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Religion and politics in films about the Vietnam War

University of Florida Institutional Repository

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RELIGION AND POLITICS IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR By JAY MICHAEL ALLBRITTON A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULLFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2003

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS There are many people without whom this thesis could not have been written. As the chair of my thesis committee and a scholarly beacon, Dr. Gene R. Thursby guided me whenever I sought him out, which was frequently. Dr. David G. Hackett and Dr. Sheldon Isenberg rounded out the thesis committee and provided much needed assistance. Dr. Manuel Vasquez and Dr. Louise Newman (from the History Department), though not on my committee, also provided a great deal of direction and encouragement. This thesis would not exist without Julia Smith and Annie Newman because I doubt the department would exist without them. The students who went before me--Michael Gressett, Paul Moonoak, Stacey Crandle and Todd Best--showed me the way. Of course, others can only help so much. Where this thesis is strong it is due to those credited above. Where it is weak the fault lies with me alone. ii

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TABLE OF CONTENTS page AKNOWLEDGMENTS ...........................................iv ABSTRACT ..................................................v CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION...........................................1 2 THE EVOLUTION OF THE LIBERAL/CONSERVATIVE DIVIDE...............................................8 Prophetic and Priestly Type .........................10 The My Lai Massacre .................................13 Types in Oliver Stones Platoon .....................16 3 RELIGION, POLITICS AND THE EVOLUTION OF LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD.................................20 The Production Code .................................21 The Blacklist .......................................21 The Hollywood Left Re-emerges .......................24 Liberal Film Schools ................................24 Vietnam Syndrome ....................................28 4 EVIL AND SUFFERING IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR.................................................32 Useless Suffering ...................................32 Platoon Depicts Useless Suffering ...................38 5 THE VIETNAM WAR MORALITY TALE.........................41 6 VIETNAM VETERANS: MORE SUFFERING AND DEMONIZATION........................................53 Continuing to Suffer ................................54 Veteran Exploitation Films ..........................60 iii

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7 VIETNAM FILMS: THE CONSERVATIVE DISCOURSE.............63 What Is a Conservative Film? ........................64 Tigerland and We Were Soldiers ......................66 Tigerland ...........................................67 We Were Soldiers ....................................69 Conclusion ..........................................71 BIBLIOGRAPHY .............................................74 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ......................................76 iv

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Abstract of Thesis Presented to The graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts RELIGION AND POLITICS IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR By Jay Michael Allbritton August 2003 Chair: Gene R. Thursby Major Department: Religion During the first century of the American film industry, a struggle has persisted over the kinds of values that would be depicted in American films. Hollywoods tendency to make films that represented liberal or leftist ideals often brought the film industry into tension with the dominant religious and political hierarchy. This thesis examines how long-dormant fissures between liberals and conservatives came to the surface after World War II; and how those divisions manifest themselves in the discourse of films about the Vietnam War. v

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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The film industry often creates debates helpful for understanding religion within the context of American Culture. If a film sparks a controversy, the reasons for that controversy can tell us much about our society. R. Lawrence Moore discussed the film industry as a critical site in the struggle between conservatives and liberals. 1 For example, when director Martin Scorsese announced plans to adapt The Last Temptation of Christ from a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, Christian conservative groups ardently opposed the project. Moore tells us that struggles like this are an extension of conflicts that have played out during the commodification of the novel, the radio, the theater, and all other forms of mass media and popular culture. 2 This thesis begins by examining how the divide between conservatives and liberals began opening after World War II; and how it continued to widen through the Vietnam Era as well as the rest of the twentieth century. 1 Moore, R. Laurence. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture : New York, Oxford University Press, 1994. 15. 2 ibid 16. 1

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2 I then discuss ways in which Hollywood became a site in the battle between these coalescing factions. From the late 1970s until 2002, the conventions of the Vietnam genre amounted to a unanimous liberal message spoken in this voice. This is my thesis: Liberals, who believe their opponents to be conservative Christians, have made films critical of the Vietnam War. Instead of using secular reasoning, which they believe Christian conservatives will dismiss, they use religious discourse--themes of evil and suffering as well as the depiction of characters that face great moral dilemmas that test the codes of Judeo-Christian ethics--in order to confront their -critics in their own vernacular. In the first chapter, I discuss the evolution of what Robert Wuthnow refers to as the liberal/conservative divide. I intend to show that attitudes of deep distrust between liberals and conservatives were most clearly defined by the Vietnam War. Therefore, any text about the Vietnam War must include discourse pertaining to the difference between liberals and conservatives. Wuthnow describes the ongoing division in American religion and politics as being built on old fissures that date back to the antebellum period then reemerge after

