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Heather Miles

"Paths of Glory"

By: Heather Miles
College Now Course - HUM 1

The theme of Paths of Glory is easy to relate to, even to someone who has no personal experience with war, let alone World War One. Everyone has felt helpless against a corrupt force, everyone has wondered if perhaps good does not finally win out over evil, and this is well illustrated in the movie. The three soldiers put on trial, Corporal Paris, Private Ferol, and Private Arnaud, are chosen for different reasons with varying levels of meaninglessness: Paris, because he witnessed his commanding officer insidiously conceal the murder of a fellow officer; Ferol, because he was considered a "social undesirable" and Arnaud, because he drew the wrong straw. All three men are quickly judged guilty of cowardice after a slightly Kafka-esque trial, and executed with the same rapidity and absence of sentiment.

This theme of futility and helplessness in the face of absolute power and corruption resonates today not just on, for some, a personal level, but also a national one: our country has recently issued a statement that the decisions reached at the Geneva Conventions (laws passed to condemn war crimes and protect prisoners of war) will not apply to the treatment of non-Iraqi prisoners suspected of affiliation with Al-Qaeda. There are no specific standards to determine which prisoners will be treated according to the conventions and which will not; this authority is vaguely allotted to the CIA, leaving ample room for corruption. This ambiguity is reminiscent of the arbitrary laws which govern the trial of Paris, Ferol, and Arnaud.

Another broad social issue of Paths of Glory is the idea that "absolute power corrupts absolutely". With the exception perhaps of Cincinatus, the hero of Ancient Rome who freely gave up his short stint as benign Roman dictator to return to farming, almost every single ruler in such a position has taken advantage of their power. General Mireau in the movie is no exception; he decided that the lives of three men were worth less than his embarrassment of looking careless and rash for ordering his own men to fire upon those soldiers who were trying to do the impossible-take the Anthill. Even outside of the army, power has proven to corrupt - one need only look at the all-too-long list of political scandals that have occurred for the purpose of gaining power and keeping it. We see this in certain political parties hindering people from going to the polls for fear they may cast a ballot for the opposing party, to mention a recent issue; Kubrick's movie, which shows Mireau wholly unrepentant for his treachery even at the end, shows that this idea of power and its link to corruption are an immutable part of human nature.