We all know that at times “no good deed goes unpunished,” but this type of irony often arises in much more subtle ways than simply getting penalized for a noble act. I love the movie Saving Private Ryan, not because it is all-around a great film, but because of its ironic twist.
It is a film about an Army platoon in World War II, who, after landing at Normandy Beach, are assigned to go deep into territory in France held by the Germans, to extract an American private—Private Ryan–and return him home to the United States. All of Private Ryan’s brothers were killed in the war, and as an act of respect and gratitude to the Ryan family, the U. S. government determined that the only surviving Ryan brother should be returned home. The search to find Private Ryan was extremely dangerous, so throughout the movie the platoon’s frustration and anger grew at the prospect of losing their lives–which several did—to find a private who was being sent home.
The irony was this: If Ryan wanted to go home after being found by the platoon and learning of the fate of his brothers, he was not worth finding in the first place. If he was willing to go home under the horrifying circumstances under which he was asked to, finding him was unwarranted. It sounds hard to say such a thing, but this is all about honor and dignity in the face of extreme danger during wartime. The mission was doomed from the outset, given the above reality.
Sure enough, when they found Private Ryan, after incredible struggles, where several members of the platoon lost their lives, Ryan told them forget it. Not only would leaving dishonor the memory and sacrifice of his brothers, but it would mean abandoning his fellow soldiers at a time of great danger. How could he be expected to do anything else? The platoon members that found him, of course, were angry that he refused to leave, but in their heart of hearts how could they be? To hearken back to the irony: If he was worth finding, he would never leave under the circumstances; and if he were the type to leave under those circumstances, he was not worth finding in the first place.
You can see smaller examples of this every day. We do many things and establish many programs for those who really need assistance, but those in greatest need are not usually the ones who take advantage of the programs. I once knew an old-timer who never missed work, no matter how hurt or sick he was. He would get injured on the job, and you would have to force him bodily to go home or to a hospital if it warranted. He is the worker in greatest need of the Workers Compensation laws, and the one whom you want to benefit from such laws, but he was the type not to even ask.
Often, the ones who deserve something the most are not the recipients, and the ones who are the recipients are not the ones for whom the benefit was created. Such is life, I guess.