Is Louie's past as an Olympic athlete a help or a hindrance during his wartime experience?
Louie's athletic past is both help and hindrance during the war. As a physical specimen who was finely honed, fit and muscular, his body was stronger than that of many other soldiers and therefore able to withstand more physical hardship. As an athlete, he was single-minded and determined with a will to win that meant he was not going to allow the guards to beat him. The Japanese were knowledgeable about and enormous fans of track and field and Louie was kept alive in some ways as a trophy for the Japanese guards and townspeople. However, his Olympic history was also a hindrance because it singled him out for humiliation, with the Japanese parading him as an athlete they had manages to beat down. His fame also meant that he was able to be used as propaganda when he was forced to broadcast on the radio and proclaim his captors were treating their prisoners with respect and dignity.
How does this book teach us about the cynicism of war?
After the Allies won the war, the new threat seemed to be coming from China. Although Japan were never really made to live with the consequences of their behavior towards Allied prisoners, they had at least imprisoned or executed some of the guards. When the allied countries needed to quell the threat from China they made a treaty with Japan, thereby allowing the release of guards who had committed heinous war crimes, and demonstrating that their punishment was not about justice but about political expediency.
Why do you think Louie chooses to forgive The Bird?
Louie was understandably consumed by a desire to find and punish The Bird for all of the torturous acts committed upon him, but unfortunately having The Bird on his mind also allowed him to continue to torture Louie who was plagued every night by nightmares that felt so real he would mistake his wife for The Bird and wake up to find that he was defending himself from torture by attempting to strangle her, so certain was he that the other figure in the room was the one from his nightmares. By forgiving The Bird, Louie was not excusing his behavior, but taking back control of his own life, by refusing to allow his torturer to be the focus of it anymore.
How does the author blend biography and history so well that although we learn about the history of the war this book remains predominantly about people?
The author has clearly meticulously researched the military part of the book, including maneuvers that might be hard to follow and very factual, but by constantly emphasizing how these maneuvers affected Louie and his crew, of by detailing the character of the airman carrying about detailed engineering procedures, Hillenbrand makes historical facts innately relevant to the people she is writing about.
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