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Triumph and Triviality in Saving Private Ryan


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Law & Liberty

Titus Techera

May 30 2022

I try to write every year about a war movie on Memorial Day for Law & Liberty. After all, cinema is the major way we remember our wars, our warriors, and reflect on the causes of war. In films, we consider anew America’s cause, and examine our belief in justice and our common prospects for improvement or defense. We go to war under our laws in order to defend our liberty, so we must examine why this is so. In absence of great statesmen—a new Washington or Lincoln—we turn to great artists to guide our thoughts.

In 2020, I wrote about the great man of war, Patton (1970), then on its 50th anniversary. The movie shows that war requires men of astonishing ability, who run counter to some of America’s democratic beliefs and bureaucratic institutions. In 2021, I wrote about Black Hawk Down (2001). In hindsight, we can see that it was a warning about the terrible consequences of popular moralism and elite humanitarianism in the Middle East, leading to America’s longest war.

I also wrote about Greyhound (2020), a Christian allegory of war adapted by Tom Hanks from a C.S. Forester novel about WWII in the Atlantic. These works of fiction help us understand ourselves: They bring out our beliefs, not just our actions or circumstances, as good journalism would do. Movies, after all, even when based on real men or wars, are works of art, intending to transcend their circumstances and make a memorial of our human greatness and misery.

Democratic Wars and Theology

World War II defined our understanding of American power and morality. In my essay on Band of Brothers (2001), I pointed out that Spielberg and Hanks corrected all the mistakes that marred their great success, Saving Private Ryan (1998). This unpopular opinion needs justification especially because war veterans gave their highest testimony of the importance of that movie. Many said they almost relived the war through this artistic experience, which rises far above what most movies or TV shows attempt in our decadent times, which is merely therapy. Art is an attempt to get at the truth about our human predicament, not to massage our feelings and encourage an indulgent view of our failings.


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1. "War and Peace

We should be honest with ourselves—time erases our awareness of wars past. The thought of war itself scares us. We banish death and especially death consented to from our public life. Yet we ceaselessly fight war on abstractions, from poverty to terror, because we fear death. We never tire of talking of our partisan opponents as though they were our enemies in war. Spielberg tried to connect our moral and psychological drama during peacetime to the example of decency under terrible threat during war.

To love peace, we must know it is preferable to war, that we share in some common good that allows our humanity to flourish."


Do We...Love Peace? I'll buy that If you can show me one Empire/Nation/Society/Culture/Tribe in the last 6000 years of recorded history that has Not engaged in War (offensive or defensive) on a regular basis. Until then...as SAC put it


2. Can anyone spot what these guys are doing Wrong?


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