The virtues of soldiers and how these virtues are portrayed in the films
“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “M*A*S*H,” and “The Deer Hunter”
Two of these films, M*A*S*H and Deer Hunter, have characters I think virtuous both before and after they get involved in the Korean and Vietnam wars respectively, such as the first film’s Hawkeye Pierce, Duke Forrest and “Trapper”John McIntyre as well as the latter’s Michael. However, part of what made Bridge on the River Kwai more intriguing and thought-provoking than most war films for me was the belief that the losing side in the war it portrays, Japan in World War Two, comes off looking much more humane and in the right morally than the Allies do, even though the film concentrates a lot more on the actions and beliefs of the winning side. Specifically, the commanding officer of the POW camp where the film is set, Colonel Saito, changes his tyrannical ways and becomes more generous in planning the building of a railroad link connecting Bangkok and Rangoon, aiding not only his own country through more efficient distribution of supplies by train but also the Allied POWs in his camp by allowing them to complete a task which will keep the morale high. Conversely, the CO of the British POWs forced to work on the bridge, Colonel Nicholson, takes his belief in what he calls “matters of principle” too far by assisting, albeit unknowingly, in the murders of allied soldiers Major Shears and Lieutenant Joyce, as they attempted to destroy the bridge before the first Japanese train had passed through it during a mission that may have made military sense but would have taken an unnecessary human toll.
“Virtue,” in the Oxford English Dictionary, has two definitions that are applicable in discussing the soldiers portrayed in these films, with the first reading “moral excellence, uprightness, goodness, (virtue is its own reward; make a virtue of NECESSITY); particular moral excellence (patience is a virtue).” The second is, simply, “good quality (has the virtue of being adjustable…).”