Spielberg's approximation of Omaha beach June 6, 1944 I just saw the movie yesterday evening.  I don't remember a movie that has had such an impact on me.  I have been struck emotionally and mentally by movies before -- Platoon, Schindler's List, Good Fellas, The Killing Fields.  Those movies all had similar effects on me but not with the same intensity.

I was born in 1966, when the war in Viet Nam was the war.  While growing up, however, the war I learned and heard most about was WWII.  I made plastic models of the aircraft, tanks, and ships from this war.  Whenever there were movies on TV about war they were about WWII.  Out of all the recent wars from WWI to the Persian Gulf War, WWII had the clearest reason for why we were fighting in it.  I have been hard pressed to find even the staunchest relativists or pacifists that deny stopping Hitler was the proper course for our nation to follow.

At the military school I attended, we had a Sergeant Major who we all respected and loved.  His name was Sergeant Major Presley.  He taught us about character and goodness but he also told us what it was like to be on those beaches in Normandy.  He also told us what war was really like.  You know, not being able to control your bladder and puking before battle and being near frozen with fear of the upcoming carnage.  From an early age I balanced my love of the perceived glory of war with the knowledge that it was probably the closest thing we could model here on earth to Hell.

I have always asked myself how I would fair if placed in this kind of situation.  Whether it be religious persecution like that suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Nazis or the early Christians at the hands of the Romans or whether it be the call to fight a bloody war.  The scenes in the movie where so many soldiers didn't even have a chance of survival were the ones that disturb me the most.  Every time I saw a depiction of a soldier getting killed I wanted to ask what I would have done in that situation but the only answer possible was, "Nothing -- just be killed".  This answer is so final and without hope that every ounce of my being wants to vomit it out.  Rationally, all is clear, kill or be killed, do what you can.  Emotionally, it is a storm.  This movie does not let you feel good about the war because you are repeatedly placed into the lives of those who suffered and died with any glorification kept to a bare minimum, if it was there at all.

Tom Hanks as Captain Miller I thought I knew what I was in for when I went to see this movie.  I was right on when it came to intellectualizing what I would see, i.e. graphic violence.  The tricky part is to be able to anticipate the emotional impact of the movie.  I am a lover of logic, truth, and facts.  I, quite frankly, shy from emotion because it is uncomfortable for me.  I know that emotions are perfectly valid and without them we wouldn't be human but they take over and make your mind momentarily relinquish control and that is why I resist them.  There is a perfect example of this in the movie where Captain Miller sits down, out of sight of his men, and uncontrollably begins to weep.  You can see him fighting the emotional outburst and after a few seconds he regains control.

Allow me to digress with a quick example from my own life.  This example may seem very odd when compared to the gravity of the subject of this movie but bear with me.  A few years ago I was living alone in an apartment with my pet cat that I had grown up with.  I loved that cat dearly.  She got sick and so I had to take her to the vet where I was informed that the best thing to do was to have her put down.  I handled myself pretty well at the office and then went home knowing full well that I had to cry it out.  I knew what I had to do and knew that it would take some grieving to get past this loss.  I calmly went into my bedroom and proceeded to do just that.  When the weeping subsided, I walked out of the room and figured that was that.  No sooner did I think this thought that I glanced into the kitchen and saw Kitty's food and water dishes and I broke down and sobbed even stronger than the first time.  I give this example because it taught me a lesson about emotions and being human.  We are a curious species, we cannot, and should not, separate what we know from what we feel.

Spielberg's view of the assault Well, I know what happened on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  I know the hell that ensued there.  I know how many people died there and what was accomplished that day and the months that followed.  But it has been through this movie that I have actually felt, to some degree, what happened.  The feelings of horror, sympathy, gratefulness to name just a few are still playing out in me even as I write this.  Soon they will fade from flame to ember and back down to just a memory and a head-knowledge.  This is a natural and healthy process provided that one never forgets what those men did to further the cause of freedom and to oppose those who would take it away.

--Bugs  August 10, 1998

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