Analysis of the moral order of right and wrong in Company K and its effects on the soldiers upon returning home. |
How sweet it is to die for one’s country. It is the age old idea that honor is attained through a noble death in battle. In Examining Company K it becomes apparent that a noble death is in fact nothing but an old lie. An absence of thémis seen in the stories of the soldiers in Company K can attest to this. The abandonment of morality during this war causes those in charge to betray the idea of thémis and lead their men to experiences that would inevitably follow them home from the battlefield, changing them forever.
The reason behind the lack of thémis is put best by Shay in Achilles in Vietnam. Shay makes a point of how violence and brutality throughout the wars of time has not necessarily changed. What has changed, however, is the “vulnerability to the soldiers’ moral world…because of the vast number and physical distance of people in the position to betray what’s right” (1). In the time of Achilles, men in charge would be in contact and fight alongside their soldiers. The chain of command seen in Company K allows the officers to pawn morally questionable duties off on their subordinates, keeping themselves a safe distance from ever having to personally betray what is right.
An excellent example of this is seen when Capt. Matlock orders Sgt. Julius Pleton to execute a group of German prisoners. The soldiers are far away from the front and the prisoners pose them no real harm. Matlock, a man who at one point forces his soldiers to attend church, has no qualms with this because he is not directly dealing with the exectution. Sgt. Pleton too does not want to directly be responsible for this murderous order and passes it further down the chain. The result of this ignorance to the betrayal of what’s right, by delegating the duty to others, leaves several Privates in charge of the killing, two of which being Pvt. Nugent and Pvt. Qualls (2). This horrible execution physically shakes up the men, but the book leaves that particular story there and moves on to other soldiers accounts. It is not until the end is reached that one can see how this act has forever affected the two privates. Nugent, a once innocent religious young man, is back in the states in a jail cell awaiting his execution. Nugent goes on to say, “I Hate Cops…we took a bunch of prisoners one day. It was too much trouble to send them back to the rear, so the cop of my outfit made us shoot em…who the hell are cops to make a man do a thing he don’t wanna do!”(3). The mental trauma and betrayal of thémis experienced by Nugent was enough to destroy his capacity for social trust. The other previously mentioned soldier, Pvt. Qualls, also