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This film received and deserved the many comments it has received. Indeed I think of Private Slovik whenever I see The Bush decked out in his cute little airforce suit declaring victories in Irak. But for a rich Dad, The Bush's story could have been the same.
The film was excellently made. Martin Sheen departed from his usual tough guy All American role to play the snivelling coward Pvt Slovik whose very name excited the passions of the surviving veterans of "The Big One" whenever a Democratic President proposed rehabilitation as Johnson and Carter would have but for the intense opposition they encountered. Certainly one can sympathize with the character Sheen played as he happily profits while others receive draft notices or volunteer for war.
But wars, even one so popular with the liberal intellectuals as World War II, cost. The manpower pool drains and less likely men such as Slovik must be called upon.
Oh yes Slovik was no kind of soldier. A Sergeant had to fake Slovik's rifle range card to get Slovik out of BCT (Basic Training.) It would seem Slovik's military career got off to an inauspicious beginning. In combat Slovik deserts and refuses to return to the front.
Was Pvt Slovik justified in being afraid? Of course he was! Every sane person who heard rifles crackle was afraid. Pvt Slovik differed. He acted on his fears. If everyone in a military unit acted on fear, the resulting panic would lead to disastrous defeat. In combat with an enemy like the German Reich or Imperial Japan, defeat would not have been a matter like paying off the enemy with a grain deal but would have had a direct and disastrous effect on major segments of the American population.
Slovik played the system. Offered the chance to return to the front, he gambled on a courtmartial and lost. With the type of casualties incurred in combat, the result was obvious. Slovik figured the sentence would be remitted and reduced to 30 years. With bravado not shown to the enemy, Slovik prophesied that after the war it'd be reduced to time served.
Instead he was led to the firing squad, the only possible end under the circumstances. He stands as a tribute to the irrationality of war. We can only justify the sacrifices of combat by the punishment meted out to those who shrink from it.
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