The movie, "Saving Private Ryan" describes a persuasive human story while maintaining a remarkable historical authenticity. It follows a team of American soldiers through the mission of saving James Ryan, a paratrooper whose brothers died during D-Day invasion (Rodat et al. 2008). Throughout the rescue mission, the team's physical, mental and emotional strength is tested through a sequence personal hardships, battles and deaths. The movie mainly focuses on a question on the morality of a war mission- sending eight men to war and risk their lives to rescue a not high ranking soldier (Rodat et al. 2008). Consequently, the mission realizes heroism fantasies as the men sacrifice their lives for one man and their nation. Miller steals the show, depicting a selfless and morally upright captain. The movie pauses a question on the value of human life, and at the end, it provides a closure of an old man who, according to his wife, was a "good man." (Toplin, 2006). But, was his life worth those who bravely sacrificed their own? This paper discusses the moral dilemma in Saving Private Ryan and what the main character does to address the difficulty. The final part examines whether Saving Private Ryan was morally correct or not.
In all aspects, War is deemed as an intense activity where delicate decisions must be made, and those involved have to deal with the consequences. It is an ugly thing and, in most cases, people are forced to commit acts of violence with the aim of gaining victory and accomplishing a righteous end. Throughout the movie, Miller, the captain, is forced to make a crucial decision, and at a certain point, he is faced with a moral dilemma. When the rescue mission commenced, Miller and his men come across a Nazi encampment and decide to take it out. However, during the fight, wade gets shot and dies; this sparks anger amongst fellow soldiers (Rodatet al. 2008). As the men watch their fellow soldiers being killed, they become more frustrated with the mission and begin to resent Ryan. They express they their anger by beating up the Nazi soldier taking him hostage.
Miller and the others, except one soldier, move to kill the suspected killer. The captain, however, pauses for a minute instead of shooting the alleged killer (Godfrey & Lilley, 2009). A tense and heated argument evolves on whether to kill him or let him go. Miller is faced with a moral dilemma on what to do with the killer and, since he is the captain, he is expected to make a rational decision. Whatever decision he makes is morally acceptable; if he lets the man go then that show humanity and forgiveness. But, if he kills him, it would be for his country, and a soldier, it is his duty to protect his country by taking down the enemy. Also, if he lets him go, the killer might still come back attack his nation. Miller had the choice of either being humane or a soldier, who is ready to do his duty and he chooses sympathy.
During wars, soldiers are required to focus on personal survival, and accomplishing the mission by whatever means possible. Therefore, anyone who deliberately stands in the way must be eliminated because whoever impede the completion of a mission is of no importance (Godfrey & Lilley, 2009). In Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller and his men got attacked, and one of them died. However, after capturing the suspect, the miller had second thoughts about killing him. He decided to blindfold and free the German prisoner with the hope that advancing allied forces would pick him up (Ehrenhaus, 2001). He got criticized by other soldiers who felt the mission would be pointless if they released enemies instead of killing them. The captain's verdict caused chaos amongst his men, but he tried to defend his action by opening up to them (Toplin, 2006). He made it clear that he followed orders from his superiors to hasten his own return home to his wife and that whenever a soldier died, under his command, the goal became more distant. Since he was the captain, they had no choice but to respect his decisions.
The reason why Miller's crew engaged the Nazi encampment in the first place was to prevent another troop from coming upon them unknowingly and gunning them down (Ehrenhaus, 2001). Miller made a mistake by pausing before eliminating the enemies from the field. A soldier should act fast when it comes to killing the enemy because second thoughts lead to unbearable consequences. Miller deals with the consequences of his actions when the prisoner came back and killed him.
According to Ehrenhaus, The moralistic centerpiece of the film, the death of eight men to rescue one, is an unnatural non-issue. Miller and his soldiers have a job of fighting the enemy by whatever means possible, without thinking about it. However, Miller's actions of humanity are morally correct and justifiable although his desire for a civilian to return home safely contradicts with his duty as a soldier and a captain. His actions go hand in hand with a good or decent moral perspective. The concept of decency is a collective value for all human beings as moral agents. In most cases, if not all, virtue goes against the morality of war. A virtue-based individual would first ask themselves what a virtuous person would do; killing would not be a virtuous act for a person who emphasizes forgiveness. According to this perspective, an enemy soldier should be respected, and the moral well-being of a civilian should be a matter of concern.
After capturing the enemy, miller's soldiers express their anger by abusing the prisoner since he had killed one of them. Apart from killing him, they had the other option of granting him his freedom since there was no proof that he had murdered wade. Although one of the soldiers, Upham, tries to show mercy to the prisoner, Miller had the final word (Toplin, 2006). His decision to release the prisoner instead of shooting him shows that he is a moral and decent person, compared to the other soldiers. He justifies his action by saying, "Every time I kill a man I feel farther from home." (Auster, 2002). He continually tries to reconcile the morality of decency with his role of a combat commander. For example after Wade's death, he privately down in tears. Unlike the other soldiers who hold on to the reality of combat life, Miller displays humanity throughout the film (Godfrey & Lilley, 2009).
At one point Miller, says that Ryan had better do something significant to justify the death of Miller's men (Auster, 2002). His words show the weight of their sacrifice and the tough decisions he makes during the mission. As miller dies in the final battle, he asks Ryan to "earn this." The sacrifice of losing six men to rescue Ryan is unequal unnecessary. The captain understands this and therefore asks Ryan to appreciate the sacrifice by being a great man.
Saving Private Ryan brings a possibility of acting morally during the war. The main character is faced with a moral dilemma of releasing a war prisoner at a time when everyone else wants to kill him. It prevents men who are not only soldiers but icons; sacrificing their lives to save Ryan. Miller chooses to be moral since he wants nothing more than going back to his family. Unfortunately, his act of humanity towards the prisoner does not get rewarded.
Overall, the movie shows that it is possible for one to exercise morality during a war, although war itself is immoral (Godfrey & Lilley, 2009). In certain situations, it is morally required that people accept the aspects of courtesy even during a war. However, acceptance might lead to the justification of atrocities and violations of the rules of war, such as the killing of prisoners. Moreover, it is possible for warfare to arouse some of the noblest moral values in people, values such as courage, friendship, and patriotism. War provides occasions for heroic behavior not often found in peacetime and can generate an ethos of self-sacrifice that is morally admirable. Miller, for example, sacrifices not just his men, but also his life to save Ryan. This mission also gives him a chance to be a moral man, and in the process, his men honor him. Miller presents the reality that; a worthy life involves upholding specific values even when one's life is on the line.
Auster, A. (2002). Saving Private Ryan and American triumphalism. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 30(2), 98-104.
Ehrenhaus, P. (2001). Why We Fought: Holocaust Memory in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 18(3), 321-337.
Godfrey, R., & Lilley, S. (2009). Visual consumption, collective memory and the representation of war. Consumption, Markets, and Culture, 12(4), 275-300.
Rodat, R., Williams, J., Sizemore, T., Damon, M., Burns, E., Hanks, T., & Spielberg, S. (2008). Saving Private Ryan. Pearson Education.
Toplin, R. B. (2006). Hollywood's D-Day from the Perspective of the 1960s and the 1990s: The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 36(2), 25-29.
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