Study Guide

Unbroken War

By Laura Hillenbrand


On the first of August, Louie and the other Olympians were driven through Berlin for the opening ceremonies. Every vista suggested coiled might. Nazi banners had been papered over everything. (1.4.10)

The Berlin Olympics seem to be less about feats of athleticism and more about stoking the fire of German nationalism in preparation for war.

The slavish nationalism was a joke to the Americans, but not the Germans. The Gestapo paced the stadium, eying the fans. (1.4.13)

This is one of those hindsight is 20/20 jokes, like when Don Draper jokes about there being a machine that will just reproduce paper on its own before copiers are invented. The Gestapo is definitely <em>not </em>a laughing matter after World War II. 

As Louie blazed through college, far away, history was turning. In Europe, Hitler was laying plans to conquer the continent. […] Central to the Japanese identity was the belief that it was Japan's divinely mandated right to rule its fellow Asians, whom it saw as inherently inferior. (1.5.16)

War will eventually sweep up Louie, and Hillenbrand makes sure to give us historical context where important. It's also interesting to see the similarities between Hitler's beliefs and Japanese beliefs. 

In the Army Air Forces, or AAF, there were 52,651 stateside aircraft accidents over the course of the war, killing 14,903 personnel. […] In the three months in which Phil's men trained as a crew, 3,041 AAF planes—more than 33 per day—met with accidents stateside, killing nine men per day. (2.6.56)

In one of the more startling statistics in the book, it seems that you were almost more likely to be killed by your own piece-of-junk plane than by a rival soldier during WWII. 

With the dawn of 1943 and the success at Wake, the men felt cocky. It had all been so easy. One admiral predicted that Japan might be finished within the year, and Phil overheard the men talking about going home. (2.7.43)

Without the benefit of history books, it's impossible to know when the war will end. At times the men feel like it could end any day, but when the chips are down, it feels like the war will <em>never </em>end. 

A lost plane, unequipped with radar, tried to find the island. "We just sat there and watched the plane pass the island, and it never came back. […] I could see it on the radar. It makes you feel terrible. Life was cheap in war." (2.8.18)

This illustrates two things: the fact that inferior technology is sometimes more deadly than combat, and the fact that watching people disappear, and being unable to do anything about it, is intensely hard to deal with. 

Search planes appear to have been more likely to go down themselves than find the men they were looking for. (2.8.32)

Maybe getting captured by the Japanese was the best thing that could have happened to Louie and Phil. Can you imagine being rescued only to die in a plane crash? Good grief. 

Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. (4.18.24)

The spoils of war can often include wealth, land, oil, and other resources. However, <em>people</em> rarely gain any dignity during war. Instead, they often lose it. Ugh.

Japanese policy held that camp commanders could not, under any circumstances, allow Allied forces to recapture POWs. […] POWs were to be executed. (4.19.44)

The Japanese <em>do not </em>play fair. Their tactics are severe and brutal, and unfortunately, we bet most of the guards would participate in the mass execution if they were ordered to. 

The 1929 Geneva Convention, which Japan had signed but never ratified, permitted detaining powers to use POWs for labor, with restrictions. […] Virtually nothing about Japan's use of POWs was in keeping with the Geneva Convention. (4.23.19-4.23.20)

Once again, we see how Japan shirks the rules of war. But isn't it odd that war has "rules" like this in the first place? Should "no war" be the first—and only—rule?

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