Airman left WWII bowed, but not broken

  • Article by: MARK KRAMER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2010 - 10:03 AM

Veteran survived plane wreck, ship wreck, 47 days on the open sea and a brutal Japanese prison camp.

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gabeclintonDec. 26, 1010:39 AM

As an historian specializing in POW studies, I strongly disagree with the reviewer's criticisms of Ms. Hillenbrand's research. Had Ms. Hillenbrand relied solely on interviews with her elderly subject decades after the events in question, then the research would indeed be suspect. But as the book's citations show, Ms. Hillenbrand drew upon a huge number of sources from the time the events occurred, including Zamperini's secret POW diary and the POW diaries of several other servicemen, hundreds of affidavits made at war's end by Zamperini and his fellow POWs, records of the military's debriefing of Zamperini conducted upon liberation of the POW camps, 1945 newspaper interviews of Zamperini and his fellow POWs, and scores of interviews with Allied and Japanese witnesses to the events. She also corroborated Zamperini's memories with those of dozens of POWs who endured the camps with him, and with his raftmate, Russell Phillips. All of this is noted at length in the author's citations, but the reviewer does not mention it. As Ms. Hillenbrand has said, since she had Zamperini to interview as a primary source, and had so many other primary sources such as those mentioned above, she didn't use Zamperini's autobiographies as sources for her book, as they were ghostwritten by other authors, and were thus secondary sources. And of course the autobiographies and "Unbroken" follow parallel courses; they are telling the story of the same life. In portraying the struggle in the POW camps as "white heroes" against "shallowly portrayed Japanese cruelty artists," the reviewer seems suggest that this book is racist in tone. This is an outrageous suggestion. The victims of the Japanese in POW were white, and the perpetrators were Japanese--these are simply the facts. Read any of the thousands of POW affidavits in the National Archives and you'll see that the way in which Ms. Hillenbrand portrayed the behavior of the Japanese, who killed 13,000 American POWs, is accurate. Far from making a "shallow portray[al]" of the Japanese, Ms. Hillenbrand explored and explained the complex cultural environment that created the Japanese animosity toward POWs, and included lengthy, and very moving, descriptions of Japanese guards who risked their safety to be kind to POWs. As an historian of this period, I found her reporting remarkably balanced. This is a marvelously well researched story of an incredible life, and an important work of history.

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gabeclintonDec. 26, 1012:14 PM

As an historian specializing in POW studies, I strongly disagree with the reviewer's criticisms of Ms. Hillenbrand's research. Had Ms. Hillenbrand relied solely on interviews with her elderly subject decades after the events in question, then the research would indeed be suspect. But as the book's citations show, Ms. Hillenbrand drew upon a huge number of sources from the time the events occurred, including Zamperini's secret POW diary and the POW diaries of several other servicemen, hundreds of affidavits made at war's end by Zamperini and his fellow POWs, records of the military's debriefing of Zamperini conducted upon liberation of the POW camps, 1945 newspaper interviews of Zamperini and his fellow POWs, and scores of interviews with Allied and Japanese witnesses to the events. She also corroborated Zamperini's memories with those of dozens of POWs who endured the camps with him, and with his raftmate, Russell Phillips. All of this is noted at length in the author's citations, but the reviewer does not mention it. As Ms. Hillenbrand has said, since she had Zamperini to interview as a primary source, and had so many other primary sources such as those mentioned above, she didn't use Zamperini's autobiographies as sources for her book, as they were ghostwritten by other authors, and were thus secondary sources. And of course the autobiographies and "Unbroken" follow parallel courses; they are telling the story of the same life. In portraying the struggle in the POW camps as "white heroes" against "shallowly portrayed Japanese cruelty artists," the reviewer seems suggest that this book is racist in tone. This is an outrageous suggestion. The victims of the Japanese in POW were white, and the perpetrators were Japanese--these are simply the facts. Read any of the thousands of POW affidavits in the National Archives and you'll see that the way in which Ms. Hillenbrand portrayed the behavior of the Japanese, who killed 13,000 American POWs, is accurate. Far from making a "shallow portray[al]" of the Japanese, Ms. Hillenbrand explored and explained the complex cultural environment that created the Japanese animosity toward POWs, and included lengthy, and very moving, descriptions of Japanese guards who risked their safety to be kind to POWs. As an historian of this period, I found her reporting remarkably balanced. This is a marvelously well researched story of an incredible life, and an important work of history.

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gabeclintonDec. 26, 10 3:40 PM

As an historian specializing in POW studies, I strongly disagree with the reviewer's criticisms of Ms. Hillenbrand's research. Had Ms. Hillenbrand relied solely on interviews with her elderly subject decades after the events in question, then the research would indeed be suspect. But as the book's citations show, Ms. Hillenbrand drew upon a huge number of sources from the time the events occurred, including Zamperini's secret POW diary and the POW diaries of several other servicemen, hundreds of affidavits made at war's end by Zamperini and his fellow POWs, records of the military's debriefing of Zamperini conducted upon liberation of the POW camps, 1945 newspaper interviews of Zamperini and his fellow POWs, and scores of interviews with Allied and Japanese witnesses to the events. She also corroborated Zamperini's memories with those of dozens of POWs who endured the camps with him, and with his raftmate, Russell Phillips. All of this is noted at length in the author's citations, but the reviewer does not mention it. As Ms. Hillenbrand has said, since she had Zamperini to interview as a primary source, and had so many other primary sources such as those mentioned above, she didn't use Zamperini's autobiographies as sources for her book, as they were ghostwritten by other authors, and were thus secondary sources. And of course the autobiographies and "Unbroken" follow parallel courses; they are telling the story of the same life. In portraying the struggle in the POW camps as "white heroes" against "shallowly portrayed Japanese cruelty artists," the reviewer seems suggest that this book is racist in tone. This is an outrageous suggestion. The victims of the Japanese in POW were white, and the perpetrators were Japanese--these are simply the facts. Read any of the thousands of POW affidavits in the National Archives and you'll see that the way in which Ms. Hillenbrand portrayed the behavior of the Japanese, who killed 13,000 American POWs, is accurate. Far from making a "shallow portray[al]" of the Japanese, Ms. Hillenbrand explored and explained the complex cultural environment that created the Japanese animosity toward POWs, and included lengthy, and very moving, descriptions of Japanese guards who risked their safety to be kind to POWs. As an historian of this period, I found her reporting remarkably balanced. This is a marvelously well researched story of an incredible life, and an important work of history.

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david999Dec. 26, 10 7:33 PM

Glad we used the atomic bomb on these people. Brought them to their senses.

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gabeclintonDec. 27, 10 9:01 AM

As an historian specializing in POW studies, I strongly disagree with the reviewer's criticisms of Ms. Hillenbrand's research. Had Ms. Hillenbrand relied solely on interviews with her elderly subject decades after the events in question, then the research would indeed be suspect. But as the book's citations show, Ms. Hillenbrand drew upon a huge number of sources from the time the events occurred, including Zamperini's secret POW diary and the POW diaries of several other servicemen, hundreds of affidavits made at war's end by Zamperini and his fellow POWs, records of the military's debriefing of Zamperini conducted upon liberation of the POW camps, 1945 newspaper interviews of Zamperini and his fellow POWs, and scores of interviews with Allied and Japanese witnesses to the events. She also corroborated Zamperini's memories with those of dozens of POWs who endured the camps with him, and with his raftmate, Russell Phillips. All of this is noted at length in the author's citations, but the reviewer does not mention it. As Ms. Hillenbrand has said, since she had Zamperini to interview as a primary source, and had so many other primary sources such as those mentioned above, she didn't use Zamperini's autobiographies as sources for her book, as they were ghostwritten by other authors, and were thus secondary sources. And of course the autobiographies and "Unbroken" follow parallel courses; they are telling the story of the same life. In portraying the struggle in the POW camps as "white heroes" against "shallowly portrayed Japanese cruelty artists," the reviewer seems suggest that this book is racist in tone. This is an outrageous suggestion. The victims of the Japanese in POW were white, and the perpetrators were Japanese--these are simply the facts. Read any of the thousands of POW affidavits in the National Archives and you'll see that the way in which Ms. Hillenbrand portrayed the behavior of the Japanese, who killed 13,000 American POWs, is accurate. Far from making a "shallow portray[al]" of the Japanese, Ms. Hillenbrand explored and explained the complex cultural environment that created the Japanese animosity toward POWs, and included lengthy, and very moving, descriptions of Japanese guards who risked their safety to be kind to POWs. As an historian of this period, I found her reporting remarkably balanced. This is a marvelously well researched story of an incredible life, and an important work of history.

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terkenDec. 27, 1011:26 AM

I wonder if the reviewer actually read the book as some of his statements are inaccurate. Louie's plane didn't crash as a result of enemy action, it was mechanical failure while on a search mission. He also inaccurately describes their raft ordeal. This is a lousy review of a great book. My only criticism would be that the book somehow makes Louie out to be unique in that incredible group of men and women that survived Japanese captivity. I'm sure he was not. It does put the decision to drop the bomb into proper perspective but also clearly shows how forgiveness is the only road to peace. A highly recommended read!

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