Monday, October 26, 2015

Chains

I began reading Laura Hillendrand's bestseller, Unbroken, at the end of last year. I put the book down after finishing Part VI, which concludes the events of World War II. I just got around to finishing the book this weekend.

Spoiler alert. Stop here if you have not read the book, but intend to.

Unbroken is It is the story of Louis (Louie) Zamperini, a 1936 Berlin Olympic distance runner, who became the bombardier on a B-24 Liberator in the Pacific during World War II. After flying some incredibly dangerous combat missions, Zamperini and crew crashed landed in the Pacific. All but three on the plane perished in the crash. One of the three survivors later died while they floated on a life raft in the open waters of the Pacific.

Zamperini and the plane's pilot, the remaining survivor, were eventually picked up after 46 days at sea by the Japanese Navy. Zamperini thereafter suffered unimaginable torture during the remainder of the war while in various Japanese POW camps. In particular Zamperini suffered at the hands of a Japanese Sergeant nicknamed "the Bird."

After the war, suffering from what we now call PTSD,  Zamperini slid into alcoholism. He became fixated on returning Japan, finding and killing the Bird. This sets up the last section of the book.

As I read a passage from this last part of Hillendrand's book, it struck me she communicated better than anything I could compose about the self-defeating nature of revenge as a goal, and in particular, as a goal of the criminal justice system:
The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer. In seeking the Bird's death to free himself, Louie had chained himself, once again, to this tyrant. During the war, the Bird had been unwilling to let go of Louie; after the war, Louie was unable to let go of the Bird.
I have not suffered like the victims of crime - and the loved ones of those victims. It is impossible for me, therefore, to know the pain they endure, minute after minute, day after day, year after year. I have tried to put myself in their shoes, but it is impossible to so do. What I can say is when Hillenbrand writes how revenge chains victims to their past and their tormentors, it remains as true today as it did for Zamperini.

Louis Zamperini made peace with himself with the help of God and the teaching of Billy Graham. After reading of his physical, emotional and spiritual journey, I can only hope victims can find some measure of the same peace.

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