Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption: Had the story of 2LT Louis Zamperini been fiction, critics would certainly have dismissed it. Any of the three main phases of the story would be itself extraordinary. That they happened to the same man in the course of <10 years defies description. Louis, a tearaway and a thief as a child, discovered running in high school. His talent for the sport propelled him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he found that his body was not yet mature enough to compete at the highest level. The 1940 Olympics would have been his moment, but the war intervened. After a few missions with the Army Air Corps, Louis’ plane crashed into the Pacific while searching for another lost bomber, losing all hands but Louis and two others. The three floated several thousand miles west across the pacific, surviving on rainwater, fish, and birds. Eventually they were captured by the Japanese and subjected to years of punishing captivity. Louis returned to the US, married, survived a bout of alcoholism, and is living a happy and healthy life (he is 94).
This is primarily a tale of war, perseverance, and cruelty. At times, the descriptions of Louis’ treatment by the Japanese are hard to read. However, my takeaway from this work is amazement at how far the body and the mind can be pushed – what people can endure when they have to. Louis’ ordeal makes everyday aggravations seem irrelevant, and his determination to survive is an example to my generation. In a world of slow economic growth and broken government, young people should not be camped in parks (or in Igloos, as they were in Davos this week). Those among them with any charisma and ability should recognize that the government isn’t going to help them – the old jobs aren’t coming back, and congress doesn’t care about anything but cash and reelection. The only way to truly “recover” is to take the recovery out the hands of government entirely by starting businesses and reimagining our economy. This will be a difficult task, requiring sacrifice, hardship, and significant disruption of existing industries. With luck, my generation will not be forced to fight a global war against an existential threat. Instead, our charge is to make sure that the current sense of national decline is looked upon as a footnote in the broader narrative. Louis’ Zamperini’s determination and perseverance are a good place to start.