December 3, 2011

Strongest Human in the World?

I’m devouring what must be the single greatest book I’ve read in the past 10 years, Unbroken.

If you haven’t read it, even if you NEVER read, these pages turn faster than a vegan running through a butcher shop.

It’s the story of Louis Zamperini (see above photo) who participated as an American track runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Shortly after, he went off to fight in World War 2.

In 1943, Zamperini’s plane crashed in the vast Pacific Ocean where he was lost at sea for 47 days, in a raft without provisions. He was forced to battle sharks with pliers and fisticuffs and kill birds with his bare hands.

On the 47th day, Zamperini is finally found…by the Japanese.

For years on end, Zamperini is imprisoned, beaten, and tortured. The most brutal tormenter is Japanese Sergent Matsuhiro Watanabe.

The following is an excerpt from Unbroken:

One Japanese guard, Matsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe, made particular efforts to break Zamperini. Watanabe sometimes searched a room full of POWs until he spotted Zamperini and then singled him out for punishment.

Watanabe ordered the thin and malnutritioned Zamperini to pick up a “four-by-four-by-six foot” board.

 The board was hoisted above Zamperini’s head. While Zamperini and all his muscles worked to keep the board in the air, fearful that if it dropped Watanabe would have him shot, the psychotic guard laughed and mocked the former Olympian.

After 37 minutes, Watanabe was enraged at Zamperini’s resiliency. With a running start, he punched Zamperini in the stomach, dropping the GI with the board coming down on top of him.

War Criminal

According to Zamperini, “Watanabe was classified as a Class A war criminal after the war, but he avoided trial by hiding out in the mountains near Nagano in a cabin, until the statute of limitations ran out.”

Fast forward 50 plus years to….1998. Watanabe was still alive.

Zamperini traveled to Japan to run a leg in the torch relay leading up to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. He sought out Watanabe to forgive him. CBS planned a story around Zamperini and Watanabe’s reunion.

But Watanbe wanted nothing to do with it.

Said Zamperini, “I didn’t want him to do any bowing and scraping. I just wanted to tell him I’d forgiven him–just the two of us, maybe over lunch, talking about the Olympics, the future of our families and such.

“But Watanabe’s son said no to any meeting. That was a mistake, because now he’ll be seen as a bad guy in his own country, and I wanted to spare him that. See, guys who worked under him were hanged as war criminals. Watanabe avoided all that.”

The Rarest Strength

That Zamperini competed in the Olympics, survived 47 days at sea on a raft with no provisions, endured years as a POW…all pale in comparison to that required of him to forgive his torturer.

Forgiveness is nice. But is there not a time for vengeance?

While Watanbe died in 2003, there are still to this day other war criminals from World War II at large.

For instance:

–Gerhard Sommer, an SS officer, massacred 560 civilians in an Italian village during World War II. Sommer is in Germany, whose extradition laws enable him to avoid a conviction by Italian prosecutors. 

–SS Guard Adam Nagorny participated in the shooting of 3,000 people in the Treblinka concentration camp. He also remains in Germany.

Both former members of Hitler’s death squads are nearing 100 years old. Should they be cuffed and stuffed and left to die in prison?

The Jew in me says let there be justice. The yogi in me says karma is real. I’m confused.

Crush It

I bring up this less than uplifting subject because it forces us as individuals to ponder our understanding of forgiveness.

Mark Twain said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

“Crush” is the key word.  Because in order to make space for all the love, passion, and success we desire in 2012… we must first stomp out, crush…the spite, resentment and anger.


If you are really hellbent on 2012 being a GREAT YEAR filled with more presence and peace of mind, check out my Livin the Moment 2012


David Romanelli

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