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“Unbroken” Uncut

Like the immature, insecure boy before the Olympics, post-war Louie picked fights over nothing, then drowned his emotional scars and nightmares with endless alcohol and suffered the pervasive curse of POWs: post-traumatic stress disorder. These men were anxious and depressed—30 percent more likely to commit suicide. Hillenbrand says, “They carried unspeakable memories of torture and humiliation, and an acute sense of vulnerability that attended the knowledge of how readily they could be disarmed and dehumanized” (349).

Louie did meet a pretty girl on the beach and two weeks later convinced the poor, naïve Cynthia to marry him. They eloped a short time later to the absolute outrage of her parents. It wasn’t long before Cynthia realized the tortured, drunken, unsafe monster she had married. Not being able to convince him off of the bottle, she stopped appearing with him in public, embarrassed by and even afraid of what he might do.

Louie Zamperini was horribly broken by sin, and then sweetly broken by God.

The Bottom of Brokenness

Spiraling dangerously and hopelessly out of control—visited every night by his Japanese torturer—Louie came to the conclusion that the only path to freedom was to kill the Bird. He began plotting a mission to murder the man who had ruined his life and now patrolled his nightmares. He wildly and foolishly invested the family’s money in dead ends, trying to scrape together enough to finance his murderous dream. Bloody vengeance against Mutsuhiro Watanbe had become this broken hero’s only hope.

Hillenbrand writes:

No one could reach Louie, because he had never really come home. In prison camp, he’d been beaten into dehumanized obedience to a world order in which the Bird was absolute sovereign, and it was under this world order that he still lived. The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder. (365–366)

In another crazed nightmare, this ugly insanity forced Louie on top of his poor wife in the middle of the night, beating and strangling her. Weeks later, Cynthia found him shaking their screaming baby girl. She finally filed for divorce.

Better to Be Broken

Everything changed in the fall of 1949. Billy Graham emerged in the nation’s eye by holding a campaign in Los Angeles that drew tens of thousands of people—including one hurting and despairing wife and mother. Cynthia heard Graham’s gospel, surrendered her heart to Jesus and informed Louie that she no longer wanted a divorce. Louie was relieved she had decided to stay, but skeptical and even offended by her conversion.

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Marshall Segal (@MarshallSegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife Faye live in Minneapolis.