"Saving Private Ryan"
a film by Steven Spielberg
Tonight I just saw "Saving Private Ryan" and it blew me away. That movie is an absolute MUST SEE. It was vivid, it was real, it was graphic. The first 30 minutes are the most gory, emotional, battle scenes I have ever witnessed and never hope to witness for real. My grandfather was on Normandy beach and I have a new respect for him now. It was an important picture that everyone should see and I consider it an epic. . . and I never want to freakin' see it again. It has been said War is Hell, well Spielberg accurately portrayed Hell. I am POSITIVE you will devote several pages on your website to this movie and what it means. Several of your pages already touch on it. Saving Private Ryan will remind us that this thing called "Freedom" everyone takes for granted came at a price. Spielberg shows us what that price was. If you have not already, SEE THAT MOVIE!! If you have, I am interested in your thoughts. And again if you have not, don't and I repeat don't plan anything for afterwards. You will be in tears and feel mournful and sad the rest of the night. . . like I do now. Maybe you should wait til the warmth of your romance is complete.
I COR 10:31 - Whether therefore ye eat, drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Joe Giove III
Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 19:05:19 -0700
From: Richard Geib (email@example.com)
Subject: Re: Saving Private Ryan
Yes, I saw that movie on the second day it was in the theatres. Unfortunately, I saw it during a weekend when I was entertaining guests and had to be sociable. I would have much preferred to have been alone to work out what I saw. It would not underestimate things to say I was traumatized by the film, and I still am re-playing parts of it in my mind. But it is a good trauma, a learning pain which stretches and enlarges the understanding - as you said about sacrifice, duty, suffering and leadership. This happened in real life, men such as these lived; and I do not regret seeing their story - pain or no pain.
Still, the movie haunts me. It haunts me in the little things... like the French girl slapping her dad for supposedly abandoning her in the bombed out ville when he was trying to help her - this civilian family caught in the middle of hell. The American soldier shot by the German sniper lying in the rain dying while holding up the note to be mailed to his father. The unspeakable scene with the Nazi whispering consolingly to that tough but terrified Jewish G.I. as he slowly, intimately drove a knife into his heart after a long, exhausting wrestle. Capt. Miller and his sergeant lying dead next to each other palely at the end of the film. It struck me as realistic that these citizen-soldiers were just trying to stay alive and kill the enemy before they themselves were killed. If there is heroism in that and doing your duty, then that is something of which to be proud. But the larger ideas of "freedom" and fighting the Nazis (while completely valid in a more abstract reasoning) did not enter my head as I watched this movie of men fighting desperately to stay alive in war and usually failing. The movie is not primarily about history or politics but inhumanity, horror, pain and death - for both Germans and Americans alike, as real persons trying to deal with mortality and death.
You see that stare in Capt. Miller's eyes like he has seen the odds of coming out of this fight alive and does not like them. The two scenes where Capt. Miller is dumbfounded with shock in the cacophony and omnipresent violence of extreme combat - where the whole world has become nothing less than a roar of guns and death, but then gets control of himself to do his job rather than sit down and numbly accept death as it wafts towards him is the highest concept of "heroism" I can personally envision. To be scared is to be human; to master your fear and do the job is to be heroic - and the character of Capt. Miller teaches us the meaning of that word! "Let us not ask God why men such as this should die in war..." said General George S. Patton, Jr., a man I do not usually admire, "Rather let us thank God that such men lived." It shocked me to the core to hear that Capt. Miller was an English teacher in civilian life, the same as myself. I would like to think I could have done as well as him if thrust into a similar situation. I doubt it. I ask myself if I have so far lived a civic life worthy of the sacrifices borne by Capt. Miller and other veterans killed in wars. I try.
Miller tells his soldiers, "With every man I kill, I feel farther from home." This has set me thinking. We all concentrate on how men are killed and made victim by the blood-red madness of Ares. The related corollary is no less true: war turns otherwise decent, peaceful men into killers. When you take a life, you just don't take a life. You take everything that goes into that life. You take everything from that person and everything that person could have been. In times of peace, we hear about some psychopathic criminal who is shot down by the police in the name of the law. It is a relatively rare occurrence, and nobody mourns much this killing. But what about in time of war when killing becomes an everyday affair? When it becomes the norm? I remember Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir lamenting to a friend the insidious blight of Palestinian terrorism, "The worst of all about these terrorists is that they have forced us to turn our young men into killers."
