In "The Bridge Over the River Kwai," Lt. Col. Nicholson (the Alec Guinness character) refuses to make his officers help enlisted-men prisoners build the bridge between Bangkok and Rangoon that the Japanese Col. Saito needs -- it's in the Geneva convention that officers can't be made to do manual labor. Saito doesn't care about that -- he just needs the bridge, and they are all his prisoners, after all -- so puts the British officers in the "ovens," metal hot boxes. But Saito eventually backs down, so desperate is he for the bridge. Nicholson has won a moral victory -- sticking to the code of conduct triumphs over those to whom it is meaningless. Nicholson then volunteers the information that he has bridge-building experts among his men who can do a much better job than Saito of planning and building the bridge. He does it for his own reasons -- building the bridge will give his men purpose and hope. But then the bridge becomes so important to him -- building bridges is what he does -- that he almost sabotages Allied efforts to blow it up; Nicholson has lost his way. He finally realizes his mistake and, at the end of the movie, the bridge blows up as his lifeless body falls on the detonator.
That seems so quaint and old-fashioned today, trying to maintain honor in the face of war's carnage, worrying about duty and loyalty with insanity all around. War represents the breakdown of civilization -- is there any point to clinging to the rules of civilized behavior?
Today, we have the British sailors, who were held captive for barely two weeks (compared to the more than five years John McCain endured beatings and torture). Go on camera and confess that you violated our space and say you're sorry, the Iranians asked. Sure, said the sailors. Then they accepted gifts from their captors and were filmed engaging in small talk with them before heading off for home. Now, the British government has given them permission to sell their stories:
Some of the sums being offered to the captives are higher than the money paid to service personnel maimed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The standard tariff for the loss of an arm is £57,500.
One of the hostages, Dean Harris, 30, an acting sergeant in the Royal Marines, told a Sunday Times reporter yesterday: “I want £70,000. That is based on what the others have told me they have been offered. I know Faye has been offered a heck more than that. I am worth it because I was one of only two who didn't crack.”
John Tindell, the father of Joe Tindell, another of the hostages, said his son had turned down an offer of £10,000. “The MoD said if you want to earn money you are free to go out and do it. I was a bit surprised. The MoD said to the marines,