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Paul Baumer and Captain John Miller, Essay Example

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Words: 1190

Essay

The impact of war on Paul Baumer and Captain John Miller

Spielberg’s release of “Saving Private Ryan” was unanimously acclaimed by critics. The psychological impact of war on the soldiers who were appointed to find Private Ryan and bring him home is skillfully shown by the director throughout the movie.  The protagonist of the movie is Captain John Miller, a skillfully constructed character who represents Spielberg’s vision of the real American soldier. Based on true events in the life of the author, Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” depicts the destiny of Paul Baumer, a nineteen-year-old soldier in World War I, and of his comrades who will uselessly lose their lives one by one, on the battlefield.  The present paper will compare Captain John Miller and Paul Baumer arguing that the war impacted them in a similar manner, making them incompatible with the civilian life. There are three main similarities between them: they were the both good persons as civilians but they become real killing machines in the context of war, they are both unable to readapt to civilian life and they both die at the end of the story as a symbol of this inadaptability.

Captain John Miller is the image of the American hero, brave and honest. He is nevertheless an ordinary man, an English teacher, who is tormented by guilt and remorse. His expertise and experience on the battlefield is best represented by his men’s admiration. They believe that “Captain Miller didn’t go to school. They assembled him at O.C.S. out of spare body parts from dead G.I.’s”.  This is because he is a very good soldier and seems to have never been a civilian.  The civilian part of his life seems to have vanished, to have never existed, as Captain Miller encompasses the attributes of the ultimate soldier.

Paul Baumer is much younger and did not even have a chance to develop as an adult before the war. He became a man in the hell of World War I and this impacted him to a great extent. Though before the war he was a normal teenager, a student who wrote poetry and spent time with friends and family, he becomes unable to show his emotions even to his ill mother and feels uncomfortable as a civilian. Paul Baumer enters adulthood with a gun in his hand and therefore, he will end up being defined by his ability to kill and to stay alive. As in Miller’s case, he becomes a person who acts on instinct, a killing machine. Unlike Miller, who had the opportunity to activate as an adult in the society, had a wife and a job, Baumer does not have any other ability than using a weapon because he did not have the chance to develop. Moreover, the horrors of war erase the goodness in him and transform him into a cold individual who does not even feel sorry when his comrades die.

Miller’s constant flashbacks of his civilian life, and that of his wife, demonstrate how different he was before the war. They are meant to offer a clue of how Miller was as a civilian, in order to compare him with the man he becomes. He feels that war changed him, that he became a worse human being and that, even if he survives the war, and returns to his wife, she will not recognize him. His emotional confession that, “with every man I kill, the farther away from home I feel” is an insight to the universal drama of the soldier who loses his innocence, who is not able to readapt in the society. Miller could not hope to return to his old life and simply forget his experiences on the front. The person he was is gone and he person he became has no purpose in a peaceful world.

War also made Paul Baumer incapable of readapting to the civilian life. One of the themes of the book is the loss of innocence because, in several instances in the novel, Paul Baumer and his friends, state that even though they are very young, they feel old. Their experiences had caused them to grow up too fast, and to mature into a world of chaos. As such, they lose their place in the society. This is proved when, while on a leave, the main character returns home only to discover that he can find no place in the society as a civilian. War transformed him into an unadapted human being. He will return before the leave ends wishing he had never left the front. Those who do not die will remain with long-lasting traumas and the memories of what they saw and did will haunt them for the rest of their lives. “The war has ruined us for everything,” (Remarque 87) says one of Baumer’s comrades, expressing this vision in one sentence. Paul Baumer also dies at the end at the end, since the author also wants to suggest that Paul Baumer is incapable of constructing a normal life at the end of the war.

Captain Miller dies at the end of the movie. Miller and his men sacrifice their lives in order to save that of a single man. However, Ryan is more than a single man. He is a symbol of humanity, of the reminiscence of innocence, in a world of chaos and non-sense. Miller’s death seems to be the only answer to his psychological dilemma. Changed by the war, from an ordinary teacher into a living weapon, having to bear the death of so many people he killed, or died under his leadership, on his conscience, Miller lost his place in the world. On contrast, Ryan is young, and has not experienced so much death. He keeps his innocence and he is also a man of quality, brave and honorable, as a younger Miller, with a clear conscience. He thus survives to live a normal life, after the war.

Paul Baumer dies at the end as well since the author also wants to suggest that Paul Baumer would be incapable of constructing a normal life after the war. As in Miller’s case, the solution to Baumer’s inner conflict is death. Miller was an English teacher, the most innocent occupation a man can have. He is forced to become a killer, to take lives, instead of forming them. Baumer was a teenager, a boy who had no chance to develop into an adult before the war.

This paper tried to show that there are three main similarities between Paul Baumer and Captain John Miller. First, they were both good people before the war as one was a student and the other was a teacher, which are very innocent occupations. Second, they are both unable to readapt to civilian life. None of the characters can create a bright future. Their psychological wounds are deadly: they kill their own personality, their dreams, and their humanity.  Miller and Baumer are destined to bear scars that would make them morally ugly in the eyes of the society. This leads to the third and last major similarity, their similar destinies.  Death is the only possible answer to their dilemma.

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