In war, nobody wins. However, each side inevitably has those extraordinary people who went out of their way to show heroism in the face of the odds against them. These are the true winners of war: the war heroes. Often, it’s much easier to “run away to fight another day,” than it is to stand up to an enemy force. When individuals and groups of people go against that instinct, the most probable outcome is death. However, if these war heroes can cheat death, they can turn the tide of a battle, which itself could turn the tide of the war at large. Nobody ever sets out to become a war hero, but the character and determination ingrained within them before their moment of heroism is what leads them through to victory. This week’s two films highlight some unique individuals and the selfless actions they performed to become war heroes.
Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours
Heroism can come in many forms, but the crux of it boils down to saving lives. In war, we can often equate killing the enemy to saving the lives of our soldiers. After all, if there’s less of them to kill us, then we have therefore saved at least some of our troops. However, some of the more admirable heroes are those who save lives by not killing others. This attribute was best displayed in Hacksaw Ridge (2016), which took place on the battlefield. It can be difficult to save your fellow soldiers when the enemy is actively trying to kill you. And yet, even civilians can be war heroes. For example, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) from Schindler’s List (1993) was a civilian who saved numerous lives from the Holocaust associated with World War II. While Schindler wasn’t on the front lines, the civilians who assisted with the Dunkirk evacuation came very near to the active battlefield.
When over 400,000 soldiers found themselves pinned down on the beach at Dunkirk, many accepted their fate that they would die there. After all, the German forces were continuing to advance on their position, and everyone needed to wait to be evacuated. These soldiers were sitting ducks, waiting for the next sniper or bomber to take them out. To make matters worse, there are not enough military transports to get everyone to safety, and the ones that do exist are torpedoed and bombed from above. With no other options left, the British Navy conscripts a contingent of civilian vessels to travel across the English Channel to save these soldiers. These civilians head into battle with fishing ships and pleasure yachts, with nothing but a few Spitfires to cover them from above. Will they survive the round trip? Will they manage to save any soldiers in the process?
Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours
Heroism often comes down to a single moment. When the situation is dire, and everything is falling apart around you, the “fight or flight” response kicks in. These situations frequently happen in war, but what an individual does in these moments can make the difference not only between heroism and cowardice but also life and death. Furthermore, these war heroes are the ones who not only save themselves via their actions but their brothers in arms as well. While some soldiers are conscientious objectors to war, being unwilling to kill another due to their beliefs, sometimes death is necessary to save lives. In fact, certain military professions, like the snipers seen in American Sniper (2014), are designed to kill the enemy to protect the troops fighting the war on the ground. Another famous sniper, who was also a conscientious objector was none other than Alvin York.
Alvin York (Gary Cooper) is not exemplary in many things. In fact, his frequent drinking and brawling worry his mother (Margaret Wycherly) to no end. All this changes when he falls in love with Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). Not only does he clean up his act, but he sets out to raise enough money to buy a farm so he can marry her. As the financial deadline approaches, Alvin calls upon his one skill, marksmanship, to win a target-shooting contest, but fails to purchase the farm due to an underhanded deal on the part of the owner. Despondent, he heads out to kill this man, but has a Damascus road experience and finds God. Unfortunately, when World War I starts, Alvin is drafted as a sniper, which goes against his “no killing” beliefs. In a moment of peril, Alvin realizes his ability to kill the enemy will save his comrades, and he sets about to single-handedly turn the tide of battle.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 heroic feats