If you still have a Christmas gift yet to buy for anyone old enough to read, let me recommend “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the previous best-seller “Sea Biscuit.”
The story that Hillenbrand tells, though true, is so fantastic that I am reluctant to give the plot away, but to make my point, I must. So reader, beware!
Although not an overtly political book, Hillenbrand makes any number of literary choices that show where her heart is. For those who are looking, the book reveals the difference between how a traditionalist like Hillenbrand approaches a story and how a progressive would.
I use the word “progressive” here with calculation. A generation or so ago, a liberal could have told the story much as Hillenbrand did. But the left has devolved sufficiently since then that a contemporary progressive would have to suppress his or her gag reflex just to read the book.
If you think I exaggerate, consider the left’s perverse response to the recent horse-racing movie “Secretariat,” an amiable story told much in the spirit of Hillenbrand’s “Sea Biscuit.”
In Salon, Andrew O’Hehir’s trashes the movie as “a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl.”
Not to be outslimed, Jeffery Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere describes the film as “rancid with secular Disneyfied Republican nostalgia for the days of white-culture dominance and Christian picket-fence serenity.”
The left will be kinder to “Unbroken” for two reasons. One is that its creepier reviewers, given their attention spans, stick to movies. The second is that the book describes events in World War II, a “good war” even on the left.
The hard left gives World War II a pass for one rarely discussed reason: Operation Barbarossa. In June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union, and turned leftist intellectuals worldwide from peaceniks to warmongers overnight.
Although parties will deny it – one because it lies to itself, the other because it lies as a practice – the hard-core left have been intimidating their soft-core brethren since about 1917.
Hillenbrand sticks to the truth. In the first part of her book, she tells how Louie Zamperini, the son of immigrants, evolved from street thug to America’s foremost long-distance runner.
Although Hillenbrand acknowledges the slights Italian-Americans experienced in the ’30s, she chooses to focus on the transformative powers of familial love in a land of unlimited opportunity.
Contemporary grievance narratives, including Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father,” focus on the slights. Most of the slights recounted in “Dreams” – and there are several – are trivial to the point of embarrassing.
On one occasion, a tennis coach allegedly touches Obama’s skin to see if the color rubs off – and this in a state where whites are in the minority. On another mystifying occasion, Obama barely refrains from punching out a white school chum because the kid makes a sympathetic allusion to Obama’s outsider status.
On a few occasions, he scolds his mother for romanticizing the black experience, and then, of course, he chastises his grandmother, first in the book and later before the world, for daring to let a black panhandler intimidate her. There is none of this in “Unbroken.”
The patriotic Zamperini abandons his Olympic dreams to enlist in the Army Air Force soon after Pearl Harbor. A bombardier, he and his pilot survive 47 days in a rubber raft following the crash of their B-24 – a book worth of material in itself – only to be “rescued” by the Japanese.
What follows is a story that a progressive would choose not to tell. For the left, the words “Japanese” and “internment” are used almost exclusively to describe the fate of the Japanese in America who were interned here during World War II.
Although the most benign internment in the history of warfare, one sanctioned by FDR and the Supreme Court, progressives relish the exposure of America’s imagined sins in their retelling of this tale.
Hillenbrand takes the reader to prisons that make the American internment camps look like Club Med, Japan’s equivalent of the gulag archipelago, prisons more gratuitously vile and vicious than even the Soviets’.
As she notes, an imprisoned American was 37 times more likely to die in a Japanese camp than in a German one.
Zamperini is in one such prison on the mainland when Hiroshima and Nagasaki are blown off the map – in the leftist imagination, two more stains on the national soul.
In “Unbroken,” the POWs know that these bombs have saved them from their planned executions. The Japanese had routinely been massacring POWs in advance of American invasion. The reader shares the POWs’ relief.
After the war, Zamperini, like many returning POWs, tries to purge the demons of hate and rage through alcohol and other bad behaviors.
For the progressive author, this would have occasioned a lecture on the evils of war and/or the Pentagon’s failure to take care of its returning veterans.
As the subtitle of the book promises, however, Zamperini finds “redemption.” He does so not in organizing protests but in the only real way that redemption can be found.
In the several mainstream reviews I have read of the book, mostly favorable if patronizing, the reviewers cannot bring themselves to use the word “God,” let alone “Christ,” the source of Zamperini’s redemption and the very point of the book.
Such, alas, is the progressives’ legacy: empty nihilism papered over by cheap dishonesty. For all their control of cultural levers, however, most Americans still don’t want to hear the stories they tell.
As of this writing, only George Bush’s memoir, “Decision Points,” is outselling “Unbroken.”
Note: Jack Cashill’s newest book, “Deconstructing Obama,” will be available in February.