Moral values in times of war

Guest Column

There is a serious disconnect in the value system of this country that needs to be confronted.

Some local TV stations throughout the land refused last week to exhibit “Saving Private Ryan” because of some language which they feared would bring on their heads the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission. The exquisite irony is that the FCC stood by without sanctions some time ago when this film was first aired by the ABC network.

Yes, there is some language in the movie that may cause dismay to some. But this is not just another movie. There is something larger here.

Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” is in the judgment of many (including me) the finest epic of war and valor ever filmed. If one word can describe it, that word would be “sacrifice.”

Problem is, “sacrifice” is today a word used easily in conversation but seldom confronted in reality, except to families whose sons and daughters, husbands and wives are enrolled in the armed forces.

When my son was 13 years old, my wife and I took him to Omaha Beach in the Normandy region of France. We stood on the bluff above the beach and gazed down on that sandy strip of land still absorbing the blood that flowed so wantonly on June 6, 1944 when the future of the free world was put to terrible peril.

In my mind’s eye, I could see those young soldiers boiling out of landing crafts, wading ashore in a roiling sea (all of this re-enacted in “Saving Private Ryan” in 23 minutes of heartbreaking realism), accepting rifle, mortar and machine-gun fire from the Nazi assassins in bunkers above the beach, who cut them down in the water and on the sand.

But I told my son that in spite of death roaring down on them, these lads never turned back, they kept coming, they kept coming. They did their duty with bravery so astonishing it shakes the comprehension of those who watch the movie. (Later on, when my son saw the movie, he understood what I was saying.)

Then we visited the American cemetery, cheek by jowl with Omaha Beach. It is on land deeded to the U.S. by France where reside forever 9,387 young men, some 75% of whom are between the ages of 18 and 23.

In the opening of the film, when the old veteran walks by marble crosses and Stars of David, row upon row upon row as far as the eye can see, his family by his side, he falls to his knees and weeps openly, trying to come to grips with why he survived and those who saved him did not.

When I visited the cemetery with my wife and young son, I ran before them, sobbing, unable to control my emotions.

And when I first saw “Saving Private Ryan,” I wept again, for I knew, oh well I knew, what the old veteran felt, what every combat veteran feels, those who fought and survived. I dare any American to gaze upon that holy ground with controlled emotions.

I asked my son to inspect the mute markers and read upon them the bland finalities which summed up so briefly these youngsters’ lives, that ended before they could be truly lived.

I told my son never to forget what he saw that day. He was bearing witness to the most precious gift that can be offered to one’s country — the gift of freedom.

It is, I said, a gift bought for you and others like you and for generations of Americans yet unborn. It is a gift paid for in blood and bravery. It is a gift which allows you to live out your life without ever having to test your own courage to see how you would react when the dagger was at the nation’s belly and death stared you right in the face.

This is what Spielberg’s movie is all about. It cries out to be seen by every young boy and girl in the land so they can understand what sacrifice, duty, honor, service, valor truly mean, for these simple words, these old words, are the real “moral values” of this free and loving land.

So I say to the TV stations of America who turned their backs on the film, you should have exhibited “Saving Private Ryan” with pride, and most of all with gratitude to young boys who lie in foreign fields, who sacrificed their lives in compliance with their duty to their country.

(Valenti, the former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, was a 21 year-old pilot-commander of a B-25 twin-engine attack bomber with the 12th Air Force in Europe during World War II and flew 51 combat missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with four clusters, the Distinguished Unit Citation with one cluster and the European Theater Ribbon with three battle stars.)

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