For this month’s moral dilemma dialogue we’re taking a look at what many have regarded as the best, and most accurate war movie of all time: Saving Private Ryan. Most war movies have no shortage of moral dilemmas present in them. It’s just the nature of the beast. War is an ugly thing which requires human beings to commit ugly acts of violence in hopes of accomplishing a (presumably) just and righteous end. Obviously that is not always the case, but perhaps most would agree that WWII was fought for righteous reasons, seeking out justice.
In Saving Private Ryan there is a scene where Captain Miller and his company come across a small Nazi encampment. They can go around and continue with their mission, or attempt to take it out. They decide to descend upon their enemies and are successful in taking it out. In the midst of the firefight Medic Wade is shot in the abdomen and, after a heart wrenching attempt to save him, he dies. His death sparks anger amongst his fellow soldiers. It is determined (somehow) that the man on the machine gun was the one that shot Wade. Capt. Miller and all the rest of his men, except one, immediately move to kill this man, later known as “steamboat Willie”. The following minutes of the film involve a tense and heated discussion on what to do with Willie: kill him on the spot, or let him go free.
This dilemma is the central focus of this month’s moral dilemma dialogue. Tres and Gene will be tackling this dilemma, each from opposite perspectives. Gene will examine what should be done with steamboat Willie from a worldly, materialistic perspective. Tres will look at it from a Christian perspective. They will present their cases as best they can, taking all facts presented in the movie into consideration.
Gene – Worldly perspective
I think one thing should be made perfectly clear before we get into this. It’s something that is plainly obvious, but for some reason people seem to forget about it at certain times. That is the fact that this is a war! Nations are fighting for power, they’re dropping bombs on one another, and people are going to get killed. What is the enormous difference if a soldier is killed in the midst of a firefight, or a couple of moments afterward? What, because his hands are up he’s no longer an enemy combatant? How silly! I’m all for being nice to one another, but like I said, this is a war! There is nothing nice about it. Trying to squeeze some niceties out of war is like putting lipstick on a pig.
If you send me into battle with the objective to win, then I’m going to do what’s necessary to win. That includes removing all enemies from my path. The only mistake made by Captain Miller’s men in this movie was pausing before eliminating all enemies from the field. The man (Willie) is standing behind a machine for crying out loud, take him out! That does not change just because there is a brief break in the action while the smoke clears. You still have a job to do, and that is to win the battle. The means by which you accomplish that goal are irrelevant.
Okay, that last sentence or so was pretty emotionally charged. I’ll give you that. So let’s apply some serious logic to this, shall we? Think back on the reason Captain Miller’s crew engaged this Nazi encampment in the first place. It was so that some other American squadron wouldn’t come upon them un-knowingly and be gunned down. That’s a decent enough reason, right? Part of winning a war is protecting your own men, so I can go along with that. Now fast forward to the debate on what to do with Willie after they already made the wrong choice of not killing him on the spot. They decide to blindfold him and send him off in a direction which, they think, he would most likely be picked up by their guys. Think about that. You engage this encampment to keep them from harming any unsuspecting crew of Americans in the future. Yet you let Willie go in hopes that he’ll be picked up by an American squadron. Seriously!?! Talk about blind faith! It’s at least a 50-50 chance, maybe better, that he’ll get picked up by Nazi’s and put right back in rotation where he will most certainly try to kill other Americans. So the choice made by Captain Miller, which he persuades most of his men to go along with after an emotionally driven speech void of all logic and reason I might add, is in direct contradiction with his original reasoning for engaging this encampment in the first place.
The reality is that once they allowed him to surrender to them, the choice of what to do with Willie was an impossible one. Release him and he could kill more Americans. Take him with you and he drags you down, jeopardizing your mission, and potentially breaking free and killing you anyway. Better to shoot him on the spot along with the rest of his company and avoid any supposed “dilemma” from the start.
Tres – Christian perspective
From a Christian perspective the choice of action with “Willie” is simple; he should be released. There’s no proof that he has killed their friend to begin with, but taking his life would have been against the examples that God’s Word gives us. Examples of forgiving those that wrong us goes all the way back to the first book of the Bible.
Joseph is a perfect example of forgiveness to those that do us harm. From an early age Joseph is mistreated by his brothers because of their jealousy. He’s sold into slavery for crying out loud. Yet, read Gen 50:18-21. After everything that Joseph suffers because of his brothers, what does he do? Joseph forgives them. No punishment. No arresting them. No throwing them in prison. No putting them into slavery. Not at all. Complete and total forgiveness.
Jesus is very specific in his commandments. In Matthew 6:14 Jesus tells all of us, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” However, for those who don’t really like that, he goes even deeper in verse 15, “But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Willie was a soldier for the opposite side. However, he begs for forgiveness, he begs for his life, and he renounces the war. What were they to do? Forgive him. Let him go. Give him a chance to live his life.
Some will say, but what if? Peter asked Jesus what if, too. Read Matthew 18:21-22, ”Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven.”
But he was a soldier and wanted to kill them before he was captured, right? Well, look again in the Old Testament and a great example. Starting in 1 Samuel 18 we can see the connection between David and King Saul. They were once close, until the people gave higher recognition to David than Saul. Saul then became jealous and over the next several chapters and extended time period, Saul seeks to kill David. He tracks him down, he has his military following him, and he is hunted like an animal. While Saul is sleeping, David sneaks into his cave and is able to kill him. However, in 1 Sam Ch. 24, even without Saul asking for it, David forgives him and spares his life.
Now, people would argue with me, “But Willie returns to being a soldier and actually kills him.” Our role as a Christian is not to play what if. Our job as Christians is to follow God’s Word. Jesus doesn’t say to forgive if you know they won’t turn around and slap you again. No, he says to forgive them each and every time. Will they continue to mistreat you? Maybe. But God expects you to forgive.
In the end when the two of you are called before God, who will have the reward? The man that forgave and let a person free, or the man that took a gift of freedom and repaid it with evil?
The call is obvious. Willie should be freed.
There you have it! Did you find yourself agreeing with either Gene or Tres? Did they represent the worldly and the Christian perspectives accurately? What’s your take on this dilemma? What would you do in that situation? As always, both Gene and Tres are adopting some viewpoints for the sake of getting a dialogue going and may not hold these specifics views as their own. So, let’s hear what you have to say, and please vote below on which side you think won this dilemma.