Table of contents

Saving Private Ryan 1

War & individuality

One day, an officer walks up to private Ryan & asks him: James Francis Ryan from Iowa? He says: Yes, sir. How’d you guess that? The captain is not a great guesser, he just keeps at it. What else is there to do? His own men keep guessing about his job; in fact, they’re willing to bet on it. The captain talks to his interpreter, they’ll split it when it gets to 500. The boy says, why not 1000?

One day, looking for this private, the men get difficult. The captain just spared a German soldier’s life. Christian charity must have blinded him. He tells his men he’s a school teacher in a small town in Pennsylvania. He coaches baseball come springtime. He says, everyone there looks at him & thinks, yeah, schoolteacher figures. Everyone here doesn’t. He wonders whether his wife will recognize him; he obeys orders, hoping to return home to her.

The men do not understand why they should die for the sake of this private. Why is his life more important than their comrades’ lives? They have mothers, too… All his brothers are dead; Gen. Marshall thought his mother should have one boy returned to her. She sacrificed enough for America… A squad would be ordered to find the boy & get him back safely; their lives, obviously, are expendable.

The 1940 US Census counted 132,154,569 people. More than 400,000 Americans died in WWII. That’s about 0.32%. Hundreds of thousands of families lost someone. Then there are also the wounded. Everyone else did not. They could not know what a horror the war revealed. How ugly necessity is. How needful it is to fight against it, whenever possible. One of the soldiers disobeys his captain’s orders & tries to save a little French girl.

The search is long & harrowing. The men see the war as tourists almost, no longer involved in the campaigns, no longer fighting for the ground they occupy. The captain says terribly, their search is like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. One day, the men start sifting through a box of dog tags, in the middle of the road, as soldiers are passing. One of them realizes what they are doing.

The captain says this private means nothing to him, just a name. He never says the names of the men he loses; he can be quite callous, making examples of those who disobey him. But he knows how many men died under his command. He says, he tries his damnedest to believe that those dead saved far more lives. But this time, he cannot say that. Do enough missions, war’s over. That’s what victory means, going home.

Spielberg’s WWII movie, which brought back to life interest in WWII film-making