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WAR: “Heroes are something we create, something we need. It's a way for us to understand what is almost incomprehensible."

Movie Quote from: Flags of Our Fathers (2006) – James Bradley (Thomas McCarthy)

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War is hell.  Ordinary people are put into extraordinary circumstances, ones where survival is uncertain and traditional morality and ethics have no place.  Within these extreme conditions, people make heroic and horrific choices within the same sequence of events.  One scene in Clint Eastwood’s film, Flags of Our Fathers, sums up the complexity of choices that are made in the swirling circumstances of war.  In a brief minute of film, we see why individuals engaged in extreme warfare don’t feel worthy of the heroic person we portray them to be. 

In the WWII battle for Iwo Jima, medical corpsman John ‘Doc’ Bradley and his friend Iggy are holed up in a vacated enemy trench in the middle of a darkened battlefield.  They hear an injured soldier calling for medical assistance.  Bradley leaves his frightened friend, risking his own life to find the wounded U.S. soldier.  He arrives to discover the man’s midsection has been obliterated by shrapnel.  As he calms the dying man, a Japanese soldier leaps onto the doctor.  Bradley rams his knife into the attacker’s belly and runs it up into his heart, immediately killing the Japanese assailant.  He scrambles back to reconnect with Iggy, only to find his friend gone.

No scene in the film better captures the straining calamity of war.  Setting out to save a life, the doctor takes one instead.  Setting out to help someone else, he leaves his friend alone against the enemy.   

Bradley becomes known nationally as a hero of Iwo Jima.  His heroic act was being one of the soldiers who raised the flag in the famous Iwo Jima picture.  He never tells anyone of his more heroic battle experiences.  He marries and becomes a father, living what seems to be a normal life.  However late in his life he still cries in his sleep, haunted forever by the death of the friend he left alone in the trench.

It is madness to expect people returning from war to be the same as before they left.  They have seen hell and lost friendships that were forged in fire.  They have done things they would never do in the normalcy of back home.  Anyone who puts anything above their own survival is committing a selfless and heroic act.  Ironically, the most heroic thing an embattled soldier does is maintain the illusion of a normal existence after war.

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