How to Survive a War Movie


While trying to survive a murder mystery comes with it’s own share a difficulties, trying to survive a war movie presents a different set of challenges that make surviving a murder mystery look like a piece of cake. In war movies, death and destruction are everywhere and serve as the norm and no matter what side, what role you play in the story, or how well you follow these tips, your survival is no guarantee. Luckily, many war movies are set in history and chances are you may be someone who actually existed which may help in he long run. Still, here are some guideline on how to survive a war movie. I’ll use the model you’ll find in most Hollywood World War II movies since they make plenty of them but I won’t focus on ships or aviation though.

1. Make sure you’re on the right side. (In Hollywood movies, the formula goes as follows: If you’re in a film set during WWII, the American Revolution, and most American wars in general before 1950, you probably want to be on whatever side the US is on. Exceptions are the US Civil War and World War I since one was fought amongst Americans and the other is usually made to portray the horrors of war in general. If you’re in a film set during the British Empire, the Elizabethan Era, or the Napoleonic Wars, you’d want to side with the Brits. If you’re in a war movie based on a Shakespearean play, stick with the English. Other wars, it mostly depends on the history or point of view.)

2. Make sure you’re based on a real person instead of a fictional creation. (Of course, this may help you or hurt you, depending on whether that person survived the incident or the war. Still, odds are pretty good if your character actually existed.)

3. Be played by a famous actor. (If your character is played by a big movie star like Tom Hanks, you will probably last a very long time.)

4. Be among the main characters. (Odds are good you’ll last a long time, especially if you’re the protagonist.)

5. If you’re the main character, make sure the narrator is either yourself or your child. (Odds are good you won’t die, especially if the narrator is either you or someone who depends on you to exist. Age of child is also a factor.)

6. Don’t show a picture of your girlfriend back home to your soldier buddies no matter how much you love her, how much you want to marry her, or how lovely or attractive she is. (Guys who show a picture of their girlfriends back home will be among the first ones to get shot even if she’s his fiancee. Death happens less often to guys showing a picture of his wife, kids, friends, or other family members.)

7. Don’t tell anyone that your tour of duty or enlistment will be up within less than a month’s time or discuss your future plans after the war. (Chances are you’re a dead man.)

8. Don’t be a spy or a traitor. (You’ll be found out and shot dead.)

9. If you’re a member of a band of brothers unit in a platoon or company, unless you’re the main character, don’t be (can be of any enlisted rank but you know the generalities):

a. Private New-Recruit-Who-Enlisted-Just-Out-Of-High-School or Private Guy-Who-Lied-About-His-Age-To-Join.

b. Private Relative-Or-Friend-Of-Major-Character

c. Private Wanting-To-See-Real-Action or Private Enthusiastically-Idealistically-Patriotic

d. Private Guy-Who-Owes-Something-To-Old-Schoolfriend

e. Private Jolly-Fat-Guy

f. Private Only-Likeable-Guy-In-Group

g. Corporal Cool-Guy-With-Ambiguities

h. Corporal Shell-Shocked-Veteran

i. Corporal Guy-With-Homosexual-Longings

j. Corporal Token-Insert-Nationality-Here (unless American or played by David Niven) or Corporal Token-Insert-Ethnicity-Here

k. Corporal Guy-With-Social-Background-Issues

l. Corporal Smartest-Guy-Here or Corporal Warrior-Poet

m. Corporal Resident-Clown

n. Corporal Nickname

o. Corporal Guy-With-Endearing-Quirk-Or-Skill

p. Corporal Pacifist-Conscript (Unless you’re the titular Sergeant York but he was real.)

q. Sergeant Oldest-Guy-In-His-Unit

r. Sergeant Best-Damn-Soldier-In-Unit

10. As for the NCO or officer to serve under make sure it’s not (can be of any NCO or officer rank):

a. Sergeant Nutso

b. Lieutenant I-Got-This-Promotion-Because-Of-Politics

c. Captain Upper-Class-Twit

d. Major Zero-Respect-For-His-Men

e. Lieutenant Colonel Incapable-Of-Fear

f. Colonel Arrogant-Prick

11. Try to avoid getting a serious injury unless it gets you sent home and doesn’t entail you to experience the medical horrors of the time period. (Survival odds from real serious injuries depend on the setting so while having a limb amputated in a WWII film will get you home, it will result in death in a US Civil War film. As in any movie involving a wooden war ship, if you survive amputation, chances are you will not get an automatic discharge. Those with less serious wounds will be patched up, given leave, and will eventually have to return to the front unless on a wooden war ship.)

