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"The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situation." To what extent does Breaker Morant seem to legitimise war crimes?

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Introduction

"The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situation." To what extent does Breaker Morant seem to legitimise war crimes? "I will face my God," writes Handcock on the eve of his execution, "with the firm belief that I obeyed and served my King as I thought best." Breaker Morant, directed by Bruce Beresford, seeks to excuse his protagonists, portraying them as victims of the British military. By drawing our attention to the injustices against Morant, Handcock and Witton, Beresford makes the drama one about their fate and sidelines the war crimes completely. To argue that he 'legitimises' war crime is excessive. However, he could certainly be accused of underplaying the seriousness of what they did. Breaker Morant is filmed by a repulsion and dislike for war. Thomas makes several passionate speeches about how despicable it is. ...read more.

Middle

The very first flashback scene shows the Carbineers betrayed in an ambush. Viewers are made to sympathise for them and for the loss of men on their side. However, no thought is given to why they are in Boer territory, or even that would have happened to the men in the farmhouse if an ambush had not taken place. The cut to the follow on scene - the one where the film argues was the turning point for Morant's "changes" from a normal man to a "madman," is the one in which he discovers Hunt's "mutilated body." The "revenge" which follows suddenly seems normal since the Boers were held accountable for his death. Even the cold-blooded execution of Visser seems excusable as a crime of passion. When Hesse is linked to Captain Hunt's atrocious death, his death seems reasonable too. The "war crimes" in the film are not presented in particularly shocking ways. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is Morant's own uneasiness when told by Taylor that they could not take prisoners. However, we are disturbed as we watch Taylor finish off the Boers on the veldt and this perhaps gives reason as to why the prosecution's case could bot be dismissed entirely. Thomas confirms this, acknowledging that the murders were committed. Breaker Morant does not 'legitimise' war crimes, in the sense of saying anything that happens in war is permitted. It never says shooting unarmed prisoners of war acceptable. It does question the morality of the 'take no prisoners' order. It does acknowledge that war eventually leads to "barbarity." However, by focusing our concern to primarily the injustices of war, Beresford portrays their crimes as insignificant, softening any blame we might hold to their actions. The "tragedy" and the "horrors" are finally less important to us than concern for the "normal men" who commit crimes in the belief that anything is justified in such "abnormal situation." ...read more.

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