Don’t give up don’t give in | Louis Zamperini


Published: 2014

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Louis Zamperini was an American Christian evangelist and an Olympic distance runner, perhaps best known for his time as a Japanese prisoner of war during WWII. It was after he was released that he became a Christian with a particular belief in the power of forgiveness. Since 1952, he was dedicated to helping young people. Zamperini’s life has been filmed in three biographical films: Unbroken (2014), Captured by Grace (2015) and Unbroken: Path to Redemption (2018). He handed over the script for this book to his co-author just a few days before his death in 2014 (he died at 97).

SAVED BY RUNNING. Zamperini had a troublesome youth but turned it around when he channeled his surplus energy to his long-distance running. In his teens, he set a national record for the distance of 1 mile – a record that lasted for 15 years. He then qualified to represent the United States in the 5,000 m race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

PRISONER OF WAR IN JAPAN. In 1941, Zamperini was assigned to the U.S. Air Force. On a search and rescue mission his plane crashed into the sea. He and another survivor floated around on wreckage for 46 days before ending up in the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands were they were captured. Zamperini and his friend were taken to a prison camp in Japan where they later were tortured. Back home in the United States, they had been more or less pronounced dead, but when the war ended – after two years in captivity – they were able to return home.

BITTER POST RELEASE. After the Japanese released Zamperini, he returned to the United States, but brought with him a great hatred of the Japanese for how they had treated him. For several years he thought about what had happened. He thought especially of a prison guard, nicknamed Bird, who painfully returned to his dreams every night. This hatred – combined with post-traumatic stress – ate him up from the inside. He drank every day, behaved badly and was at the bottom.

HATRED IS SELF-DESTRUCTIVE. There is a sick satisfaction in hating. You think you get rid of it by hating it. But that is not true. Hatred destroys – not the object you hate – but yourself. Hating is a decision you have made and a habit that can be trained away. Zamperini’s wife said that he became another person with the ability to let go of bitterness and truly forgive. When he, at the age of 97, thought about how Bird escaped punishment, it did not affect him.

TRUE FORGIVENESS. Zamperini was once asked: you have forgiven the Japanese but do you not condemn them for what they did? Zamperini said that true forgiveness is no longer condemning. Some people forgive but continue to think “that son of a bitch, what he did to me”. When you forgive, you must let it go. If Zamperini were to meet Bird, he would not accuse him of his crime. The one who forgives should never bring up the past in front of the other person. When you forgive, it is as if it never happened – forgiveness is complete and total. The circle was closed in 1998 in connection with the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, when Zamperini ran a distance with the Olympic torch.

“Forgiveness had been the healing factor. The power of acceptance, of being cheerful, at peace, and content explains the smile on the face of an old man carrying the torch in a place where a young man had suffered the most”

CONTROL WHAT CAN BE CONTROLLED. Zamperini had no desire to get stuck in the middle of nowhere on the Pacific Ocean. But that was the fact. They expected to be rescued, but it did not happen. Instead, they had to do everything to survive. He wasted no time on what had happened or imagined “if only” options. The best thing was to accept the situation and remember your training. He controlled what he could control and left the rest alone. The philosophy can be boiled down to what is known as “The Serenity Prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference”.

YOUR ATTITUDE IS KEY. When the book was written, many of his friends were long dead. But he did not feel guilty or alone but rather accepted the situation. Instead of lingering, he asked himself what would happen next. He believed that if you cannot control your attitude towards a situation, you will heal slowly and die young. You have to be willing to work with what you have. Why make it difficult for yourself and others by having a bad attitude?

BE CONTENT. We cannot always control what happens in our lives but we can control our reaction to it. It is a wise philosophy to “be content” no matter what situation you are in. To be content, you must accept everything. If you succeed in making that attitude a part of who you are, nothing can bother you. Letting go of control releases a lot of energy that can be put into more productive activities.

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