“Recent research suggests that heroes and heroic action may evoke a unique emotional response which Jonathan Haidt at NYU has called elevation. When people experience elevation, they feel a mix of awe, reverence, and admiration for a morally beautiful act,” writes Scott T. Allison, Ph.D., for Psychology Today.
That feeling of elevation is strong enough to have endured throughout human history — but more than that, it has shaped our culture and nearly defined us as a species. Indeed the oldest known fictional story is The Epic of Gilgamesh, a mythic poem that first appeared as early as the third millennium B.C. and tells the story of a Sumerian king who undertakes perilous journeys to slay monsters and discover the secrets of life.
From The Iliad to The Bhagavad Gita to Band of Brothers, throughout human history we have told heroes’ stories, praising their courage and sacrifice and reveling in their triumph — often tragic — over evil.
While fantasy epics like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe employ this storytelling technique brilliantly, there is still a particular resonance with stories of true military heroism. There are many reasons why, but here are a few.
Time’s almost up to enter the WeScreenplay Feature Screenwriting Competition! Final Deadline ends November 15th!
Heroes Protect Our Way of Life
There is a saying in the military: “All gave some. Some gave all.”
When I was commissioned into the United States Air Force, I took an oath of office and vowed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Every one of our military service members swears such an oath, vowing to protect our way of life from those who might seek to destroy it.
That oath, protecting our constitution, unites all Americans — no matter our beliefs or our backgrounds, as one community of people worth defending. And while we as a country have not always honored the sacrifices of our service members (sending extra love, as always, to our Vietnam War Veterans), today we come together to support the troops and acknowledge their role in service to our country.
It’s therefore easy to understand how their stories might fascinate us, inspire us, move us, and remind us that freedom isn’t free.
Heroes Inspire Us to Be Our Greatest Selves
Heroes, by their example, teach us the values of strength, resilience, courage, and service to the common good. Heroes protect the community, without which we would lose our human emotional well-being. “Heroes are role models who perform behaviors that reinforce our most treasured values and connections with others,” explains Allison.
Military stories follow the hero’s journey, as codified by Joseph Campbell, and they call on us to become the best version of ourselves, to become heroes in our own daily lives — and, thus, to help our family, our society to transform in significant and positive ways.
Tragic Stories Cultivate a Sense of Gratitude
Ohio State researchers led by communication professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick recruited 361 college students for a screening of an abridged version of the 2007 movie Atonement, which involves two lovers who are separated and then killed at war. Before and after the film, they asked the respondents several questions to measure how happy they were with their lives. The study concluded that the tragic story gave viewers cause to reflect on their own relationships and lives and end up in a place of gratitude.
“Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love,” says Knobloch-Westerwick, “and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings.”
Many military movies feature a storyline with the families and loved ones waiting at home or the connections made among “battle buddies” who serve together. They remind us of the humanity of our warriors.
They remind us of ourselves and all we hold dear.
Military films in particular touch us on a primal level and teach us how we must behave if we and our loved ones are to survive. They inspire us to be better, they provide catharsis when evil is conquered, and they remind us that life is a gift.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!