13 July 2007 | tarmcgator
Bring on the DVD!
It's been many years since I last saw "The Execution of Private Slovik," and I look forward to its release (someday soon, please!) on DVD. In particular, I recall a terrific performance by Ned Beatty.
Those who condemn this film as an anti-military screed should reconsider. The tenor of most war films of the early 1970s was undoubtedly influenced by a national revulsion with the war in Vietnam (which, unfortunately, was taken out far too often on the Americans who fought there). But the impetus to get beyond the "triumphalism" of most American war films of the '40s, '50s, and '60s would eventually lead to "Platoon," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Blackhawk Down," films that respected fighting men by demonstrating more effectively the hell that they endure. "The Execution of Private Slovik" was an excellent effort to get beyond the myth of "The Good War" and demonstrate that war inevitably degrades and damages all who are involved.
As to whether Eddie Slovik deserved his fate: Slovik was an emotionally troubled young man who never should have been put into combat in the first place, but as the U.S. casualties began to mount in the ETO in the fall of 1944, his requests for non-combat duty were rejected and he was sent to a rifle company as a replacement. He was a "coward" in the traditional sense of the word, but he was only one of more than 21,000 U.S. servicemen convicted of desertion during WWII. Of the 49 who were condemned to death for desertion, Slovik was the only one actually executed; all the others had their sentences commuted to prison time. (Another 141 U.S. servicemen was executed by the U.S. government during the war, all for the crimes of murder and rape.) If justice is supposed to be fair and impartial, it certainly appears that Slovik was singled out as an example to deter other would-be deserters. Why Slovik? One of the officers who sat on his court-martial would write years later that his execution was "an historic injustice."
See: http://www.americanheritage.com /articles/magazine/ah/1987/6/1987_6_97.shtml
My father was an infantryman in the Philippines and was injured in combat a few weeks after Slovik was executed. I'm glad my father and millions of other Americans overcame their fear and did their duty, but Slovik didn't deserve death for his "cowardice." Punishment, yes; dishonor, perhaps. But not a firing squad.
Note: The execution of Slovik (though the soldier is never named) also was depicted, briefly, in an earlier antiwar film, "The Victors," directed by Carl Foreman and released in 1963. The scene is played without dialog; in a savagely ironic gesture, the execution is played out while Frank Sinatra croons "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on the soundtrack. Even more ironically, Sinatra himself once owned the film rights to William Bradford Huie's book, "The Execution of Private Slovik," but he sold them to another person before Richard Levinson and William Link obtained the rights to make this film. "The Victors" is an excellent film in its own right -- until it comes out on DVD, catch it if you can!