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3 World War I. 3 This divide opened wider in the 1960s because of the different approaches taken by liberals and conservatives to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. Amanda Porterfield also describes ways in which the Vietnam Era contributed to the widening of the divide. She refers to the liberals as the prophetic and conservatives as the priestly voices of the period. 4 She pinpoints the My Lai massacre as the event that polarized the sides more than any other because of the opposing and intractable views each side had of the event. 5 This division is portrayed in former Vietnam Veteran Oliver Stones semi-autobiographical film Platoon In this film, the platoon is a symbolic body divided evenly between priestly/conservative types and prophetic/liberal types. These two sides are almost as much of a threat to one another as the Vietcong. In chapter 3, I intend to show that the film industry during the seventies and eighties--when most of the most important anti-Vietnam War films were made--predominantly held liberal attitudes about politics and religion. Film historian Dan Georgakas attributes the strong re-emergence 3 Wuthnow, Robert. Old Fissures and New Fractures in American Religious Life Religion and American Culture ; Ed. by David Hackett; Routledge; New York, London; 1995. 370. 4 Porterfield, Amanda. The Transformation of American Religion ; Oxford University Press; 2001. 89.

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4 of liberal filmmaking to the widespread discrediting of Communist witch-hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. 6 While anti-Vietnam War films were a large part of the leftist backlash, conservatism in general was attacked on several fronts by filmmakers. Most of these filmmakers were in college during the sixties when the universities were bastions of liberal sentiment. This chapter also shows the link between liberal Universities and liberal Hollywood: film school. Most of the directors of these anti-Vietnam War films went to the most prestigious (and most liberal) film schools. Not only was Stone a veteran of the Vietnam War, he was also a product of one of these liberal film schools--New York University. Stone (and his fellow students who became directors) in part used their films about the war in an effort to deter other wars. These films became a large factor in the demand that the United States stay out of conflicts that did not explicitly serve national interests. Historian Marilyn B. Young refers to this as Vietnam Syndrome--a name given to the phenomenon by foreign 5 Porterfield 93. 6 Georgakas, Dan. Hollywood Blacklist Encyclopedia of the American Left ; Ed by Buhle, Buhle, and Georgakas; Urbana and Chicago; University of Illinois Press; 1992. 1.

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5 policymakers. 7 Stone believed that Platoon coming out in 1986, ten years later than he intended was important because it became a popular film with an antiwar message at a time when memories of Vietnam had been fading. Chapters 4-6 describe the types of religious discourse used by antiwar filmmakers. In chapter 3, I will discuss films about the Vietnam War which include discourse on the themes of evil or suffering. Vietnam War filmmakers commonly use the religious theme of evil or suffering because this is a theme with which Christians should identify, since Christians are supposed to aid the less fortunate. If the soldiers experience (or the Vietnamese experience) amounts to useless suffering that accomplished no goal; it must be un-Christian to support this war or others like it. In Chapter 5, I discuss the tendency of anti-Vietnam War films to be structured as morality tale. Anti-Vietnam War filmmakers created characters with strong moral codes usually consistent with Judeo-Christian ethics. These characters then become involved in dilemmas that tempt them to abandon their beliefs. The filmmakers make the temptation harder to resist by showing repeatedly that 7 Young, Marylin B. Vietnam-American Wars, 1945-1990 Harper Collins. 1991. 314.

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6 Vietnam is an amoral place and that any behavior can be justified there. Chapter 6 discusses the continuing suffering of the Vietnam Veteran once he returns home to the United States. Films about Vietnam Veterans show how the suffering explained above continues once the soldier returns home. Many of these films depict Vietnam Veterans as anti-social monsters. This genre quickly mutated, using elements of the occult to represent an anti-Christian retribution wrought by soldiers who literally become monsters. In Chapter 7, I will discuss how conservatives have responded to the liberal messages of the anti-Vietnam War films. I will look at a response from a conservative film critic, a conservative politician, and a conservative filmmaker. The response of that filmmaker comes in the form of the first Vietnam War film with an overtly conservative voice since The Green Berets (1968)--the 2002 film, Randall Wallaces We Were Soldiers The discrimination faced by Wallace, a devout Catholic with a seminary background who had to essentially pay for the film himself, shows that Hollywood remains as liberal as ever. The controversy that followed We Were Soldiers --Stone, among others, lashed out at the film, calling it a

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7 desecration of memory--shows that Wuthnows divide remains quite deep. 8 8 Clinch, Catherine. Oliver Stone Takes on the Fourth Estate, The Pentagon and the Studios Creative Screenwriting ; Sept-Oct 2002. 12.

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CHAPTER 2 THE EVOLUTION OF THE LIBERAL/CONSERVATIVE DIVIDE If the anti-Vietnam War films of the second half of the Twentieth Century are messages sent from liberals to conservatives, then we must start by defining the terms liberal and conservative. How and when did these terms emerge? What characteristics do liberals commonly share? What do conservatives value? What motivates these groups? Do they truly exist? In this chapter I will examine how liberals and conservatives define themselves and each other. I will look at the evolution of this divide and attempt to understand the role of the Vietnam War in deeply polarizing American culture. Robert Wuthnow describes the current division in American religion and politics as being built on old fissures that date back to the antebellum period, when the emergence of science allowed liberals to use theories like Darwins theory of evolution to challenge the religious establishment. 9 Wuthnow believes that both sides of what he calls the liberal/conservative divide recognize the 9 Wuthnow. 370. 8

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9 reality of the division between two opposing camps. 10 They also recognize the the predominance of fundamentalists, evangelicals, and religious conservatives in one camp and the predominance of religious liberals, humanists and secularists in the other. Both sides also generally feel deep hostility and have strong misgivings about the other. Wuthnow warns that these two groups have within them a variety of distinct entities that do not typically identify with one another. 11 For instance, fundamentalists often make efforts to distinguish themselves from evangelicals. Similar distinctions are made throughout both the right and the left. Wuthnow argues that the binary way of thinking exists in the popular mind where it is treated as a reality. This liberal/conservative division runs through religions and denominations. 12 Among Christian denominations, Wuthnow mentions that Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Catholics all experience divisions between liberal and conservative church members. Before the liberal/conservative divide, America had a tripartite religious system. This system was based on two 10 ibid. 371. 11 Wuthnow. 371. 12 ibid. 372.

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10 prevailing conflicts: Protestants vs. Catholics and Christians vs. Jews. This model dissolved, according to Wuthnow, because its basic divisions were eroded by interfaith cooperation, greater education, remembrance of the Holocaust and the growth of the civil rights movement. 13 To a great extent, Wuthnow credits the widening of the old fissures between conservatives and liberals to the dramatic civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. With the advent of great social change, liberals and conservatives showed a considerable difference in problem solving methods. According to Wuthnow, values were much more important to conservatives, while behavior mattered more to liberals. Whether on not behavior would result that could alleviate racial discrimination or the war in Southeast Asia was not relevant to conservatives, rather what mattered were the values that motivated ones actions. Conversely, liberals believed that behavior was more important than values and that social institutions needed to be changed to bring behavior and values into agreement. Prophetic and Priestly Types In her book, The Transformation of American Religion Amanda Porterfield describes how the Vietnam War polarized the country into two fundamentally different groups. These 13 ibid. 378.

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11 groups parallel Wuthnows liberal/conservative divide. Using the terminology of Max Weber, Porterfield goes into great detail identifying the prophetic and priestly voices of the period. Delineation of the prophetic and priestly types first occurred during the Protestant Reformation and the ensuing rise of Puritanism. 14 Protestants were the prophetic forces; Catholics were the priestly. By the 1960s however, Protestantism had become the traditional patriarchy. Catholics were critical of the prevailing Protestant patriarchy while investing in their own patriarchy. When the Vietnam War came, the prophetic types and the priestly types emerged from both Protestant and Catholic communities (Jews largely supported and often led the prophetic types). 15 This shift mirrors Wuthnows explanation of how America shifted from the tripartite system to the liberal/conservative divide. On the function of the priestly type Weber wrote, Priesthoods have always (in the interests of traditionalism) protected patriarchalism against impersonal relationships of dependence. 16 This group was widely invested in the patriarchal structures and traditions of 14 Porterfield. 89. 15 ibid. 90. 16 Quoted in: Porterfield. 89.

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12 America. As with the priestly voice of the Protestant Reformation, the priestly type of the sixties was rooted in a traditional role of religion--to preserve the stability of the material world. Along with this came a loyalty to the government and support for the war effort. Part of the reason this group maintained loyalty to the war effort was the thinking that if America was wrong about something as important as the war, then everything they invested their faith in might also be wrong. Porterfield believes that the prophetic type emerged from the Vietnam era as the dominant worldview. Of the priestly type she wrote, Cynicism became widespread, especially toward the structures and leaders of the United States government. And some of the people who came to feel most alienated from the government were conservatives, such as George Wallace, who blamed the antiwar activists of the sixties and seventies for destroying the traditional religious fabric of American society. 17 She describes this group of people as taking up the post-war role of the prophetic type, touting a return to pre-1960s values (now a sacred myth of how America used to be). 18 According to Porterfield, this group blames cultural relativism and rampant hedonism for the onset of these current dark ages.

