War inside the Human Hearts – Army Hierarchy as a Code of War-Making

Military discipline has two sides: necessary strictness (proper, justified despotism) to train recruits and maintain the troops’ readiness for battlefield, and the obscene addition (extra-despotism) that exists because of the authoritarian excess compressed within the hierarchical order of unconditional military subordination. It is this “obscene extra” of power over the lower ranks is metaphorized by Neame in Colonel Barrow’s absurd order to “all officers” of his battalion to learn how to dance in a “more refined way”.*

This movie-poster introduces the film to the viewers exclusively on the level of plot.

In this shot we are privileged to see the first encounter between two rivals – lieutenant-colonel Barrow (in the middle) and Major Sinclair (on the left). The both gentlemen are deeply in the ethic of machoism and aesthetics of authoritarianism. Readers are invited to analyze the symbolism of colors of Sinclair and Barrow’s jackets. How these colors predict their destiny? Why Major Scott (on the right) has the same jacket as Sinclair?

The fight for position in the social hierarchy always intensifies if personal rivalry (based on ontological rivalry) is added to the situation.

Each candidate for the position of a leader tries to prove that he is much more qualified in objective terms (here – which one is better as a commander of the battalion). Barrow’s approach is typical; his point is that he’ll provide a better discipline. Sinclair’s accent is that he is loved by his subordinates and that with him the unit is a real unity – as one fist.

The competition/rivalry between leaders is always reflected and multiplied by the subordinates who unconsciously imitate the aggressive posture of their superiors.

Music in the army life provides an aesthetic cover for the servicemen’s unconscious psychological need to beautify their collective self-aggrandizement, it also catharsizes their hate toward enemy and sentimentalizes their emotional bonds.

Besides making accent on tactic-strategic thinking in fight for domination the film pays a special attention to the depiction of libidinous ties between comrades-in-arms. Love has as much to do with war-making as hate. This aspect of war and militancy in general is usually ignored. In war, it is not only hate (toward enemy) kills but also love based on mutual identification (by similarity principle) with your comrades. Barrow (a technician) and Captain Simpson (a liberal) underestimate the role of emotions in fight/war. This is one of the reasons why Barrow loses the battle and Simpson is left outside it. That’s why today in US neo-conservative (emotionally anchored) cruelty is winning over pure (sterile) “professionalism” of democrats and liberals.

Two kinds of women are represented in the film – the first is personified by Jock’s mistress. She is a woman typical for a machoistic universe – she encourages in men their competitive/fighting spirit, her “feminine” task is to inspire in men valor and heroism. Without her emotional “help” Sinclair couldn’t reach the degree of fighting determination, which decided the fatal destiny of Barrow. The second type of woman, who opposes the universe of machoistic values and norms, is personified by Sinclair’s daughter who feels that hate/rivalry/fight/war is not the way for adult people to live.

Encouraged to fight to the end, Sinclair got the inspiration to perform in front of the officers the strategic seduction to mobilize them to his side to heighten his chances of winning over Barrow. Pay attention to this mise en scène (in the episode when Sinclair decided to return to the unit after having bashed Corporal Frazer). Sinclair’s background is the mantelpiece-fireplace symbolizing the stage from which he tries to emotionally mobilize officers on his side.

Already almost defeated, almost on his back, Jock Sinclair mobilizes his last weapon – seductive appeal to mercy supported by virtuoso cunning and deceiving.


