW that destroyed many other brave men. However, the traumatic abuse and degradation he suffered did not leave him unscathed. In the end, it broke Louis down so that God could build him back up into the man he needed to be in order to serve Him. I am sure if Louis was reading this that he would agree with me.
Well, enough preaching. I’ll hop down off of my soapbox now. After reading Unbroken, I feel that I have ample material for a great historical discussion with my Papa and an opportunity to talk about our savior, Jesus Christ.
As we head into another holiday weekend, I encourage you to check out Unbroken. Also, take a moment to reflect on the many freedoms that we enjoy because years ago, men like Louis Zamperini fought and died in wars against tyranny.