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13 Porterfield describes the antiwar, prophetic type as typically economically and educationally privileged, young and self-centered. 19 This large group internalized religious beliefs that called for fairness rooted in good conscience. They believed that the government and the military had become mechanical. What they considered the mindless destruction of human life going on in Vietnam disagreed with their religious upbringing. Porterfield believes that what they did not understand was how privileged and potentially subversive their education in ethical reasoning had been. 20 Their education obligated them to stand in moral opposition to society. This agrees with Wuthnows assertion that liberals favor correct behavior over correct values and will change society if necessary to bring it into agreement with proper behavior. The My Lai Massacre The division between the priestly type and prophetic type deepened throughout the war. Porterfield believes that the revelation of the My Lai massacre served to polarize the priestly type and the prophetic type beyond the point of impasse. In March of 1968--as an unofficial, partial response to the Tet Offensive--a platoon of 17 Porterfield. 93. 18 ibid. 94. 19 Porterfield. 90.

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14 American soldiers killed almost everyone in the South Vietnam village of My Lai. 21 Seymour Hershs revealing articles in the New York Times laid bare the events of My Lai and the subsequent cover up to the people of the United States. The My Lai massacre was no doubt a horrific atrocity. Many of the women were raped before being killed. 22 Al Hubbard, executive secretary of the VVAW said that My Lai was not an isolated incident and that [it] was only a minor step beyond the standard official United States Policy in Vietnam. 23 Historian Marilyn B. Young argues that the atrocities at My Lai spawned an identity crisis for many Americans who were brought up to believe that the American value structure could not allow for such aberrant behavior. 24 These people then had to watch a significant portion of the American population argue that My Lai was not an aberration, rather a continuation in the pattern of American behavior that allowed the genocide of the Native Americans, slavery, colonialism, and long term social injustice. 20 ibid. 90. 21 Young. 243. 22 ibid. 243. 23 ibid. 256. 24 Young. 244.

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15 Journalist David Obst thought that once the national media distributed stories about the My Lai massacre the American people would immediately cut off all support for the war. This, Obst believed, would make it impossible for the politicians in Washington to continue the war. According to Porterfield, Obst was so trapped in his view of the significance of the My Lai massacre that he failed to see the ways in which those with a pro-war perspective could continue to believe in their cause. 25 Obst did not explain fully in his story that Lieutenant Calley was at fault for breaking the rules of the U.S. military, not the entire war effort. As soon as the story was reported, Calley was arrested and tried in due course. Even though there was an attempted cover-up, it could be argued that since the cover-up failed, the system worked. To those who believed in the war effort to begin with, the story was certainly not sufficient to resolve anything, much less the immediate resolution that Obst and many in the antiwar movement imagined. The opposing perceptions of My Lai by the pro-war and antiwar contingents served the purpose of further mystifying the beliefs of the other. For the antiwar group, My Lai was a barometer for how out of control our 25 Porterfield. 97.

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16 forces had become and that anyone would dispute that must be in favor of winning at all costs. The Pro-war group believed the incident was wrong, but that it had been dealt with effectively and that it was just another attempt of the unpatriotic antiwar forces to undermine the efforts of our troops. Liberals and conservatives moved even further apart ideologically and their distrust of the other grew. Types in Oliver Stones Platoon Of Oliver Stones Vietnam War film Platoon critic Stuart Voytilla writes, The Vietcong, the apparent enemy, are beyond dehumanized uniforms becoming literal shadows that flit through the jungles. The Platoon--the sacred Heros Team of World War II--is the battlefield. And we have become our Enemy. 26 The Vietcong in Oliver Stones Platoon are just another factor to weigh (along with heat, fatigue, mines...) when considering the question of whether or not the war effort was worth it. Stone divides the military between those with pro-war tendencies and those with antiwar tendencies. Its as if the soldiers were sent to Vietnam simply to have the debate that was going on at home, only their version of the debate was held among the landmines, with the Vietcong shadows watching, under a 26 Voytilla, Stuart. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the mythic structure of 50 unforgettable films ; Michael Weise Productions; Studio City, California; 150.