12. Only accept souvenirs and tokens from beautiful young women and children you saved which will be helpful. And don’t loot anything off a slain enemy, especially if he’s already dead when you found him no matter how useful his stash is. (You will live to regret it.)

13. If you’re a prisoner of war, remain in capture of your enemies until you’re either liberated or the war is over no matter how bad the enemy’s treating you. No matter how desperate you are, make no effort to escape. (Since escaping from a POW facility will get you either killed, sent back, or commanded to return but on a dangerous mission under blackmail which will get you fragged by a former fellow inmate trying to stop you.)

14. While you’re a POW and an officer, make sure your morale boosting projects aren’t helping the enemy. (Anyone who’s seen The Bridge on the River Kwai knows why Colonel Nicholson couldn’t survive the film.)

15. If you’re serving in a non-combat unit, no matter how intolerable your commanding officer is or how bored you are, don’t ever request a transfer to combat duty. (Mr. Roberts should’ve stayed a merchant marine and be grateful for his role in the war effort.)

16. For officers, veterans, or NCOs: Don’t be a mentor to some new recruit or become some kind of father figure to your men. Also, don’t strive to be a benevolent and competent authority figure who wouldn’t risk putting his men in senseless danger. (Only a messy and disturbing death will befall you near the end. Best be a complete and incompetent jerk but not to the degree that you endanger the men for no reason.)

17. If you’re on leave or have deserted your post, don’t spend an extended time contemplating with increase resolve to return to the front. (You will be shot in the climatic battle like Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity.)

18. Enlisted men: Whenever your sergeant says, “I’m not making you go; anyone who wants to can bow out of this with no consequences.” Bow out. (Or else, you and everyone else in your unit will be dead by the end but your respect for your sergeant may cloud your judgement.)

19. While on leave, don’t fall in love or get married even if she’s the girl of your dreams, pregnant with your kid, or has a poor family in need. (You won’t have a future wit her even if the film’s a musical. Of course, if you knocked her up, you might want to marry her so she and your baby can benefit from your life insurance policy if you have one. One exception is if you’re a British soldier who falls for an American servicewoman while your plane crashed. In this case, love will help immensely, especially when you’re fighting for your chance to live in a celestial court.)

20. Don’t name your gun or get too attached with your weapon. (Ole’ Bess won’t save you.)

21. If you should have a pet, make sure it’s a dog or mouse and keep it with you at all times. Don’t set it free or let a friend take care of it for you under any circumstances. (You won’t see it again unless it’s a horse your family lent to the war effort who will reunite with you after a few years of being subject to different owners while you lay temporarily blind by your bed side, even if it has to get caught up in barbed wire.)

22. If you’re an officer, be a sympathetic military maverick who can get away with anything and knowing that soldiers win war for making the other poor dumb bastards die for their country. (Like Patton.)

23. Don’t retreat from battle unless everyone else does or if you plan to return with reinforcements at the last minute.

24. Avoid heartwarming and touching cultural exchanges with an enemy on the other side unless he’s about to die or if your trapped with him behind the lines and dies anyway.

25. Don’t underestimate the practical applications in the latest weapons technology even if your commanding officers do. Be sure to have all the ammunition you need for a battle and add plenty of extra magazines you can cram in your pockets for safe measure. Also, make sure your weapon is maintained so it doesn’t jam. (Well, if you can. Still, you’ll need all the ammo you can get.)

