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Saving Private Ryan

So, my kids find me watching the movie “Saving Private Ryan” recently. Instantly my son remarks, “I thought you said you hated war dad, so why are you watching a war movie?”.

He was right of course, I have always discouraged him from idolising “war heroics”, which he always seems fascinated with. I have told him, war is a manifestation of the worst of humanity.

But “Saving Private Ryan” is a different genre of a movie about war. It explores a story about a special team that is tasked to find and save Private Ryan, the last surviving of the 5 sons of the same mother, all of whom had died in the war against Hitler’s Germany.

At best, I tell my son, war is about a quest of saving many from the subjugation of the few, but often, is used to prop up hegemonic powers at the expense of many strong young people. However, this movie is about soldiers’ mission to save the life of one soldier, at the potential sacrifice of many. This is the opposite of the faulty utilitarian philosophy that has been used to justify war. Interestingly, the storyline of this movie mirrors a parable by Jesus about a farmer that leaves 99 sheep to save the one.

So, I share with my son that even though I hate war, I have made peace that life is warfare (pun intended).

When this special team eventually finds Private Ryan to carry out the orders to extract him from the war, he refuses to abandon his squadron.

The Captain of the special rescue team eventually decides to save Private Ryan by fighting alongside his squadron, to make sure he is not killed in battle. In the process of saving Private Ryan’s life, the captain loses his own life.

I then share with my son a riddle in a well-known philosophical thought experiment about a runaway trolley that will kill 5 people if not stopped. However, there is a way in which it can be diverted, in which case it will kill one other person. The dilemma in this riddle is whether you divert the trolley towards this innocent person to save the life of the other 5? I tell him how Jesus’ teachings answer this riddle rather effortlessly; that you can save all 6 by putting yourself in the way of the trolley. This is what exactly this Captain chose.

Somehow, the writers of this movie managed to get to the heart of humanity’s conundrum; am I willing to save someone else at the expense of my own life?

Life is warfare that seems to keep asking us this same question over and over. Am I willing to sacrifice my comforts for the sake of the other? Many of us seem to consistently choose the preservation of ourselves and our comforts.

In so many ways we are no different from the corrupt politicians we so love to hate. While they seek to preserve their stomachs, bank accounts, and egos, we choose to preserve ourselves and our comfort zones.

My son looks at me with sadness in his eyes and asks a question that he has once asked before and which I am increasingly befuddled to answer, “Is there hope for humanity?”

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