In the summer of 1944, Louie and two other prisoners, Frank Tinker and William Harris, plan to steal a Japanese plane and escape. Conditions in the camp have been getting worse. There is less food and more beatings. In order to demoralize the prisoner, one guard even sodomizes a duck named Gaga that the POWs had come to love as a pet.
Performing such cruelties may demoralize the men, but it also has an unintended effect on the guards. The cruel rape of the animal points to the idea that the guards, though trying to dehumanize the men, are also lowering themselves, sexually and ethically, to an animal’s level. Violence effects both victim and aggressor: it may make its victims feel weak and inferior, but it also brings the aggressor closer to a savage, animalistic state.
After stealing a war map, the men realize that Allied forces are closing in on Japan’s mainland, which means that there is a strong possibility that the Japanese would initiate the kill-all order. Enduring so much suffering and believing that the Japanese may kill them anyway, Louie, Tinker, and Harris, conclude that their best chance at survival is to steal a plane and escape.
The men’s escape plan is an overt attempt to survive, but the planning of the escape itself provides the men a way to reclaim their dignity. Stealing maps and secretly making their plans, the men defy the guards and assert, once again, their autonomy as human beings. As the men reason: though their plan might get them killed, at least they would die with dignity, fighting for survival on their own terms.
After realizing that stealing a plane from a Japanese airbase was an unfeasible plan, they decide to hike across the island of Japan, steal a boat, and pilot it to China where they hope to find safe haven. Just before the date they set to make their escape, the guards announce that anyone attempting to escape will be executed and, for every escapee, several additional POWs will also be killed. In fear of endangering the other prisoners, Louie and his friends suspend their plans.
The men’s new plan reveals their resilience: undeterred by failure, they engineer a new plan, one that will require an arduous journey through enemy territory. But, ultimately, what does deter them is their sense of morality. The men would rather suffer the humiliations of prison life than risk the lives of their fellow prisoners – a sacrifice that shows that they are truly men of dignity, worthy of honor and respect.
Unable to escape, Louie and his friends channel their energies into finding out more information about the war. But a guard called The Quack finds a map in Harris’ possession and beats him extremely severely, causing Harris possible brain damage. A few weeks later, the Japanese transport Louie and Tinker to a camp called Omori near Tokyo. After a year of suffering, Louie hopes the next camp will be better.
In the camp, knowledge is defiance. The guards cut the men off from the outside world so that they can’t revive their spirits from knowledge of the Allies’ victories. By staying informed about the war, the men can also stay connected to who they once were: strong, proud soldiers.