From ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand:
The crash of Green Hornet 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 hear of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, to be cast below, mankind. Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain. Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live. On American airman, shot down and relentlessly debased by his Japanese captors, described the state of mind that his captivity created: “I was literally becoming a lesser human being.”
Few societies treasured dignity and feared humiliation as did the Japanese, for whom a loss of honor could merit suicide. This is likely one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers during World War II debased their prisoners with such zeal, seeking to take from them that which was most painful and destructive to lose. On Kwajalein, Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler’s death camps, the slaves of the America South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people. Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet.