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At the beginning of 21 Bridges Det. Andre Davis has to attend a hearing, presumably for killing on duty. He is called out for supposedly using his gun too often but he stands to it and believes he was right in every case and then says:

During the Civil War, some soldiers just kept loading their muskets without ever firing. Five or six balls loaded on top of each other. In Vietnam, only 30% of frontline infantry soldiers ever fired a shot. So, ten soldiers in battle, only three truly fighting...What do you imagine the other seven were doing?

But it is not clear to me what the answer to this rhetorical question is supposed to be. What is he trying to say with this analogy? Presumably he is one of the 30% who "truly fight", but I can't imagine that he's implying that the soldiers who didn't fight didn't do anything, rather on the contrary. But if he's trying to say they prepared for war or did their part in it, it's not clear to me how that is supporting his case or what point about his behaviour that is supposed to make.

While the funeral at the start as well as Andre's talk of justice transports a very old-testamentarian vibe and he certainly is intoduced as a man who means serious business, it is also made clear throughout the movie that contrary what everyone thinks of him he's not a hot-head driven by revenge for his father and doesn't actually kill if it isn't necessary. But I'm also unsure if that first hearing scene is supposed to guide us on the wrong track that everyone else is on about him being a "trigger" or "out for justice" or if that dialogue is already trying to fight that prejudice and show that he's a "good guy".

So what answer does he expect on that question about the soldiers who didn't fight and what point about his character and his actions is he (and ultimately the film) trying to make there?

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  • Is it the pseudo-statistic that bothers you per se (as with all this type of thing, it's "made up on the spot" roughly based on some weak historical research on WWII behaviour) or simply the conclusion he expects you to draw from it? I would assume the conclusion is "He's not one to stand around when, in his own judgement, shooting needs to happen " but I can't back that up with hard evidence.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 26, 2021 at 11:23
  • @Tetsujin The latter. I don't really care if he says the truth, since as you say, it's made up on the spot to get his point across. That point is what I'm not sure about.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jan 26, 2021 at 11:28
  • Then I can only speculate that it's "I'm not one of those nn%. I fire when I deem it necessary." presumably as a challenge to do what you will as punishment for doing his duty as he sees it. But, as I say, that's just my guess, no data to back it up. I don't think the precise actions of the other 7 are really relevant,, & like you, I'm not sure why he felt the need to add that.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 26, 2021 at 11:33
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    I found this article which does cover what they may have been doing if not firing; it also questions the weak research - historynet.com/… It makes me no more certain as to what the character's point may have been.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 26, 2021 at 11:41

4 Answers 4

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I think he’s trying to call the other officers in the room the 70%. People who didn’t have to do anything passing judgement on him for doing what he felt like he had to do.

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    – Community Bot
    Mar 8, 2022 at 9:31
  • When he makes this comment, he's talking to a board of police whose purpose is just to determine whether beat-cops did their own jobs right (I forget if it's FID or IA or something else). He's convinced his own actions were proper, and thus that the flak he's taking now is unjustified -- especially since they ultimately do clear him (so why give him the extra attitude?). I interpreted his insult the same was.
    – Tom
    Mar 10, 2022 at 2:49
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I believe the point he is trying to make is that killing a person is not easy or natural. He is saying that most people, even placed in a situation where not killing may very well mean the end of ones life, cannot or will not kill. By using a war situation as a parable he is stating emphatically that he sees his kills as necessary (soldiers kill because they have to not because they love it), righteous (in general, when we think of our soldiers killing in the name of what we consider proper), and Not something anyone can do. I don't believe he was trying to glorify killing or hold himself up as something special. Instead I think the point he was making is that killing is hard, ugly & dangerous work that not everyone is capable or willing to do. Those who are able to do it must because otherwise some other poor soul that is unable to do it will pay the price for their inactivity.

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First of all he is comparing his duty as a policeman with that of a soldier during a war. This already tells you about his mindset. In a war it is kill or be killed, in society there are a lot of other options at your disposal, which he seems to neglect in his speech.

He also is saying that in the case in which deadly force is necessary, some people still just pretend to be willing to shoot and will leave their brothers in arms outgunned, because they lack the will, heart, drive to shoot. Even worse, they make their allies believe that they are on their side, while they are not willing to go the last step.

Further, he is saying that anybody should be ready to use their gun. Some might not be in a situation where they need to, but others are. He is saying that he is one of the 30% who actually had to use their gun and the other 70% should be happy that they did not have to use it. It is to a certain extend also a game of chance. Some are lucky enough to never be in his shoes, but he was.

In reference to the fellow policeman in the room, he is pushing them into the 70% category. They can decide whether they want to be:

  • weak softies who are not willing to take the last step
  • fake allies who will let you down in the crucial moments
  • lucky fellows who lack the experience to criticize his actions

or they could respect him for doing the hard part of their job.

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He was trying to say that when in the frontline during the war the duty of the soldiers is to fight the war and not watch while others are fighting and in a similar way that there are cops who would instead sit and watch while others are fighting (maybe some of whom were the ones questioning him for firing and actually doing what is suppose to be done).

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