Table of contents

Saving Private Ryan 2

A note on the price of freedom

Why should the film be called ‘Saving Private Ryan’? This is the mission that makes up the main part of the movie. Aside from the landing in Normandy, that’s the plot. But the name reminds us that the movie is not named after the captain who leads the rescue. Perhaps that is so because he is not apart from his men. Or perhaps because he is not a hero. All soldiers cannot be heroes.

They eventually find Ryan. He grieves to hear of his brothers’ fate. But he does not want to leave. He says now he’ll stay with the only brothers he has left. This was apparently an unexpected choice. Was he supposed to abandon his comrades & leave? Nobody prepared for this; the captain cannot force him. He joins these men, hoping that upon completing their mission, Ryan will let him complete his. What else is there to do?

This war is a war without glory. It is the most democratic war. The captain’s calculations about casualty numbers show democrats think of the good. It is good for America to survive; it is bad for the Americans who die in her cause to die. Their reward is America’s love; their death is concealed when their bodies are wrapped in the flag.

What the poet shows in showing these men is that war destroys the good to which democrats look in times of peace. Apparently, democrats would never think to wage war. But war comes nevertheless. Its destruction brings out forcefully the beautiful: These men willingly sacrifice their lives for one another. They obey orders; & obey necessity; but they act knowing the consequences of their actions; their actions reveal a choice. Recognizing necessity & obeying it is itself proof that political freedom is the American way.

The captain tells the private that he has to earn the distinction conferred on him. That would seem to put the effect before the cause; it would seem that when it comes to duty & obligations, men rather arbitrarily rationalize accidents.

The distinction conferred on this solider is survival. What then is life for an American? Citizens were called to fight for their country, either because they owed their lives to their country or because they could not keep their lives were their country destroyed. Whether an appeal to justice or self-interest, the call to arms is democratic. But self-interest can only call to war those who have a reasonable expectation of victory. The prospect of death counts against war. For what is it worth dying then? What do the Americans living owe to the Americans who died in America’s cause? What could be said to those who lost their loved ones?