Unbroken - a little more digging

  • 2015.03.29 Sunday
  • 22:16

As Angelina Jolie's recent movie "Unbroken - The Unbelievable True Story" circulated the globe, our people kept digging. And they found some additional facts that should be noted. I would like to exhibit the findings below, so all the "Unbroken" enthusiasts of the world are "entertained" further and possibly "enlightened".

Lewis Bush

"Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" is a book authored by Laura Hillenbrand.

The hero of "Unbroken", Louie Zamperini is, needless to say, is the one who were most viciously attacked by Watanabe, a notoriously psychopathic prison official. 

But, here is a man named Lewis Bush, a British POW, who appears 14 times in the book. He is also described as the one who received brutal treatment by Watanabe, the Bird.

It should be noted that in the Hillenbrand's book, no conversation ever takes place between Lewis Bush and Louie Zamperini - no consolation, cheering up or shared anguish whatsoever. It looks as if Zamperini, the hero, is just coolly watching Bush beaten up by Watanabe until Watanabe turns to Zamperini.

It should also be noted that according to the official record, Lewis Bush and Louie Zamperini never shared the time together in Japan (Link).
  • Lewis Bush in Omori: September 1943 to August 1944
  • Zamperini in Omori:  October 1944 to March 1945

So, what's new? 

Louie Zamperini wrote a book named "Devil At My Heels - A Heroic Olympian's Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II" in 2003 (Link). I bought it and read it. For those who read both books, it would be clear that Laura Hillenbrand mostly "copied" this book by Zamperini with some addition or subtraction to write "Unbroken". Perhaps Zamperini, then already an old man, decided to save time and energy for both sides by saying "hey, everything is there in my book" or something. But, that's just my personal guess.

In this book written by Zamperini himself, I found not a single mentioning of "Lewis Bush".

So the obvious question would be: Had Lewis Bush long been vanished from Louie Zamperini's memory until Laura Hillenbrand called him for the "Unbroken" project? Was that the time when the memory of Lewis Bush suddenly and miraculously revived in Zamperini's head?

You get bored? Oh sorry. OK, what's next?

Ofuna Camp in September

There are some parts which Hillenbrand chose "not to copy". Of course, it's her own book! So, why not? OK, but this is more about Louie Zamperini himself.

There is a narrative as follows;

Ofuna in September was much like New York in the winter, layered with thin crusts of snow and cold, very cold... (p134)

We Japanese people keep record meticulously. And we did it, too back in 1943, the time of the narrative.

According to Japan Meteorological Agency's website (certainly not a crazy right-wing "Unbroken" bashing nationalist organization)(link), the average temperature (Fahrenheit) in September was as follows;

Day Time Average  75.92
Highest           83.12
Lowest            70.16

I am not an expert of climate status of New York, but I once heard that the winter-time New York is a bit less warmer. I wonder what is like to be in New York… in the winter.

You get bored again? Sorry. And what's next?

Beam Holding & 220 Punches

Louie Zamperini endures 220 punches and he holds a beam for 37 minutes. These are the most memorable scenes of the book "Unbroken" and the movie by Angelina Jolie.

According to Louie Zamperini's own book "Devil at my Heels", here is what happened;

Zamperini gets injured in the leg during heavy work (p178). Being unable to work, his ration is now cut in half. He begs Corporal Kano for work to get the full ration (p179). 

The Bird (Watanabe) offers him a job of taking care of a goat, saying "If goat die, you die!". Unfortunately, the goat dies, and Zamperini, disregarding his fellow men's advice to escape, goes straight to the Bird and tells what happened. 

The Bird gets mad, punches him and tells him to pick up a timber and hold it over his head. He grits his teeth to hold the wood, and at some point, the Bird comes over and punches him in the stomach with all his might, which ended the ordeal. 

Tom Wade, his mate, tells him he was holding it for 37 minutes. 

A week later, Zamperini asks the Bird for another job. The Bird gives him a job of taking care of pigs without any tools. (p180)

Then, let's take a look at the narrative of "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand.

First about 220 punches;

During a heavy work in barge duty, Zamperini gets injured in the leg. Being unable to work, his ration is now cut in half. Being desperate, he begs the Bird for work. The Bird offers him a job of taking care of a pig without any tools (p286). 

Louie's leg is healed and he is now back to barge duty. One day, it is discovered that fish has been stolen. Thieves confess. The Bird, being furious, orders Wade, Tinker, Zamperini and two other officers to stand in line with the thieves. (p289) 

The Bird then orders enlisted men to punch each officer and thief in the face as hard as possible. During the punching, Zamperini goes unconscious and soon regain consciousness. The punching goes on. After all the punching is done, the Bird orders the guard to club each victim twice in the head with a kendo stick. (p290) Wade estimates each man received 220 punches.

Then comes the beam holding.
Louie's job of taking care of a pig is over and barge loading job is also cancelled, because so many of the Japanese ships have been sunken by the Allied planes, that there is no ship coming to and sailing from Naoetsu. 

