The Anatomy of a Hate

do you want to be healed

It is as I am reading Unbroken that I suddenly feel a rage toward a people group I don’t even know.

Unbroken, a book by Laura Hillenbrand, is an epic story of the Pacific side of World War II. It is a tribute to brilliant writing and detailed research. The story focuses on the life of Louis Zamperini and his experience during World War II. Zamperini is an Olympic runner and a war hero and the book took seven years to write.  The result is extraordinary.

It’s while I am reading about the horrors of the POW camps where Zamperini was held captive that I begin to feel the stirrings of hate.

The documented evil perpetrated on prisoners of war is indescribable, and yet the author describes it. The inhumane treatment at the hands of prison guards, the worst being a lower level officer of discipline, strips the prisoners of all dignity as they are starved, beaten, and forced into submission.

But what is fascinating is what I see happening in my own heart. None of this was done to me, none of this was done to family members, yet, I find myself hating these men. I hate the prison guards. I hate their arrogance. I hate their treatment of fellow man. I hate the starvation, exhaustion, and disease that was rampant in the camps and perpetrated by evil guards.

The frightening reality is that I begin judging an entire people group by the actions of prison guards, who – themselves humiliated and degraded – were inflicting the same on these prisoners. 

I find myself condemning all Japanese people because I am reading a book that describes the awful realities of war. I forget about my friend Lara, whose father is Japanese. I forget about the many Japanese friends we made in Chicago during our first year of marriage. I forget that the civilian population of Japan suffered greatly during the war, two of their cities bombed into oblivion. I forget all that. My heart is lost in hate and rage.

I toss and turn in my anger and rage and halfway through the night, I realize I am a perfect example of the anatomy of a hate.  And is this not what I am troubled about with Franklin Graham’s public statement about Muslims? That he has judged a billion people based on the actions of a few? As I point my finger at him, I feel fingers pointing back at me and I hate it. This was not the intent of the author. This was the result of my reaction to the words I was reading. The intent of the author was to show the extraordinary power of the human spirit, the resilience of the human will to live and to forgive.

I think about the human heart and how it can be influenced. I think about stories that come down through generations of people – stories that cause hate and bitterness to breed or offer the opportunity to show forgiveness and resilience. Stories of slavery; of the Armenian genocide; of the Nazi death camps; of the Spanish Inquisition; of partition between India and Pakistan. They all have the same thing in common – violence and evil perpetrated to large groups of people. And as the stories are told they can breed prejudice and hate. Prejudice and hate left unchecked, unforgiven, lead into years of conflict.

Ultimately this is all about the human heart and its ability to be deceived and influenced. We cannot hope to rid ourselves and our world of prejudice and hate without a change in the human heart. Education can only take us so far – ultimately its about the heart. And no one can change the human heart but the God whose image we bear.

So I stop myself and I ask for forgiveness, for allowing hate to breed in me through the pages of a book. I pray for grace. I pray that I will immediately respond to the voice that offers Truth and Grace, the voice that reminds me we are made in the image of God. And though that image is sometimes distorted beyond recognition, it can be restored to beauty through a God who redeems. 

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” CS Lewis

11 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Hate

  1. Thank you once again, Marilyn, for your thoughtful comments. You show humility. You allow yourself to be vulnerable … often. And you graciously respond to your readers (e.g., as you are doing with the comments on “Dear Mr. Graham”). These traits, which it seems you have chosen to nurture, fill me with admiration and love for you. I’m honored to be a relative!


    1. Thank you so much for these kind words. I actually got teary reading them. I’m not sure I deserve them but they meant the world to me. And about the relative piece…yes!!! Me too toward you.


  2. It takes a strong mind to be able to recognize the roots of hate while reading something like this. I read the book also, and remember thinking about how it could fan the flames of those who already hated. But as someone else noted, in the end Zamperini reconciles and overcomes. It is a great story of triumph over the elements, over personal challenges, and over that hatred of the guards and culture that imprisoned and tortured him during the war.

    You brought up another really good point, and that is that the guards themselves had been humiliated and degraded. I think the psychology of prisoners and guards is fascinating. In cases like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, there is generally more happening under the surface in that dynamic. Both can be victims in a vicious system of cruelty like we tend to see played out over and over again during times of war. Chris Hedges noted in “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” that the worst elements of society always rise to power in a time of war, and I think what happened in Zamperini’s story is a good example of that. War gives psychopaths the freedom to loose their cruelty on others.

    I love this post for its thoughtfulness. Thanks for sharing, Marilyn.


    1. Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment Jenni. I finished the book early this morning, in tears. I’m not sure when a book last affected me so deeply. So much to think about.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a very thought-provoking story. I cried my eyes out when I read it too. Ultimately, it is a story of how any of us can overcome adversity. Incredible to think that one man went through so much. But he kept on going. Ultimately, one day at a time.


  3. Marilyn have you read the book or seen the film”The Railway Man”? It’s a true story of hate redeemed finally by love and friendship.

    Colin Firth takes the main role in the film.


  4. Wonderful book, and beautifully written. I hope you are going to finish it, because after the war was over and he was free Louis Zamperini was consumed by hate and a desire for revenge. It was destroying him and his marriage until he came to the Lord. Only then did he find the grace to forgive. I hope that’s not a spoiler! I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t think I want to. I’ve read that it focuses solely on the resilience of the human spirit, and totally leaves out the power of God to change a life.


  5. “Education can only take us so far – ultimately its about the heart. And no one can change the human heart but the God whose image we bear.”

    Truth. SO MUCH TRUTH.

    I love how you always go introspective on me, encouraging us to turn the finger on our own souls.


  6. Reminding me how Americans often condemn all German people because they learn about the Holocaust/Nazi Regime. Forgetting that the people they condemn were either children during this era or were not yet born. Reminding me also of the current political climate where all Whites are condemned and accused of Racism because of some violent occurrences at the hand of a few.


    1. I appreciate your comments, petra09. Accusing everyone in a country, nationality, or race because of the actions of some makes no sense, whether the individuals are living at the time or generations later. There is potential for evil and wrongdoing among ALL groups of people. It does bother me, though, that you are equating racism with physical violence, at least that’s what I read into this. I don’t believe we should link them so closely. For example, institutional racism–which benefits the white “majority,” like me–is insidious, not inherently violent, and one of our toughest challenges.


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