In 2001, when a ten part miniseries came to our notice, the world immediately sat up and listened. It wasn’t just a story written for the big screen. It wasn’t something fabricated and given the Hollywood treatment. Band of Brothers was fact. It was historical. It was Easy Company.
This penultimate episode commences with the seasoned veterans of Easy enjoying relative peace and quiet after all of the hardships they’d faced since first jumping into Normandy. This is counterbalanced by the eager young recruit’s keen to see some action before the war comes to an end. Toccoa men like Perconte, happy to be on watch with a good book, has grown increasingly frustrated with the likes of O’Keefe, a fresh-faced replacement whose desperation is simply to ‘fight some krauts’.
While the main focus in episode 9 is Lewis Nixon, in terms of character development we see the inner struggles of many soldiers. Captain Winters is particularly affected, and his introspection is showcased as he questions the reasons for the war and the morality of it all. This episode marks a significant turning point for many characters as they confront the atrocities of war and the moral complexities associated with their roles in it.
Intelligence officer Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingstone). “Nix” has returned at the beginning of the episode having undertaken a jump with another company. While he started out the series as a relatively upbeat and witty character, by this stage of the war; it’s easy to see he is wearied and apathetic towards the conflict in general. In his latest jump, the plane he was in was shot down after he had jumped, killing the majority of the young men inside. The shock of this, shared with the survival guilt he has and compounded with news from back home that his wife is divorcing him and taking the dog with her, exacerbates his alcohol addiction and sees him grow increasingly distant from Winters and the Company in general.
The distance between Nixon and the company is clearly evident. We see a downcast Nix sitting glumly in his transport vehicle as the paratroopers around him break into ‘Blood on The Risers’, an old song re-worded to tell the tale of a paratrooper whose parachute fails to open. After several moments and sideward glances from Winters, Nix smirks and finally joins in, nonchalantly singing the song’s refrain “gory, gory, what a helluva way to die.”
During a patrol in Bavaria, Easy make the discovery of the Landsberg concentration camp bringing home to them the real atrocities of the war. The soldiers are faced with the grim reality of the evil they’re fighting against, and it raises deep questions about the moral justification for their actions. This theme of moral ambiguity is prevalent throughout this episode.
At a time when many of the men had begun to question why they were fighting the war in the first place, the discovery of the camp provided a powerful reminder of the exact reason. The scenes at the camp are difficult to see, the emaciated prisoners and the piles of dead bodies are a sickening sight, one that is confronting and unable to escape from. Easy Company are understandably shocked and the effect of what they have seen is magnified through their words, their body language and their religion. (Joe Liebgott was Jewish by descent, even though raised a Catholic.) Seeing the camp and facing the atrocities serves to exemplify the theme of the dehumanising effects of war and the moral challenges faced by the soldiers.
After the camp is located by the patrol, a runner is sent, and Winters and the rest of the company arrive on scene. Easys most hardened and ruthless veterans are stunned into disbelief when they see what conditions the prisoners have been subjected to. As news breaks that more camps are found, the shock and horror is magnified.
Easy company begin to hand out all the supplies they can as Liebgott translates the account of one prisoner. The prisoner tells them that they are all Jews (musicians, clerks, artists, teachers), Poles or Gypsies, considered “undesirable” by the Germans. A few days before Easy Company arrived, the SS guards burned some of the prisoners alive in their huts; when others resisted, the guards began shooting at them until they “ran out of ammunition”, then fled, leaving the survivors behind. Nixon darkly remarks that someone must have told them that the Americans were coming. The prisoner remarks that there is a similar camp for female prisoners at the next rail stop
All the prisoners are either dead or near death, seriously ill or starving, some so weakened that they literally fall over as they try to approach the Americans. Malarkey and Heffron grimly note the number tattoos on dead prisoners’ arms that mark them “like cattle”. Randleman and Luz discover a hut jam-packed with living and dead prisoners lying shoulder to shoulder, and Winters opens a rail car to find it stuffed with corpses. Appalled, Perconte walks away, only to see a prisoner saluting him, which he immediately returns. He comes upon O’Keefe, who has broken down into tears at what he has seen, but ultimately leaves him alone.
Easy heads back into the village of Landsberg and gathers food and water for the survivors. When the local baker protests at their clearing out his business, Webster is angry, the anger displayed in the immediate hostility shown to the baker. Rushing back with supplies, the men of Easy distribute them to the prisoners. However, when Colonel Sink arrives with the battlefield surgeon, Winters and Nixon are told they must not continue feeding the survivors. The surgeon claims the survivors’ vital systems are unable to handle massive food intake, and they need to be closely monitored during their recovery. The prisoners are forced to remain inside the barbed wire fence of the camp, to prevent them scattering from the area and potentially spreading diseases, an announcement which Liebgott is ordered to make. He does so, promising the prisoners it is only temporary and food, supplies and medicine are coming, but the survivors’ pitiful protests cause him to break off in tears.
The difficult issue of how much the local Germans knew of the camp is not shied away from in this episode. Director David Frankel, who himself lost family members in such camps during the war, handles these scenes well, never emphatically pointing the finger or demonising the German people, simply presenting the facts of such a terrible situation.
“Why We Fight” touches on themes of redemption and repentance. The German civilians living near the concentration camp are made to confront the horrors committed in their midst. Some express remorse and regret for their ignorance or complicity, while others remain in denial. This theme highlights the complex nature of forgiveness and the difficulty of reconciling with the past.
Complex management and direction were needed in order to ensure that the imagery of the camps were demonstrated with the utmost compassion and historical accuracy. The cinematography and direction in this episode are striking, with the haunting imagery of the concentration camp juxtaposed against the determination of the soldiers. The use of flashbacks and narration by Carwood Lipton provides a deeper layer of storytelling, highlighting the profound impact of their experiences
Following the liberation of the concentration camp, Easy Company is informed that the war is not yet over. The Nazi regime has not surrendered, and the soldiers must prepare for a final assault. This transition symbolises the relentless nature of warfare, where even amidst the most profound and disturbing discoveries, the soldiers must carry on. It underscores the theme of duty and sacrifice that has been present throughout the series.
In conclusion, “Band of Brothers” Episode 9, “Why We Fight,” is a powerful exploration of themes such as the dehumanising effects of war, moral ambiguity, the emotional aftermath of combat, and the unwavering sense of duty. It uses the discovery of a concentration camp as a vehicle to delve into the inner struggles of the characters, making it one of the most thought-provoking and emotionally charged episodes in the series. The episode effectively encapsulates the broader message of the miniseries, emphasising the camaraderie and resilience of Easy Company amidst the horrors of World War II.
Episode 10 serves as the poignant and powerful conclusion to the miniseries. The title of the episode is a notable reference to the points earned by the company men. It refers to the fact that some men would have the necessary ‘points’ earned through things such as time spent in combat, medals won and injuries suffered, in order to be sent home. Others with less points faced an anxious wait as word spread round that they may soon be deployed out to the Pacific to aid the fight against the Japanese.
“Points” weaves together elements of plot, character development, and themes to provide a fitting conclusion to this remarkable series. It also highlights the anticipation, excitement, and anxiety that comes with the realisation that Easy`s long and arduous journey is nearing its end. It is also in this episode, we witness the aftermath of World War II, focusing on the characters of Easy Company as they prepare to leave Europe and return home. This episode also examines their reflections on the war’s impact on their lives. The soldiers’ yearning to return to their families and loved ones highlights the human toll of war and the desire for a return to normal life. As the men prepare to return to that civilian life, they have to address the question of what comes next after everything they’ve witnessed.
By this final episode, the men of Easy have been through France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and finally, Austria. The tranquil and picturesque surroundings of the Bavarian and Austrian countryside brings into sharp focus just how far they have come since the series began. After the German army finally surrenders, the focus of the episode turns to the men’s uncertain future as they wait to find out if they will be sent home or deployed elsewhere, as well as the troubles they face as an occupational force.
While in the Bavarian mountains, it’s fitting that it’s a band of Toccoa men who arrive first to take Hitler’s hilltop fortress, the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden. The likes of Malarkey, Popeye, Moore and Grant having been there from the beginning, and the gleeful scenes of them storming up the mountainside to claim such a prominent emblem of the Nazi regime is a touching moment.
Winters explains in his narration that it was very difficult to look after a group of men who were now suddenly faced with having no enemy to fight. The men had little to do and lots of time in which to do it! Private Janovec (a young Tom Hardy) is tragically killed in a road accident, while Shifty Powers, a Toccoa man, was badly injured after winning a lottery to be sent home only to have his truck hit by a drunk corporal. Men were still dying, and the prevalence of alcohol was clearly exacerbating the situation.
There is a notable sequence that focuses on Sargent Grant getting shot in the head by a drunken private from another company. The men of Easy are understandably upset and angry at this and after a search party locates the private. He is then subject to a vicious beating by the men before being turned over to the authorities. Grant is eventually saved by a German doctor, but he suffered from speech problems and a paralysed left arm for the rest of his life. These incidents seem increasingly futile after the difficulties they have already overcome.
Sporadically through Band of Brothers, consideration is given to the German soldiers who are also experiencing the hardships of war. It is revisited here when a German officer addresses his men after their formal surrender. It showed that the bond between these men was just as strong as those felt between the Allied soldiers with a telling line from the officer mentioning “a bond that only exists in combat”.
The episode allows closure to the character arcs of many of Easy Company. We are witness to the reconciliation between Captain Winters and Major Strayer, which underscores the theme of leadership and growth. It also shows the lingering trauma experienced by some of the soldiers. Lieutenant Nixon’s character development comes to a poignant conclusion in this episode as he confronts his alcoholism. His recovery and the support he receives from his comrades emphasise the theme of redemption and personal growth. Malarkey’s character highlights the difficulties soldiers face in transitioning to civilian life. He struggles with the idea of returning to normalcy after the war and the emotional toll of combat. Lipton, who has been a quiet but steadfast presence throughout the series, serves as a symbol of the unwavering dedication of the men of Easy Company. His role in the episode demonstrates the theme of duty and loyalty. Each man of Easy has played a part.
As the episode closes, we watch the remaining men of Easy playing a care-free game of baseball. As the men finally experience some genuine pleasure and briefly allow themselves to relax, Winters narrates and fills us in on what become of a handful of them after the war. We learn that Buck Compton went on to become a District Attorney and prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Bobby Kennedy, while Ronald Speirs went on to become the governor of Spandau prison. While the men all went on to experience very different lives after the war, they were forever tied together by their experiences in combat. Each man handling his experiences very differently.
Throughout the entire series of Band of Brothers, we were gifted with short interviews from gentleman of Easy Company, but they were nameless. Steven Spielberg plays his trump card in that the final episode and puts a face to a name. Some are easy to tell, no one can deny Bill Guarnere and his Philly accent. We hear from Donald Malarkey, Johnny Martin and more. Of course, Major Richard Winter is in there too.
Since Band of Brothers was originally shown to the world in 2001, all of Company E have sadly since passed away. The reunions that were part of the veterans lives are now under ownership of “The Easy Kids.” The children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews etc come together to celebrate the legacy and remember their loved ones. Donald Malarkey’s daughters, Buck Comptons daughter, George Luz’s son, Eugene Roes grandson and Bill Guarnere’s son and grandaughter to name just a few. These wonderful people are ensuring that the legacy of Easy company will never be forgotten.