The ration is cut again in half. Zamperini begs the Bird for work. The Bird offers him a job of taking care of a weakened goat, saying "If goat die, you die". (p294) Unfortunately, the goat dies. 

Terrified, Louie tries to hide from the Bird. But, suffering so much from dysentery, he goes to see a doc. The Bird finds him and reprimands him for going to the doc without permission. 

The Bird orders him to pick up a wooden beam and hold it over his head. Louie keeps holding it, regardless of nearly losing consciousness. The Bird comes over in fury and rams his fist into Louie's stomach. Louie collapses and loses consciousness. 

After he wakes up, Wade tells him he was holding it for 37 minutes. (p296)

Whoa! With Laura Hillenbrand's masterful writing skill, a story gets more dramatic!

So, who is this man Wade? Tom Henling Wade is a former British POW in Japan. He wrote a book "Prisoner of the Japanese: From Changi to Tokyo" (link), describing his experiences in POW camps in Japan during WWII.

In the Wade's book, the story goes as follows.

One morning, men are caught stealing boiled rice and get hit. Men still keep stealing and get caught. Japanese guards get enraged when they find that "specially treated vegetable" has been stolen. They demand that the thieves to come out. Eight men admit. Watanabe, the Bird, comes over and demands that "more" to come out. No one comes out. The Bird orders Wade and Tinker to join those eight men and line up before the rest of the POWs. The Bird orders POWs to slap them in the face - once left, once right "bery hard".  There are 96 POWs on the slapping side, and Wade estimates he and others received 220 times of slapping.

One day in mid-July, the Bird receives an order to move from Naoetsu to some other camp. Before he moves, the Bird punishes Zamperini for his alleged laziness in some building work. He makes Zamperini pick up a beam of wood and orders to hold it above his head. The Bird looks on, chatting to passer-by. Finally, the Bird allows him to put down the beam. Wade who was nearby and was checking the clock confirms that he was holding it for 37 minutes.

So, in the memory of Tom Wade, it was 220 slapping instead of punching. Slapping and punching are very different things. And there is no mentioning of Louie Zamperini's name in the slapping event.

And at the end of the beam holding, as Tom Wade remembers, the Bird did not punch Zamperini, but just "allowed him to put it down".

Now, we shall go back to Zamperini's own book "Devil at my Heels" and see how the part of 220 punching is described.

Direct Quote from Devil at my Heels (page 182 - 183)

WHEN TWO ENLISTED men stole a piece of dried fish from the coal ship, someone snitched. (Desperate for food or better treatment, some men informed. We sympathized; we all suffered. But we cou1dn’t condone ratting.) Back at camp, the Bird indulged in his favorite form of punishment: having the enlisted men beat the officers.

That's it? Yep.

Tom Wade made some interesting remarks in the interview with Daily Mail.

Daily Mail article on Tom Wade (link)  

When they were later moved to another camp as the war drew to a close, Wade recalls Zamperini being targeted by Watanabe.
He said: 'He made him pick up a beam of wood 6ft long by 4 inches square and hold it at arm's length above his head.
'He was being crucified holding up this heavy beam of wood. Finally Watanabe allowed the American to put down the beam.
'Zamperini could hardly move, could hardly unlock his fingers. I looked at the clock and it had been 37 minutes. I defy anyone to do it for that long.'
However, Wade doesn't recall Zamperini being struck in the stomach, which is central to the book Unbroken and central to Jolie's film.
Although it is understood that Wade was unhappy about certain passages in Unbroken he prefers to draw a veil over the issue.
He said: 'I would rather not comment on that.'

I wonder what exactly was the passages that made him unhappy.
'I had no contact with the film makers. I offered to give the British point of view but they did not reply. I wrote to Universal Pictures. Perhaps they did not get the letter.
'I did not really expect them to come back to me because they had accepted so few words from other British veterans with this project. As far as I know the British perspective rarely features in these films.

I wonder why Unbroken Film never answered a man with such a vital insight into the whole story.

  1. In "Devil at my Heels", first comes the goat, then beam holding, and then just a passing remark on "punishment" for stolen fish
  2. In "Unbroken", first comes the pig, then 220 punches, then beam holding
  3. Tom Wade remembers 220 event was not punching, but slapping
  4. Tom Wade remembers the Bird did not punch Zamperini in the stomach at the end of the beam holding event.

Laura Hillenbrand spent seven years (whoa!) to write this book "Unbroken" while she was bed-stricken. 

As I made digging with help of my fellow Japanese, I came to realize the enormity of her hard work - reading numerous books, picking events from different books, dissecting them, patching together, reversing the chronology, altering details here and there, dramatizing the undramatic - in writing this "gripping", "uplifting", "inspirational" story, Unbroken.

I wish this article reaches Laura Hillenbrand with my highest respect for her "professionalism", "courage" and "dedication to the facts". 

I wish Laura Hillenbrand reads this article and answer this simple question. "So, you spent the whole seven years doing these things, right?"

Special Thanks to

@hinatanococo, @111g0 and




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