War Essay, Research Paper
In both Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, a recurring theme appeared to be the impact of war on the common soldier. Through a variety of different scenarios, the viewer is exposed to the daily hardships that one must endure while in battle. The soldiers are continuously walking a fine line between life and death, and their morale and tenacity does not escape unscathed.
The opening scene in Saving Private Ryan was very instrumental in illustrating the horror that is war. The only thing separating the living from the dead was quick thinking and a whole lot of luck. One man is shot in the head, but lives with the help of his helmet. As he takes his helmet off, staring at it in amazement and relief, a bullet finds his exposed skull, killing him instantly. Another man lying on the beach has been shot in the abdomen, and is slowly bleeding to death. As the medic and several other soldiers work tirelessly to clot the bleeding, the man begins to come around. The bleeding is stopped. Seconds later he is killed by a bullet to the head. It is by chance that a soldier sees the land beyond the beach.
The Thin Red Line paints a very similar picture. Each man lives day to day, never knowing if he will live to see the next. One captain, valuing the lives of his men, refuses to follow the command of another officer. Sensing the attack to be too costly, he argues heatedly with the officer, until eventually being relieved of his position. The loss of life is bearable. It is the advancement of the army that counts.
Each man seems to deal with this life and death situation in his own way. One young soldier named Jackson, from Saving Private Ryan, is a very religious person. Each time he is about to kill someone, he prays, kissing his cross and asking for forgiveness for the heinous crimes that he is about to commit. This appears to be soothing to him. In The Thin Red Line, another man is comforted only by images of his wife and the love they share. The love that he feels for her is so strong that he is not afraid to die, knowing that if he does, he will wait for her forever. Why would I be afraid to die, I belong to you? he says.
The morale and determination of the soldiers was also greatly affected by the shock of what war was realistically, versus what American propaganda made it out to be. What the propaganda was designed to do, and what it accomplished, was a vision of heroism, a vision of fighting for justice, fighting for those who cannot defend themselves. It was all duty and honor and obligation to one s country. When faced with the realities of war, with the struggle of killing those who you have never even met, a soldier is thrust into the role of the hero and the villain, the captor and the captive. It was a role that not all the soldiers were able and willing to accept.
Both Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line presented the common soldier s encounter with war in such a way that was heartbreaking. The delicate, nearly invisible line that separates life from death would seem nearly unbearable. Given the relentless internal struggle in coping with the possibility of one s own death, Thich Nhat Hahn best sums it up with these simple words:
I hold my face in my two hands.
No I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me