Memorial Day and "U-571"
- Tuesday, May 30, 2000
On this Memorial Day, most Americans will be spending the day at picnics, barbecues, or at the beach. But if you're not in an outdoorsy mood, there are several movies vying for your money. One of them, Mission Impossible 2, features Tom Cruise in an extravagant yarn about saving the world.
Since it's Memorial Day, a better movie choice would be a film about those who made real sacrifices: the men who fought and died in World War II -- and did save the world.
The new film U-571, whose advertising says that "heroes are ordinary men who do extraordinary things in extraordinary times," tells just such a story. It's about the sacrifice and heroism of the young men, boys really, who served in the Navy's submarines. These men played an important role in defeating both Germany and Japan.
In the film, the crew of an American submarine is dispatched on a top-secret mission in the North Atlantic. A German U-boat has been crippled by a destroyer, and the mission is to board her and recover the Enigma machine. This was the code machine used by the Nazis, and capturing it could be a decisive factor in the Allied victory.
LET'S NOT LOSE SIGHT OF WHY WE OBSERVE MEMORIAL DAY.
But there's a catch: The Germans must never know that the Allies have Enigma. Of course, not everything goes as planned, and the story of how these men carried out their mission puts the audience on the edge of their seats.
In addition to entertaining us, the film teaches some valuable moral lessons. In its depiction of how vulnerable submarines were, U-571 reminds us of the devotion to duty and to country exhibited of the men who fought and won WWII.
In the case of submariners, the price demanded by devotion was especially high. Submariners had the highest mortality of any branch of the military in the war. Nearly one in four of the men who served on American subs never came back.
U-571 provides an illustration of their devotion to duty. At a crucial moment, the difference between life and death, success and failure, is the ability to reach a valve in a flooded section of the boat. The man sent to reach the valve tells the captain, "I can't reach it!" The captain tells him, "You will. It's your job!" And he does, but at the cost of his life.
Like Saving Private Ryan, which offers an equally gripping reminder of those years, U-571 depicts the price others have paid to protect our way of life. It doesn't directly confront the question of how we can ever repay such a debt, but the actions of the men on screen should cause us to ask that question of ourselves.
And the answer, of course, is that we can't repay the debt. All we can do is express our gratitude for the sacrifices they made on our behalf, and live lives worthy of those sacrifices -- do our duty as we are called. This is something Christians certain should understand: We already know what it's like to be debtors to Someone we can never repay.
In all the activity of this holiday, let's not lose sight of why we observe Memorial Day. As U-571 reminds us, it's to say "thank you" to those who, in doing their duty, really did save the world.
Note: U-571 is rated "PG-13" for wartime violence. No profanity, no sex.
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