Paths of Glory - Leadership and Ethics
Paths of Glory (1957)
- Being a classic anti-war film set in France on the Western Front in
1916 during the Battle of Verdun (with at least 700,000 French and German
- Its star (Kirk Douglas, father of Wall Street star, Michael Douglas)
- Its title from a line in Thomas Gray’s (pictured right) poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:
“The paths of glory lead but to the grave”.
American Humphrey Cobb’s 1935 novel, Paths of Glory.
Stanley Kubrick (pictured right, also director of another famous anti-war film,
Key characters (all French soldiers)
Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas, pictured right).
General George Broulard (Adolphe Menjou).
General Paul Mireau (George Macready).
In a luxurious chateau General George Broulard (pictured right below) proposes that
General Paul Mireau’s division should capture an enemy position called the Ant
Mireau says this would be a suicidal attack for his exhausted troops but agrees to it after
Broulard tempts him with promotion and personal glory.
Mireau visits the trenches where he is out of touch and insensitive to ordinary soldiers including the three men
he will later kill to save his reputation.
Mireau (pictured right below):
- disdainfully ignores his men's replies to his questions.
- attacks a shell shocked soldier for cowardice.
- visits the regimental commander, Colonel Dax (in his dirty trench to tell
him about the attack on the Ant Hill).
- thinks the attack is suicide.
- scorns Mireau’s appeal to his patriotism.
- reluctantly agrees to attack (after being threatened with dismissal).
In the night before the attack, three men are sent out on a reconnaissance mission, but the drunken officer in
charge (Lieutenant Roget) panics and kills one of them with a grenade.
In his report to Dax, Roget claims the death was accidental, despite being accused of murder by the other
surviving group member, Corporal Paris.
Mireau offers a toast of cognac “To France” in his comfortable and safe command post, as Dax
and his men prepare to attack at dawn (pictured right).
Thousands are killed by German machine guns and Mireau angrily notices that some troops are still in their
trenches. His order to shoot them is ignored by an artillery officer, Captain Rousseau.
- returns to the trenches (encouraging men there to fight).
- finds that the cowardly Lieutenant Roget hasn’t ordered his men to attack.
Dax’s bravery is to no avail and the attack on the Ant Hill is a disaster.
- is summoned to the chateau by Generals Broulard and Mireau.
- defiantly defends the men against accusations of cowardice by Mireau.
- says the men couldn’t leave the trenches because of intense fire (pictured
- blames the men for his own incompetence.
- demands that 100 men should be court-martialled and shot for
But with Broulard’s approval, Dax manages to:
- get that number reduced to three.
They are all chosen unjustly:
- Corporal Paris (chosen by Lieutenant Roget because Paris knows he’s a murderer and
- Private Ferol (picked because his commanding officer thinks he's a “social
- Private Arnaud (chosen by the drawing of lots, pictured right).
Their trial in the chateau is unfair, ignoring:
- proof of Paris being knocked unconscious.
Despite Dax’s passionate plea for compassion, they are all found guilty. They
are given a last dinner (duck) by Mireau, but they can’t eat it because knives and forks are forbidden.
Captain Rousseau tells Dax about Mireau’s order to shoot his own men, and Dax hopes that this will give the men
a last minute reprieve. His hopes are dashed by arrogant General Broulard who says the executions will encourage
and motivate the other troops.
Just before they are executed, Ferol (pictured right) is petrified and turns to a priest for comfort.
Arnaud (an atheist) remarks that whisky is his religion.
Paris, who has a wife and family, simply says:
“I don’t want to die”.
- tells Mireau that he will be charged and executed for ordering the
shooting of French troops.
- says the executions will instil discipline.
But the outraged Dax:
- pities him (for not realizing his inhumanity).
Dax visits a tavern where drunken soldiers (including companions of the executed soldiers) listen to a
frightened German girl (pictured right) sing a wartime love song.
The soldiers join in, tearfully reminded of their homes and families.
Dax then receives an order from Broulard to fight again immediately.
Lessons for leadership and ethics
1. Lead from the front
Dax bravely leads his men into battle (pictured right), never flinching and always encouraging them.
In contrast Generals Broulard and Mireau:
- are in safe luxury away from the fighting.
- enjoy the splendour of a chateau.
Before the attack Mireau drinks cognac, whilst the men face death.
Dax inspires his men because he:
- sees their point of view.
- sensitively responds to their needs.
- stoutly defends the three convicted men.
- strongly opposes the attack on the Ant Hill (because his men are exhausted and
Broulard, Mireau and Roget are despised because they are all prepared to sacrifice their men to
get what they want.
- listen to the men’s replies to his questions.
- give the three condemned men cutlery to eat their last dinner.
- understand his men's horrendous situation - he calls them “miserable cowards”.
3. Persevere through pointlessness
Dax has experienced the pointless butchery of the war, but he fights on to:
- preserve his honour.
- do all he can for his men.
They all need psychological comfort. Of the three condemned men:
- Paris to memories of his family.
4. Character is crucial
Not only in battle but also in his brave defence of the three convicted men, Dax is a man of:
- has a clear idea of what is right.
- sees the inhumanity of the generals, the unjust trial and the
- pities Broulard for not realizing his inhumanity.
5. Mutual trust is marvellous
People’s performance is best when there is mutual trust between:
The men don’t trust Broulard, Mireau and Roget, because they sacrifice them to
save their reputation.
6. Fear can be fatal
Broulard wrongly thinks that the executions will motivate the troops by instilling
In fact, fear of death is leading to:
- mental illness (shell shock).
7. Co-operation requires common interests
At the end of the film the soldiers are united by the song that reminds them of their:
They are all human beings and are happiest and most effective when their physical and psychological
needs are being met.
8. People have feelings
The fact that the singer is German reminds us that the Germans have feelings, too.
The three condemned men are totally devastated by being unjustly chosen and tried for treason.
9. Idealism beats cynicism
Dax’s humanitarian ideals are far superior to Broulard and Mireau’s cynical
manipulation of their men.
10. Learn from failure
Broulard fails to learn because he:
- uses the executions to avoid the
reality of his own failure and incompetence.
- passes the blame to others (including the troops
“Why should we have to bear more criticism and failure than we have to?”, he asks
Key quotes on war
You can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again, Dax (to General
One way to maintain discipline is to shoot a man now and then, General Broulard.
Key quotes on ethics and influencing people
You’ve spoiled the keenness of your mind by wallowing in sentimentality, Broulard (to
There are times when I am ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion,
Dax (at the trial).
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)