Having recently completed reading the novel Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, a tale whose protagonist is Louie Zamperini–a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-WWII POW and Army hero-turned-an alcoholic-turned-a motivational speak, one cannot but marvel about the wonders of the human spirit. The story contains multiple themes worth a reflection; too many to cover under one short post. The following entry focuses mostly around the topics of cruelty as a culture, and the nature of punishment.
Reading Zamperini’s account, especially his years as a WWII POW held by Japanese forces, I was reminded of the Japanese mercilessness. It is estimated that from 1937, the time of the Japanese invasion of China, to the end of World War II, the Japanese military regime murdered anywhere between 3,000,000 and over 10,000,000 people. The number is likely to be 6,000,000 souls, including Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese, among others, as well as Western prisoners of war .
When you read descriptions of these killings, it is clear that most of these murders were not just a bullet to the head. The soldiers carrying the execution orders have devised especially tortuous methods of elimination, taking pleasure in the process in a manner that, at times, put their Nazi peers in Europe to shame. This was carried out by numerous Japanese forces, which makes it clear that it was not just a matter of several individual psychos, but rather of a culture. Indeed, the Japanese society at the time, as several other nations, believed that they are superior to others, and thus this gave them the right to treat anyone else as less than human. It was also a culture based on submission. Obedience yields action without thought, which, in turn, allows horrific actions to take place. This is, after all, a nation that glorified suicide in the name of honor, that made young people look forward to taking their own lives as kamikaze pilots; a government that, during those dark days, issued a kill-all command, instructing their military personnel to execute all POWs in the event of a foreseeable defeat. That not all POWs were executed (though a lot were,) is mostly due to the timing of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today it is easy for a younger generation to blame the American administration of the time for the unleashing of nuclear power during WWII. Admittedly I am no WWII history scholar. I read that the Japanese were close to surrender anyhow, and thus that some claim the dropping of the bombs was really unnecessary; that it was carried out more as a statement the USA wanted to make about its new superior Atomic power. Maybe it is the case and maybe not. But reading Unbroken and being reminded of the horrific crimes Japan committed during those years, I must confess I feel no pity.
With that being said, other reflections surface. Say a person is mentally disabled. I will use as an example one of the deviants I most detest, a child abuser. Such sex offenders are amongst the lowest of the lowest, at least in my book. Yet, I am the first to admit they are mentally sick. How else can one explain what they do? If a person is retarded, is punishment really appropriate? Definitely isolation is a must, but would we shoot a mad man who has no control over his actions?
Asking this question, I am led to ask whether Japan, as a nation during WWII, was to be defined, at least by our standards, as a culture mentally disabled? With the exception of individual Japanese here and there who helped POWs and were in disagreement with their society’s norms, it seems that the people of Japan were insane. And as such, should the rest of the cultured world eliminate them by nuclear means?
The biblical answer is – yes: “If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first”, as well as “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Contrary to this, Gandhi famously replied “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” Though morally just, I doubt Gandhi would have survived if Japan was to make it into the heart of India during WWII.
Since I need to end this post at some point, I’ll abruptly end it here. These are just a handful of reflections, not answers. I do trust that generations from now, if we survive climate change, GMO, and a host of other challenges and disasters in the making, we may develop a higher sense of perception that will go hand in hand with the then-current scientific advancements. We only now start to understand how much our behavior is affected by conditions outside our control. The brain, mind and psyche connection remains, for the most part, a mystery, but is now understood to hold a key. What the future has in store for us is anyone’s guess; mine is that we will be able to identify causes for abnormalities that cross red lines such as torture, murder and abuse. The next natural question is, of course, what is abnormal? After all, during their time, Galileo Galilee, Charles Darwin and Jackie Robinson were considered abnormal.
Learned from: reflections on the novel Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand