2013 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior third place
Resilience and Corrupt Leadership

A likable World War II hero who survived forty-seven days aboard a raft at sea only to be captured by the Japanese, Louie Zamperini lived an inspiring life in which he showed the power of human will to live. The protagonist of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken showed great resilience when facing unfair oppression. A young student from Seoul who thinks that there should be a fair way of doing things, Han Pyong-tae struggles to adapt to the totalitarian method of running a classroom, and the protagonist of Our Twisted Hero becomes frustrated in his attempt to achieve fairness. Zamperini and Pyong-tae are both thrown into worlds in which they are at the bottom of society, and they both try to resist. In their own ways, both Zamperini and Pyong-tae illustrate the dangers of oppressive leadership. As 21st century citizens of the world, we should take note of these perilous methods of leadership in order to make sure that people are not treated unfairly.

While the stories of Zamperini and Pyong-tae are very different, there are some parallels in their encounters with other people. After being captured by the Japanese, Zamperini was sent to a Prisoner of War camp where he met “The Bird”. The Bird was a prison guard who went out of his way to make Zamperini’s life miserable, always torturing Zamperini for no apparent reason, such as when he made every prisoner in the camp “punch him as hard as they could” (Hillenbrand 228). Pyong-tae does not suffer nearly as much physically as Zamperini, but he faces similar oppression with Om Sok-dae. For example, Sok-dae made the smartest students in the class take his tests for him in “all subjects in every exam” (Yi 153). The Bird and Sok-dae both take advantage of their subjects, and in this way, they represent totalitarian rulers. Some may say that the Bird and Sok-dae are incomparable because one is a prison guard and the other is a class monitor. However, both of them impose their power over their subjects, and they take advantage of them.

Zamperini and Pyong-tae were both put in positions in which they were harassed, but both of them put up fights, which was unusual compared to their peers. Zamperini was behind several plots of the other prisoners to avoid hard labor and to steal food, and one time he even plotted to kill the Bird (Hillenbrand 246). Most of prisoners who had been there before him didn’t bother to try to resist that much. Similarly, Pyong-tae was revolutionary in that he tried to get his peers to stand up for themselves when they had previously regarded Sok-dae as their unquestioned leader, such as when he confronted his classmate whose lighter had been stolen by Sok-dae. He figured out the Sok-dae unfairly “took the lighter” (Yi 118). Some may say that Zamperini’s and Pyong-tae’s positions are incomparable, but they both showed similar resiliency when they arrived in a new society. Both of their reactions were important to their respective stories because they planted revolutionary seeds. When facing oppression, people must not be willing to submit to their leaders if being treated unjustly, just like Zamperini and Pyong-tae.

After a great struggle in the camp, Zamperini was finally worn down by the Bird and his relentless torture. Pyong-tae also was mentally exhausted from fighting against Sok-dae, and he too gave in. Both of these characters showed that at some point, if they couldn’t win the fight, they had to give in. Both of them had fallen into the trap of their ruler, and all hope of overthrowing them was lost with them. Both of them had to be bailed out by an outside force. In Zamperini’s case, he was rescued by the American army (Hillenbrand 280), and Pyong-tae and his classmates were saved by the new teacher when he discovered Sok-dae’s cheating by discovering “the mark of the eraser” (Yi 163) where his name was written. This is important because people can only put up a fight for so long before they succumb. In this world, there are people suffering from oppression like this, such as in North Korea. Some may say that they need to work out their problems on their own, but they are not going to save themselves at this point.

One would think that after being saved from oppression, Zamperini and Pyong-tae would go back to enjoying their free lives. However, neither fully recovered from the trauma they experienced. When Zamperini returned to America, he was rightfully treated as a hero, but he could not erase the Bird and his experiences from his mind. Even though the Bird was being tried for war crimes, Zamperini had nightmares about him every night, and he could not stop thinking about killing him. Zamperini turned to alcohol, and he never truly recovered until he had a religious experience (Hillenbrand 329). Even then, he still hated the Bird with a burning passion. On the other hand, Pyong-tae also never fully recovered from his experience with Sok-dae, and he never really became successful in life like many of his peers. He was especially scarred when he saw Sok-dae at the end of the story, and he “drank till it was late” (Yi 189). This is important because it shows that people who put so much energy into fighting become unable to fully recover from their traumatic experiences.

Thus, the stories of Louie Zamperini and Han Pyong-tae teach us all a valuable lesson. Unfair leadership, such as totalitarian dictators, should be stripped of their power before they have a big enough impact to scar someone for the rest of their life. In order to do this, people must have a greater awareness of these kinds of situations that exist in our world today, and we must do something to stop it. Both Zamperini and Pyong-tae had the right ideas, but they did not have enough support around them to accomplish their goals on their own.