‘The Long and the Short and the Tall ‘
By Willis Hall.
Which three or four characters do you think are most to blame for the death of the platoon in ‘ The Long and the Short and the Tall’ by Willis Hall. Explain in detail which character you think most to blame and why.
Sergeant Mitchem, Private Bamforth and Private Whitaker are the main contenders for ‘ blame ‘ in respect of the death of the platoon. However, it is important to recognise that the allocation of significant blame for the death of the platoon is by no means an easy task. In short, although it is Private Whitaker who shoots the Japanese soldier, this act is merely the ‘ culmination ‘ of a domino effect of several other contributory factors, not least the individual relationship between platoon members and a series of serious misjudgements by various characters throughout the play.
It is possible to construct a reasonably plausible argument that, as ‘ officer in command ‘, Sergeant Mitchem must shoulder significant blame for the death of the platoon. Mitchem is ‘ guilty ‘ of a series of serious misjudgements, which so obviously have an impact on the fatal finale. Mitchem is in a position of authority, but he does not impress as a strong character or effective leader. Had he been an effective ‘leader ‘ of men under his command, Mitchem should have been able to control the disruptive Bamforth, but he does not. When Bamforth is teaching the prisoner ‘ to speak ‘, Mitchem tells him to stop but does not follow through by taking the control his authority should give him.
Other events, dialogue and decision making by Mitchem can easily be considered with a critical eye, for example, he allows Johnstone, his subordinate, to constantly challenge his authority. He also leaves the recently promoted ‘ from the ranks ‘ Lance-Corporal Macleish in charge of the platoon while he and Johnstone, both more experienced and of higher rank, leave to check the surrounding area. This leads to friction and conflict with Bamforth. Mitchem, it was, who put Macleish forward for promotion but it is clear that this was not a good decision because Macleish is irritable and quick tempered and it is soon clear that his new ‘ rank ‘ is not accepted by other platoon members. Bamforth, a classic ‘ wind-up’ merchant, soon taunts Macleish with ‘Macleish is about to pull his rank! Don’t it make you sick!…Sew a bit of tape on their arms and all at once they talk like someone else ‘. The resulting fight between Macleish and Bamforth distracts the platoon from their operational objective – to mount an effective guard. It also has a demoralising and effect on relationships and morale within the platoon.