Wednesday, March 24, 2010


There is a movie called Saving Private Ryan.  You've probably heard of it.  Now, there is a dude in this movie, which is a movie about dudes and guys and honor and doing the right thing and stuff.  This dude is a classic rear echelon guy - you'll know he is when you see him. He's clean, he forgets to carry his rifle, he is rather spindly.  He is the movie stereotype of innocence-at-war.  You know before it's all done that fortune is going fuck him in the ass.[1]

And boy howdy, does it.  He gets tasked with the job of lugging ammo to and fro in a tough battle and he funks it up real bad: lets a comrade get killed, runs away.  He probably wet his pants. [2]  There are at least a few people out there in straw man land who think this character is a gratuitous of insult to Our Brave Soldiers by Steven Spielberg.

It was a gratuitous insult inserted by Spielberg to sully the tens of thousands of men who did their job without abandoning their comrades.

These people are ignorant.

Having a variety of characters in a movie makes for a good story.  You get your brave, your dumb, your opportunist, your cowardly in a cast of characters: this makes for conflict.  I guess you could have a war movie with twelve brave soldiers giving their all like robots: thinking like thoughts as they kill the Bad Guys with identical studly bravado.  It would not be a very good movie.

It's also not very good history. There is nothing intrinsic to the American character that makes a man a good solider.   Indeed your average American right off the block is a very bad soldier.  It takes mean sergeants and lot of brainwashing to make a kid even a mediocre soldier.

Read a bit about Task Force Smith.  Smith's hapless battalion might have been the worst of a bad division as David Halberstam claims in 'The Coldest Winter'  - but the best the Army had were not much better.  The problem with the Army in 1950 really wasn't the lack of weapons or the lack of ammo or problems with material.  The soldiers were bad.  Time after time units would march to a notional front line, hear the sound of guns and melt away.  Sergeants would look around and find their platoon drifting to the rear, dropping weapons and shedding boots so they could run through rice paddies.

They ran.  Fled.  Bugged out.  Deserted their comrades.

It happens.  Should we pretend it does not?

[1] Walter would have a thing or two to say about this, I think.  No need to belabor it, here.
[2] I would have.

blog comments powered by Disqus