What Alan Rickman Taught Me About War

'Eye in the Sky' is One Thought-Provoking Movie.

Imagine you find out about a planned suicide bombing, which was to take place in the next few hours. Up to 80 innocent men, women, and children could be massacred.

And imagine you have the power to stop it. You need only give the order, and a Drone would shoot a satellite-guided missile into the house where the terrorists are gathered.

A quick strike.

Minimal collateral damage.

And you’d save the lives of many innocent people.

However, there’s one small problem.

And it’s this small problem that’s explored by the intense new movie ‘Eye in the Sky’, starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

‘Eye in the Sky’  is not a light feel good movie. It’s a military thriller that grips you with vice-like intensity. Senior British officers (played so well by Rickman and Mirren) and their political masters grapple with the morality of taking out the terrorists in a drone strike (and stop the planned bombing) if it means the death of a nearby little girl. 

Would you authorise a strike that would probably save the lives of scores of people, if a little girl, someone’s daughter  and grand-daughter, would die?

It’s easy to make a calculated decision when you’re far removed from the situation. But the power of this movie is that it draws you into the reasoning – and raw emotion – of having to make such a difficult ‘damned if you do – damned if you don’t’ decision when the clock is against you.

And so this raises a number of important issues:

Alan Rickman

The late Alan Rickman. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

1) The Elephant Sized Drone in the Room

Is War Ever Right?

This movie does a great job of grappling with the morality of war.  You see it in the buck-passing: the senior military officers want the strike but need the authorisation of the civilian leadership.

But the civilian leadership doesn’t want to make the decision: they keep passing the decision up to their superiors (even going as far up as the PM of Britain). It was very frustrating to watch – would someone just make the call! – there were audible groans from the audience at the indecision.

Now Christians can understand this hesitation: taking someone’s life is deadly serious (no pun intended).

And so, it raises the question: is warfare ever right? Does God ever approve using lethal force to stop evil?

Some would say no: pacificism is the only Christian response to warfare. Others (like myself), believe there’s theological justification for using limited lethal force, in very limited circumstances.

‘Eye in the Sky’ seems to agree with my view that there’s a limited place for warfare (it didn’t feel like an anti-war movie), but it made the point that we must be careful how/when we use lethal force.  

Predator Drone

Predator Drone, similar to the one in ‘Eye in the Sky’. Courtesy Wikimedia.

2) Issues of Life and Death Confirm What We All Instinctively Know:  Objective Morality Exists  

But can Atheism account for objective morality?

The proposed killing of the terrorists divided the civilian leadership. The British Attorney General insisted it was legal, and therefore should go ahead. But the rest of the leadership wasn’t so clear.

You see, they weren’t just grappling with the legality of the situation, but with the morality of it: just because taking life was legal, didn’t automatically make it moral. They knew there was a difference. 

But if, as Atheism asserts, morality is nothing more than arbitrary rules that we make up (as Phillip Adams says, akin to ‘road rules’), then as long as it’s legal, isn’t it automatically moral?

According to Eye in the Sky, no.

And at the end of the day, we all know that just because a society or a government makes certain rules,  doesn’t necessarily make them ‘right’. But how can Atheism account for this difference between what’s legal, and what’s moral?

On the other hand, the Christian view of reality, which asserts a transcendent God-given morality stitched into the fabric of reality, makes perfect sense of this legal/moral distinction.

3) War is Costly on The Combatants

Soldiers and politicians have to live with their decisions.

Another powerful feature of this film was how it showed the emotional cost of killing – especially morally dubious killing –  on the combatants. From the young 20-something-year-old Drone aircrew; to the military and civilian leadership:  most were torn by their decision.

And again, it’s interesting to note that few people feel this way about killing animals. But legally killing another innocent human being – why is it such a big deal, if, as Atheism asserts, we’re nothing more than animals ourselves?

Rickman’s Powerful Last Movie

Sadly, this was Alan Rickman’s last movie. But it was possibly his most powerful. It raised a lot of good questions about the morality of war. And these are issues we should grapple with, because war is a permanent feature of this fallen world we’re in.


What are your thoughts about war? Is it ever right? Or is it always wrong? Feel free to leave a comment below. 

Leave a Reply

5 thoughts on “What Alan Rickman Taught Me About War

    • We’ll never know! But going to war against them gave us East Germany, the Iron Curtain, Israel/Palestine, and US involvement in Middle Eastern politics that hasn’t done well for many people in many places.
      Perhaps non-resistance would’ve given us an EU 50 years earlier, and with Hitler in poor health, and the potential successor of the moderate Speer, a very different future to the 6 years of Europe-wide warfare.

      I’m not for a moment saying we should go back in time and give the Nazis free reign, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.

      • Hi Psychodougie!

        Whilst we can never know all that would have happened had the Nazi’s had won WW2, we can know something: namely, that millions of innocent Jews, slavs, gypsies, Christians, and others would have been murdered in cold blood.

        I think that was a good enough justification to fight them.


  1. It really is hard to make a firm decision on this, war is a terrible waste of life and what exactly have we gained in the long run (wars are increasingly getting more and more). Politicians and the elite with vested interests use war to further their agendas…did Jesus ever condone war? Is the separation of Church and State a good reason for Christians to go to war and maybe kill someone in the line of duty? It certainly is a conundrum, I for one would encourage my children and grandchildren not to go to war as they are really only fighting for the elites and not for the good of the country…just my thoughts…

    • Thanks for your comment Carole!

      I fully agree that war is an awful thing, and (in my understanding) it is only legitimate in very limited circumstances.

      As to a Scriptural argument for the limited use of war, please click on the hyperlink ‘theological justification’ under point 1, for my take.

      I too, would not want my children to fight in battle (unless it was a ‘just war’).

      Thanks again,