“The crash […] had left Louie and Phil in the most desperate physical extremity, without food, water, or shelter. But on Kwajalein, the guards sought to deprive them of something that had sustained them even as all else had been lost: dignity. This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness.”

This quotation is found in Chapter 18, the first chapter of Part Four. Louie and Phil are being held in cells on Kwajalein, a few days after they had been captured at sea. Their minds and bodies have survived a record 47 days lost at sea, but their suffering is not over. In fact, it has entered a new chapter.  In this new part of the book, their physical difficulties have been compounded. Now Japanese guards begin to abuse them, initiating an intentional process of trying to break Louie and Phil. This process will continue long after Kwajalein, as Louie is moved from one POW camp to the next. At this point it is new to him.

This quotation introduces an understanding that Louie continues to consider across his POW experience. This understanding concerns the preciousness of human dignity and the ways in which the Japanese guards purposely tried to dehumanize the POWs. Louie develops a deep understanding of how dehumanization is a strategy used by certain governments, including in war. In Louie’s future POW experiences, he will struggle to maintain his human dignity, what Hillenbrand calls the “armament” of the soul. Under the torture of the Bird, in particular, he nearly loses his dignity. He is forced to beg for food. But ultimately his dignity will be preserved. He will not be defeated by the efforts to take this away from him.

The quotation recognizes that food, water, and shelter are typically considered the basic human needs. Here, she points out that dignity is also a basic human need. She suggests that, perhaps, this need is even greater than the other needs. Even as the men struggled on the raft, they were not deprived of their humanity. With this humanity, they helped one another. Phil and Mac were even able to give Mac a respectful burial. This quote recognizes that human dignity had in fact “sustained” them, even when they were without food, water, and shelter. This quote points out that, unlike other animals, humans need to have this sense of self-worth. Dignity is a strong basic need. After this passage, Hillenbrand expands upon this notion by applying it more broadly to other historical contexts, including Hitler’s death camps, slaves of the American south, and “a hundred other generations of betrayed people. At this point in the book she pauses to editorialize -- in a more obvious way than she typically does in the book.