Here’s a scene from Edward Zwick’s “Glory,” one of the best films ever made. It’s at the end of the movie where the black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment prepare to lead the assault on a Confederate fort in South Carolina. None hold much hope that they’ll survive the day. The soldier who steps forward to carry the flag is a boyhood friend of the captain, played by a perfectly cast Matthew Broderick. If you’ve never seen the whole movie, it might not have the same effect. But, I find that watching the first minute of this clip makes me emotional.
In one of my classes the other day, we talked about different systems for making ethical judgments. It’s quite a postmodern approach — you know, my system for deciding what’s right and wrong might not match your system for determining moral behavior. But, there’s something to be said for the postmodern approach — the world, and even this country, is made up with lots of different cultures with lots of different perspectives.
Of the six possible ethical systems we discussed, one was called narrative ethics. The idea is that the stories of our culture help guide our moral behavior. Obviously religious texts fit into the narrative ethics mold, but all communal stories would also apply. In this context, we should ponder why films like “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” and “E.T.” resonate with so many of us. Perhaps even children’s stories and nursery rhymes should be included. Is there a narrative ethic lurking behind the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”?
“Glory” resonates with me as a narrative ethic — that must be why I get so emotional when I watch it. These men will all die during this battle. But, they will do so fighting for something bigger than themselves. They will die fighting injustice and upholding liberty. Yes. This resonates with me. After all, there are things worse than dying. That’s how I see the world, anyway.
If you’ve never watched “Glory,” put it in your cue. It’ll deliver an interesting perspective.