I can hardly imagine a regime more evil and deserving of destruction through total war than the Third Reich. But who can doubt that many of the Germans serving it were decent men caught up in the maelstrom of the age? Not every German soldier was an arrogant SS officer infected with the rabid Nazi ideology ready to shoot civilians down in cold blood! Nevertheless, English teacher-cum-Army Ranger Captain John Miller did his best to kill any German opposite him before he himself was killed. A teacher myself, I see my job as not only to teach young people how to read and write but to help them grow up straight and true. It can be tedious and grueling work - a calling which requiring serious commitment, the rolling up of one's sleeves and the getting to work day-in and day-out, dealing with frustration and setbacks. This also was Miller's peacetime job, but now he occupies himself in the soldierly undoing of the lives of young men which have taken untold hours of patient labor over long years by others -- parents, teachers, coaches, neighbors -- to construct. All that undone in the squeeze of a trigger, bullet ripping flesh and splitting bone! Two decades of life undone in a second! How unjust! It should not be so easy to destroy that which takes so much to build!
But almost 55 years later we look at WWII dispassionately with 20/20 hindsight and understand this ugly work needed to be done. I have read many books on that era and thought long and hard about it; and I only feel more strongly than before that the war needed to be fought. As Hitler assumed power, the flower of German youth needed to die; I can see no other way of unseating that tyrant and ending his Reich. I view the pacifists and isolationists in America who strenuously opposed our entry into WWII not only as misguided and mistaken but wrong. It is untrue that peace is always preferable to war; some fights need to be fought, and sticking your head in the ground and pretending otherwise is folly.
To kill people in the name of peace: this is what happened on the beaches of Normandy and fields of France, in the forests of Germany and jungles of the South Pacific, and in the oceans and skies around all these places. The sacrifices of men like Capt. Miller and hundreds of thousands of other Americans were repaid in the prosperity and stability of post-WWII Western Europe and Japan, but I am sure it is of little consolation to Miller's widow back in rural Pennsylvania. Perhaps the best a man in Miller's position can hope is to do his duty with as much courage and distinction as possible, survive the carnage with as much dignity and honor as he can, hold on to one's self-respect and essential sense of humanity, and to live afterwards in such a way as to finally be able to judge yourself by a different standard than that of war and the killing of men. How many soldiers like Capt. Miller survived WWII, returned home afterwards, married, attended college on the GI Bill, worked a job, raised a family, and hardly ever talked about the war? The answer: millions. Many study the Nazi Holocaust or the Japanese Rape of Nanking and draw conclusions about the nature of evil in the world. Rather than explain why some people choose evil, isn't it more relevant and important to explain why most people choose good? That is where one finds the true battle.
Although to not even a proximate degree as someone like Capt. Miller, I have seen violence, death, suffering (and even evil!) in my life. It has left me sensitized to certain experiences, and this movie just brought much of it back up. There is nothing you can do but try to live honorably and do as little harm as possible, but still the world hates and bleeds and suffers and dies. Around dusk when it is quiet I can sometimes hear the world crying in the silence, if I listen hard enough and my soul is at the right modulation. Why? We have laws and courts and police, and children are still kidnapped and molested and murdered. The best and brightest use their talents and energies to try and cure cancer, but still so many macerate and die in droves from that disease without anybody being able to do much for them. Portions of the globe propser and progress, but most places languor in vicious poverty and mindless violence. What can you do but cry? And even as war is as old as civilization itself, we will today and tomorrow send off men to kill other men who have done them no personal injury - for reasons valid and otherwise. Maybe that is the meaning I get from this film: you do what you can with as much honor and skill as you can muster, and then you take your hat and leave when it is your time - even if you are only 20 years old and your destiny is to storm a beach and be shot dead there like a dog in the sand.
"Only the dead have seen the end of war," Plato claimed, rightly. We are both lucky, Joe, in that our generation has been mostly spared the horrors of war and the sacrifice of military service. I suspect it will not always be this way for young Americans; there will be more Normandy beaches, Choisin Reservoirs, Cemetery Ridges, Belleau Woods, and Khe Sahns in our nation's future. There will be wars and rumors of war. Men will die horrible, violent deaths. Others will be crippled, both physically and emotionally. And those open to it will hear the cries of the dying and the dead in the silence when they close their eyes and listen closely.
Suffering and death exist in extremity in the world, it is true; but then so does happiness and joy. It can often be a more subtle and difficult lesson to embrace the latter than to lose oneself in the former. Let us then do our jobs and live our lives so that it will lend strength and guidance to those around us in the future, saving up good karma in reserve for when the horrible and the tragic "shall fall / Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud."
Very Truly Yours,
P.S. Thank you for giving me the ability to work some of this out in a way I was not able to immediately after seeing the film. I too would rather get a root canal performed on me than see this film again!