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Back in the prisoner of war camp, Louie, Frank Tinker, and Bill Harris start to form an escape plan. Louie had been surviving partly by taking extreme risks, including by stealing food from the kitchen. Louie takes up an offer to serve as a barber to the guards.
One day Louie steals a map, which Harris quickly memorizes. The map shows that the Allied forces are closing in on Japan. Louie and the other men acquire other information as Saipan falls and as the troops advance. They worry about what the Japanese will do. Louie witnesses and experiences atrocities delivered by the Quack, an especially cruel guard. Another guard, nicknamed Shithead by the guards, kills the duck Gaga by sexually violating the bird, an act which Louie considered the worst thing he saw in war.
Louie, Tinker, and Harris develop escape plans. The date of their planned escape approaches, but the plan is foiled when the Ofuna officials, reacting to a POW escape at another camp, declare that many prisoners will be killed if any one prisoner tries to escape. Without an escape plan, Louie and Harris manage to steal a map from the Quack’s office. Harris is later caught with the map and is badly beaten. Even days later, Harris is not able to recognize his friends. Soon after this, Louie is told abruptly that he, Tinker and some other men are being moved to another POW camp called Omori. They have ten minutes to gather items before they leave.
Louie, Tinker and some other Ofuna veterans arrive at Omori. Louie describes the barrenness of this camp, which lies just across the water from still-bustling Tokyo. In an office, these men meet a strong, even brutish-looking, corporal. This is Mutsuhiro Watanabe, whom Louie would later call “the Bird.” The Bird beats Louie the first day he meets him. Louie explains that the man had a special interest in destroying Louie.
Hillenbrand offers historical information about the Japanese treatment of POWs and how this treatment was inconsistent with the 1929 Geneva Convention. Omori was a slave camp, where the men were forced into hard labor and were given very limited amounts of food. Prior to the Bird, the Japanese personnel at Omori had been almost kind to the prisoners, but under Watanabe all that changed. Watanabe’s behavior is erratic and violent. Watanabe directs his strongest emotions at Louie, whom he seems intent on destroying.
The desperation of the POW camp, including the indifference and depravity of the guards, unite Louie and the other men in a common purpose. The beatings, forced exercise, starvation, and disease drive them to a point of desperation, but also a point at which they are willing to take make bold moves. They take brave risks to gather information that can be used by the collective group. Neither Louie nor any of other men acts for himself alone. They are all Allies, united against a common enemy.
Over time, Louie had become acclimated to the setting of Ofuna. At the end of Chapter Twenty-Two, Louie leaves this world and enters a new, unknown one. Hillenbrand effectively evokes the feeling of suspense and fear that would have accompanied such news for Louie and others. While Ofuna was far from warm and comfortable, Louie knew how to navigate it. He had learned how to survive there, just as he had learned to survive in every other setting of his life. When Louie first entered Ofuna, he thought the POW camp felt “spooky.” He did not sense any communication among the men. Ironically, as horrible as the treatment of the men was, this was a place where Louie developed strong communication and strong relationships with other men. Bill Harris was one of the exceptional human beings he met there, a man of great intelligence and bravery. Hillenbrand does not overtly state Louie’s feelings of love and admiration the men had for one another, but she gives the reader enough information to know how tightly bonded they were, in a network of mutual respect and brotherhood.
In the Bird, Hillenbrand offers readers a psychological case study of a damaged, cruel, and perhaps even evil, human being. Hillenbrand also shows the extreme danger of a person showing pathologic behavior in a leadership position with free reign. The Bird takes delight in hurting people. Tinker would later say that his first impression of the man was that he was a psychopath. He is a tyrant who seems to derive sexual pleasure from beating men and subjecting them to extreme physical conditions. In his erraticism, the Bird would at times apologize, in tears, before transforming back into a violent ruler. Hillenbrand explains the Bird’s privileged background, including a humiliating rejection from officer training that had left him unhinged. Sadly, wartime gives this damaged human being the freedom and opportunity to punish others in ways that defy logic or law.
Every situation in which Louie himself causes the previous situation to appear milder than one could have ever imagined it to be. It is almost as if another straw is added to the proverbial camel’s back. After all of the incredible obstacles Louie has faced and survived, he faces a direct human antagonist in the Bird.