Edward Zwick’s 1989 Civil War film Glory bears a title that follows explicitly from its underlying content. The film tells the story of the first Volunteer infantry unit to be made up entirely of African-Americans. Obviously, this has a clear ideological significance in the context of the Civil War: here, African-Americans explicitly stand up against the racist policies of the South, and thus by taking arms against the Confederates for the Union, a deeper philosophical current underlies this very decision: this is a decision to actively assert one’s humanity against an ideology that discounts this same humanity. In this sense the title “glory” precisely means the efforts to defend a certain dignified and ideal version of humanity, to defend an ethical position that is higher than the common discourses of hatred, discrimination and prejudice.
Glory becomes an appropriate noun to describe the film’s personages: they become living embodiments of an ethical humanism, that is not merely passive, but becomes active. Hence, the former slave Silas Tripp, played by Denzel Washington not only feels that his ethical obligations have ended because his status as a slave is in the past: he must actively defend these principles, in a form that is hostile to the very ideologies that endeavor to not only deny his own humanity, but of the humanity of other African-Americans. Glory is thus appropriate as a description of an ethical dimension that transcends subjective perceptions, and in this sense it becomes a true ethics, applicable for all, without any exceptions: the Volunteer infantry unit that is the focus of the film’s narrative is the living manifestation of this ethical principle, trying to make it a reality. Glory is these instances when a greater good is attempted to be realized and the film tells precisely this story of the commitment to ethical principles in action.