According to conventional view the menace of war logically precedes the existence of army – armies exist because wars are looming (armies exist to protect countries from enemies). “Tunes of Glory” shatters this comfortable illusion by showing the essence of war as a fight between two commanders competing for the dominant position in the military unit. Neame shows this fight as a prototype of war-mongering and war-making. By this he directs our attention to the establishing army hierarchy as the psychological basis for the existence of wars between countries. War, the film claims, is a function of an extremely hierarchical structure of the army as a social institution (not that this structure is a reflection of the necessity to fight war for the purpose of defense). War starts with the fight for a higher place in the social hierarchy – the more extreme this fight is the more army-like becomes the atmosphere in the country and the more it needs army to incarnate the militant spirit of its ethos as a kind of patriotic banner. Wars are the immediate result of the existence of armies, weapons and strategic thinking. Neame makes war a projection of the compressed aggression latent in military subordination outside. People with hearts of war and with soul of warriors are not just reacting on dangerous circumstances or attacks – they plan and they stage wars, and they seduce the world into it (that’s what we, Americans, learned from Iraq and Afghanistan wars).

While, observing the fight between two officers for the commanding role in the battalion we, while recoiling from their behavior, cannot help but to sympathize with both of them who personify a vital part of our own psyches. We recognize the complicity of our souls in their fight (and in the rituals of rivalry/competition and war-desiring and making in general) – we identify with it. And we understand that we, indeed, carry combativeness/competitiveness and war deeply within us. War is in us, including the most pacifistic among us who can have a conscious position against wars in spite of their organic (unconscious) militancy.

Neame makes us feel the human nature of fight and war. While watching the film we simultaneously love to be fighters and disagree with being in their place. We love the characters of the film because they are us, and our identification with them contradicts our critical understanding of their motivations. Neame does psychotherapy with us, viewers; he is probing our militant rivalry-complex and our unconscious proneness for war-making.

According to the film, human militancy as an emotion starts with frustration – with being hurt in one’s dignity. After this the phase of revenge begins when the object of revenge all too often has nothing to do with the person or people who actually violated and insulted us (the stronger and deeper the humiliation, the more diffused and distant can be the objects of revenge). Sinclair understands that the “guilty” one is not Barrow but those who send him, but what he failed to grasp is that Barrow is a co-victim, that they both are equally co-victimized (correspondingly, Barrow is also blind to the fact that Sinclair is his brother in victimhood and not his rival). Similar thing happens with any war where civilians and low ranks (recruited mainly from the bottom of the social pyramid on both sides) pay the highest price for war.

The film emphasizes the strategic and tactical aspect of war as thinking. But Neame also analyzes war’s human (emotional) part. Behind all the tactical-strategic decisions we see the drama of human betrayal (betrayal of the humanity of the opposing side, compulsions of meanness, predatory cruelty and cynical gestures of provocation). The important and unique achievement of this film is in the simultaneity of the analysis of the two sides of a deadly rivalry – the mental and the emotional.

“Tunes of Glory” is war-making without war (it is war incarnated into human flesh, blood, passion and glory) – the task performed by the leading actors (Alec Guinness and John Mills) with, indeed, a sculptural articulateness. They made war impersonated in its human and inhuman, glorious and dirty aspects. Their artistry in the depiction of body language, intonation and mimics of machoism made the film the ultimate tool of understanding the psychology of rivalry/competition/clash.

The crueler a person is in his unconscious the more he is prone to support and to cheer wars. Jingoism is a symptom covering the cruelty inside that is only waiting for the right moment (the appearance of the enemy) to come to the surface. Murderous proclivities are packed inside machoism and flagriotism as items for consumption inside a fancy box wrapped in multi-color paper.

In a decisive scene in the film (of a cocktail party of militaries with civilian guests) we see a donkey (and PFC at its side on duty) with a box for collecting donations. We ask the readers to answer the following questions: what is symbolized by the soldier, by this donkey and by the public giving donations?

*The scene represented in this clip clears for the viewers a sophisticated military strategy the officers of the battalion use against their new commander.

Ronald Neame in 2005 when he was ninety four years old

Also posted a review on July 7, 20014 –   “Tunes of Glory” (1960) by Ronald Neame  by Acting-Out Politics

Posted on Nov, 2 2017 – Preparation For War: Vicious (In All Too Human Way) Battle For Domination – From Ronald Neame’s “Tunes of Glory” (1960) by Acting-Out Politics