(Continued from Part 9)
10. Levinasian responsibility and the military ethic
When Colonel Tall relieves Capt. Staros of his command after the first battle, he puts Lt. Band in charge of Charlie Company. Band is no leader. This lack of leadership is foreshadowed in two scenes prior to Band being put in command.
As first the medic and then Welsh respond to the mortally wounded soldier’s repeated agonized calls for someone to help him, Band says to Staros, “Fortunately, Jim, the fate of the company doesn’t depend on one man.” Staros does not reply. Then later, as casualties continue to mount and Charlie Company gets bogged down, Tall orders Staros to have his men undertake a frontal assault. Staros objects,12 and then Band interjects.
Staros: “Colonel, I don’t think that you fully understand what’s going on down here. I formally request to be given permission for patrol reconnaissance around to the right … through the jungle. I believe the entire position, sir, can be outflanked with a maneuver there in force.”
Tall: “No! … There will be no flanking move! … Now, attack, Staros! That’s a direct order!”
Staros: “Sir, I must tell you that I refuse to obey your order.”
Band: “It’s not your fault, Jim. He’s ordering you to.”
Staros again ignores Band, and, after asking Tall once more to permit the flanking move – which Tall still adamantly refuses – Staros tells Tall, “Colonel, I refuse to take my men up there in a frontal attack. It’s suicide, sir. I’ve lived with these men, sir, for two and a half years, and I will not order them all to their deaths.”
What those two scenes indicate about Band is that he lacks any sense of personal responsibility towards the men of his company, and he lacks any sense of responsibility towards those men as persons. For him, no person matters. This might be an attitude adopted as a way of trying to buffer himself from having to face the deep horrors of lives lost. He might be afraid that if he were to allow himself to see the others as persons, as unique selves, then he might not be able to function as a soldier - especially in battle as those unique selves are being killed. Instead of investing his own person in a responsibility towards others, Band has decided that his only responsibility is to be that which is imposed upon him as orders to be effected. In effect, he hopes that there will never be a need for him to have or use judgment. Continue reading