I am viewing repeats of Rat Patrol episodes on our History Television network and remember most of them with great fondness.
Apart from the shooting and war-time heroics, I've often thought about the enduring lessons or ideals the Rat Patrol taught me. After all, like so many other fans, the Rat Patrol won't let me go. Once in a while, one remembers a certain scene in an episode at the oddest time in one's life.
Well, I grew up to be a sociologist and this is what I come up with as to the real value of the Rat Patrol experience for me.
For me, it's all about a lesson in moral resistance. Time and again, the Rat Patrol episodes talk about the contemporary (1942) strength of the Afrika Corps and the utter hopelessness of opposition to Rommel. The small, seemingly insignificant jeeps pale by comparison to the Panzer tanks.
Yet, there is a moral dignity and attractiveness to the way these jeeps bob and spin circles around the great tanks which, for all their armour, are pathetic in their inability to hit those small moving targets. Although the tanks often don't get blown up (trucks, half-tracks and other smaller vehicles do, however), the men inside them are humbled after every Rat Patrol shoot-up as they (or we the viewers) realize that armour can only cover up evil to a point.
There is, of course, the romance of the desert. The palm trees, the sand and the vast emptiness of the battlefield in which the Rat Patrol and its Nazi foes operate. There is the dog pinned under a tree that Christopher George (may he rest in peace!) risks his life to pull out. There are the touching moments, too. The German officer whom Moffitt protects against the Resistance, the girl who gets shot during the rescue of POWs and the tears of a mother crying for her child.
Most of all, there is the knowledge that there actually were people like Sam Troy et al. who went behind enemy lines in North Africa in jeeps to harass and destroy. They often went for three months at a time and subsisted on as little as a pint of water a day. It was Rommel who paid a kind of tribute to their heroism when he wrote in his war-time diary that "These units did as much damage to us as any other enemy unit of similar size."
The Rat Patrol represents the heroism of the guerrilla movement, before bombing shopping malls became the order of the day. It represents the victory of what is moral, even if it must use special tactics to defeat a larger and more powerful foe. It represents a reproach to anyone who would rather not struggle against what is wrong because of its entrenched, stronger position.
Whenever we face off against what is wrong, victory is already ours. The ensuing struggle, whether it involves jumping in jeeps over sand dunes or not, is simply a test of our wit, wisdom and determination. Just like the Rat Patrol. As a co-religionist of Christopher George, I pray God's peace and mercy upon his soul!
Alexander Roman, Ph.D.
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