26. Don’t share a foxhole or trench with anyone braver, louder, crazier, or stupider than you.

27. Disregard any advice that goes against good common sense or your training.

28. If taken prisoner, don’t be a smart ass in front of your interrogators who may already be angry with you.

29. Don’t turn your back on anyone you’ve just shot, stabbed, or thrown from a moving vehicle. (Chances are they’re just faking and waiting to stab you in the back.)

30. Never grab a flag or standard and charge headlong at the enemy screaming no matter how inspiring or memorable it is. (You’ll be shot and dead within five minutes.)

31. If you’re in a place that sees no action, don’t talk about your good fortune. And tell your loved ones back home to refrain from such talk as well. (Remember your luck can easily change and you don’t want that to happen.)

32. Avoid love triangles at all times, especially involving your best friend or brother. (Happens in a lot of war movies. If you’re in a war movie love triangles your chances of surviving are 33-50% depending if the object of your affections is back home or a civilian you met on your tour of duty {and this usually involves two guys vying over a girl not two girls vying over a guy}. Still, at least one person in a love triangle has to die while the other remaining may not get the girl anyway and will feel bad about it.)

33. Only write letters if they can also serve as voice over narration and don’t write a letter to your mother, wife, girlfriend, or brother and put it in your top left shirt pocket. (You won’t finish it or send it, especially if your name is Sullivan Ballou during Bull Run and the recipient is your wife Sarah.)

34. Constantly openly fret about your survival and say why war is hell.

35. Don’t participate in any general’s plan to end the war by Christmas. (It’s a suicide mission and will not end the war by Christmas.)

36. Don’t reach for anything just over the trench.

37. If you witness your fellow soldiers committing a war crime, don’t say anything even if you’re morally opposed to such atrocities until you’re back at the base and with evidence. If your superior officer orders you to commit a war crime, simply pull a gun right in front of him and tell him this is unlawful before relieving him of command by force. If it’s likely the chain of command will be unsympathetic if you tell the whole truth in debriefing, frag him. (Else you’ll get killed and so will the village. Happens in a lot of movies about Vietnam.)

38. Pay attention to all safety briefings, language classes, and any area familiarity before any mission.

39. Don’t swear, make scatological or sexual references, use racially insensitive terms, or make any reference to drug use. Also, force others to do likewise especially if it’s a family movie. (Like PG-13.)

40. Refuse all good luck charms. (They won’t work.)

41. Be nice to local civilians regardless of their loyalties. (You will get killed if you don’t try to earn their respect.)

42. When given the chance to shoot a newly captured unarmed or wounded enemy, just do it until he’s dead. (It will assure you that he won’t pose a danger to you or your friends. Any guilt over this, you can tell your grandchildren or spouse in a tearful fashion years later.)

43. If you’re fighting in the desert to the last man against a force drastically outnumbering you, make sure you seek a fortress near a vast untapped water reservoir so when that’s shot off the enemy will surrender. (This is a plot to Sahara.)

44. If you’re on a wooden war ship, make sure you’re not assigned as the mast lookout or near the cannons. (They always get killed in these kind of films.)

45. If you’re American, join the navy. (Many films that feature the US Navy hardly have anyone getting killed {since they’re usually more drama or comedy oriented than action packed} but this doesn’t mean your survival is an absolute guarantee. It just means you have better odds than an army soldier or a pilot since you’re on a ship. Remember what happened in Mr. Roberts when he got transferred to a combat ship during WWII, especially in the Pacific Ocean.)

46. If you’re in the service, be a woman. (Servicewomen are less likely to get killed than servicemen in the same scenario. Compare how the American nurse and the American radio guy find love in the musical South Pacific. Guess who gets the happy ending.)

47. If you find yourself alone, don’t break into any civilian households on enemy soil. (Scarlett shoots a Union soldier doing this in Gone with the Wind. Mrs. Miniver almost does this to a German soldier but turns him to the local cops instead.)

48. If you’re a fighter pilot, make sure your nickname doesn’t sound girly or is the name of a cartoon character. Choose something cool and manly.

49. Know lots of amusing sound off songs. (Makes everyone’s survival more likely.)

50. If you’re a sniper in a sniper duel, make sure the sun isn’t in front of you. (Or you’ll be shot in the eye.)