I just finished rereading two of my favorite books. One is The First Heroes by Craig Nelson. The other is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you saw the truly excellent movie based on that book then you know it’s a powerful story. Unfortunately, the best half of the story was left out of the movie.

It was however finished in the truly excellent work called Unbroken: Glory Road. That film did a first class job of showing how the years in captivity had shattered Louis Zamperini and how God had truly saved him.

The two books have a lot in common, and I want to focus on four men here. Louis Zamperini, the central character in Unbroken, was a POW of the Japanese during WW II.

So was Jacob DeShazer who was one of the Doolittle Raiders. Both went through horrible treatment at the hands of their captors. Both came out with huge problems. Both found peace through Jesus Christ.

But I want to look at two other men. Both were Japanese.

Both men survived the war. Both married, and raised families.

There any similarities end.

One was Mitsuo Fuchida, a naval officer best remembered for being the man who led the strike against Pearl Harbor. Despite his mark in history, people who knew him said he was a kind and honorable man.

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Mitsuo Fuchida, leader of the Raid on Pearl harbor

The other is Mutsuhiro Watanabe, or the Bird as he was called. Experts have labeled him a psychopath, and he admits he got sexually aroused when he mistreated POWs.

Fuchido found himself in an interesting position. He’d been at the tip of the spear of his country’s military efforts. He was a hero of one of greatest empires of the world. Now he was a farmer in a beaten nation and the only real revenue he had coming in was selling eggs to the very people he’d fought against.

Watanabe went into hiding till an amnesty was proclaimed.

Fuchida says he was disgusted by what was happening after WW II. The Americans were searching for, and bringing to justice, those who had abused POWs. He couldn’t understand it. After all, weren’t all POWs worthy of bad treatment?

Then one day he encountered a man he’d served with. This man had been a POW of the Americans and been in a camp here in Colorado. It floored Fuchida to discover they’d been treated well. But what really got his attention was when his friend told him about an American girl who had worked closely with them. She helped them with whatever was needed such as letter writing, etc. She’d made a huge impression on his friend. He even asked her why she helped them, the enemy. Her answer floored him. “Your people killed my parents!”

This caused Fuchida to ponder why someone would say such a thing. In his culture, if something like that had happened, it would have been his mission in life to avenge them. He went back to his farm and pondered all this. One day the answer came to him. She could have wallowed in hate for what they’d done. She could have sought revenge. But wasn’t living more important, and just maybe, love trumped hate. he bought a Bible and read it. And one day, he decided he was Christian. He had no clue what Christianity was all about, but if her example was what a Christian was, then it was worth being. Fuchida went on the preach the Gospel in Japan.

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Fuchida and DeShazor – former enemies, now best friends

Eventually, he hooked up with Jacob DeShazor. The former Raider returned to Japan, the nation that had held him captive and mistreated him so, not on a mission of revenge, but on a mission to spread the Gospel. The two men often shared the pulpit and became lifelong friends. Fuchida ultimately moved to America, became a citizen, and his children and grandchildren live here today.

Watanabe went into hiding till the amnesty was proclaimed. People say he was filled with hate and loathing till the day he died. What’s interesting is that Louis, on a trip to Japan, wanted to meet with him. Louis wanted to offer his forgiveness and move on. While he initially agreed to the meet, Watanabe turned around and refused. I had to stop and wonder why, and ponder how he robbed himself of a great experience.

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Mutsuhiro Watanabe, “The Bird”

Some of the reasons I could think of why he refused are as follows:

  • Shame: It’s very possible he felt shame at what he’d done. However, psychopaths aren’t known to feel shame. From what I’ve gathered, he felt justified in what he’d done.
  • Fear: Very possible, but fear of what? An old man he hadn’t seen in years? I do think there was some fear involved, but it wasn’t of Louis. By meeting with him, he’d be admitting he was wrong. People hold onto things, including what we’ve done, and allow it to define who we are. By accepting the meeting and the forgiveness Louis offered, he’d be walking away from who he was.
  • The Monster: Someplace, somewhere, I’m sure there’s a good psychological name for this. I call it the Monster. It’s something each man and woman has, and we keep it locked away. It’s the horrible thing that’s responsible for our hates and angers and the way we treat one another (among other things). Maybe he was just afraid to grab the Monster by the neck and take a good look at it. Doing that with the Monster is frightening because we’re holding a mirror up to ourselves. It’s a Gorgon so hideous because it holds the darkness in our souls, and that’s frightening. And by refusing to look at it, we can’t see it for what it really is and be transformed. Most people are afraid of looking at the Monster. Others are in love with it. They don’t keep it locked in a cage like most do. Instead, they let the Monster out and allow it to romp through their lives because only through the Monster do they feel alive. I learned to drag the Monster out, look at it, and talk about it. When you do, you defang it, name it, and declare that it has no place in your life. My guess is either he loved the Monster, or was terrified of what it might show him.

The Bible tells us in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus is writing our story for us. As a Christian, we want a story that’s worth telling. And as a writer, I know that sometimes my characters will go off and do their own thing. These characters rarely have endings that are well.

The same is true of us. We can’t just leave Christ out of the equation. For Fuchido, DeShazor, and Zamperini, without Jesus stepping in and changing their outlooks there is no rest of the story. In all three cases, they were able to let go of their hate and rage and live full lives. Louis himself admits as much. He was a drunk and angry till the Word of God got hold of him. Fuchido was full of hate, rage, and shame (after all, his side lost), and DeShazor was full of hurt and needed healing. All three were changed.

It makes me wonder how many of us allow things like wrongs or hate to define who we are.

Watanabe never even sought forgiveness from a man he wronged, or allowed it when offered. Even leaving the Christian aspect out, consider what he robbed himself of. First, here’s a man who no longer bore him ill will. Having wronged people and received Grace from them, I can testify that just knowing they hold no ill will against you is a load off your shoulders.

He also missed out on what could have been a good friendship. I never met Louis, and aside from what I’ve read about him, and seeing him in an interview with Angelina Jolie, the boy was a trip. I can honestly say, I’d have liked to sat down and drank coffee with him. He was a charming person, with a good sense of humor, and someone who would qualify as a hero in my book.

Watanabe missed out on making a good friend.

I don’t know why Watanabe did what he did. The Bird is dead and he took the reasons with him to the grave.  I’m sure to him, they were good reasons, but we’ll never know. Maybe he was just crazy after all.

Since our lives are supposed to be good stories, Fuchida, DeShazor, and Zamperini have stories worth telling. Former enemies becoming friends is a good story.

The only reason the story of the Bird will be remembered is as an example of what not to be.