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What Makes a Good Soldier?

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What is a soldier? What makes a good soldier? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a soldier as one who “engages in military service”, a “skilled warrior”, and a “militant leader or follower”. The characteristics of a soldier vary in the different military branches but ultimately a soldier is loyal to his or her country, willing to fight and die. In an article by B.R. Burg, the author states “The complete officer must be the complete man, they believed, and to measure up each had to possess an amalgam of qualities that included patriotism, courage, honor, loyalty, absolute honesty, and elevated standards of morality” (439). The epitomes of a good soldier are characters such as Sergeant Elias (Platoon), Captain John Miller (Saving Private Ryan), and any number of the main characters from war novels such as With the Old Breed, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, and Black Hawk Down. These good soldiers fight for their country and brotherhood. Those that are the levelheaded father figures are praised while characters such as Sergeant Barnes (Platoon) are criticized for their aggressive and sometimes violent behavior. Is this type of character much different than the “good soldier”? When does this type of change come over a soldier? The movie Platoon offers a good insight into the making of a man into a soldier during the Vietnam War.

“Military service is one of out rites of manhood; it makes men men”(Ehrenreich).
The war for Chris Taylor begins the same as it does for the characters in most war novels and films. Taylor leaves college and enters the Vietnam War by his own choice. Unlike many of the other soldiers he is with, he is the typical middle-class Caucasian. As with many new soldiers he has an idealized picture o...


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Klein, Uta. “The Contribution of the Military and Military Discourse to the Construction of Masculinity in Society.” Seminar: Men and Violence Against Women.

Palais de l’Europe, Strasbourg France. 8 Oct. 1999.

Letter Home From Vietnam. 21 May 2003. 20 July 2003.


Platoon. Dir. Oliver Stone. Metro Goldwyn Mayer. 1986.

Schott, Robin May. “Gender and Postmodern War.” Hypatia. 11.4 (1996):19-29

Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. California: Presidio Press, 1990.


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