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17 blistering sun. Both factions were armed to the teeth, and the officers, who were supposed to lead and keep order, frequently became targets for their own men. We can see Porterfields priestly and prophetic types in this division of the platoon. The heads are Stones version of the prophetic type. According to Milton J. Bates, they share many of the same characteristics of the portion of the working class which shared the antiwar sentiment, hedonism, gender-blurring, racial tolerance, recreational drugs and music of middle-class student culture. 27 The heads smoke pot the first time we see them. A poster of Ho Chi Minh hangs on the wall. When we come back to this warm, tight-knit group later in the film, they dance intimately with each other or with chairs and brooms to Smokey Robinsons Tracks of my Tears. The second group consists of the juicers. They represent Stones version of the priestly type. They tend to be very macho. They prefer beer to marijuana. They tend to come from rural locations. In one scene, Bunny demonstrates their masculinity when he bites a hole in a metal can of beer. 28 They tend to use more racist language. 27 Bates, Milton J. Oliver Stone's 'Platoon' and the politics of Romance Mosaic ; March 1994. 118. 28 Bates. 119.

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18 Elias (head/prophet) and Barnes (juicer/priest) most epitomize their group/type. Elias draws all the common cinematic Christ-like imagery. The scene in which Elias is finally killed is titled in the screenplay Elias crucified. 29 Eliass reason for going to Vietnam in the first place is to avoid jail. Barnes, conversely, is identified as the Beast from the Book of Revelations--seven times shot, seven times survived. Elias was forced to defy his natural place and fight. Barnes, however, is a natural fighter. 30 Barnes personifies the rhetoric of the priestly types need for discipline with the line, When the machine breaks down, we break down. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) represents the triumph of the prophetic type at the time of the Vietnam War. Chriss character--and young Stone--matches Porterfields description of the war critic--well educated, economically privileged, young, and self-centered. At the beginning of the film, hes obsessed with himself, writing, Maybe Ive finally found it, way down here in the mud. Maybe from down here I can start up again and be something I can be proud of, without having to fake it, be a fake human 29 ibid. 108. 30 ibid. 109.

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19 being. 31 Both Stone and Taylor went to Vietnam because they did not believe they should get out of service because they were privileged. All of these things amount to Chris having two mentors, one liberal and one conservative. In the end, it is the conservative mentor that Chris kills. Stones film represents the attitudes of deep distrust between liberals and conservatives by showing them killing one another rather than the Vietcong. Stone is saying that the war itself had more to do with the ideological differences among Americans than it did with any ideological differences between Americans and the North Vietnamese. 31 ibid. 114.

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CHAPTER 3 RELIGION, POLITICS AND THE EVOLUTION OF LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD From the earliest days of the film industry, filmmakers have struggled with members of the social hierarchy over the content of their work. People in power--religious figures and politicians--immediately recognized the power inherent in the medium. In his book, Politics and Politicians in American Film Phillip Gianos wrote: The history of movies is clear on one point: people in and out of the industry have behaved as though movies make a difference, as though they are powerful. From the beginning movies were the target of attempts from without to control their content; these were succeeded by attempts from within to do the same. In one case movie executives directed a campaign, using film as a weapon, to defeat a candidate in an election in the movies home state of California. And of course, there was the blacklist, the best known episode in the history of politics and film. 32 In this chapter, I will explore the Wuthnows liberal/conservative divide as it manifested itself throughout the history of the film industry. This is important to the understanding of the messages of the anti32 Gianos, Phillip L. Politics and Politicians in American Film ; Praeger; Westport, Connecticut; 1998. 63. 20

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21 Vietnam War film because the political climate of the industry is not always the same as the political climate of the rest of the country. The film industry during the seventies and eighties--when most important Vietnam War films were made--predominantly held liberal attitudes about politics and religion. In this chapter I will attempt to explain why. The Production Code In the early thirties, the film industry experienced widespread criticism for too much sexual and violent content. 33 The industry took action before the government could, instituting the Production Code. This doctrine of ethics was devised by a Jesuit priest and a Catholic publisher commissioned for the task. Among the rules listed by the code was a dictate that characters who participate in crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin not be depicted in a sympathetic way. The code also called for moral retribution and compensating moral values. Even though Hollywood self-imposed the code, many of its filmmakers would spend countless hours devising ways to circumvent the code. 33 Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era ; Henry Holt and Company; New York, New York; 1988. 167.

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22 The Blacklist After the relative harmony of World War II, during which the film industry largely aided the war cause, came the onset of what may very well be the most tumultuous period of American film history. In 1947, and again in 1951, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated the film industry in an attempt to purge Hollywood of communists and communist sympathizers. 34 The committee believed that communists had infiltrated Hollywood and were disseminating communist propaganda by way of American films. Reports surfaced that those in the film industry who were unsympathetic to the communist movement were commonly discriminated against. Film historian Dan Georgakas argues that contrary to the contentions of HUAC, communists in Hollywood operated primarily from a defensive standpoint. The Communist Partys focus was keeping anti-Soviet and anti-Left sentiment out of films. 35 Georgakas also believes that liberalism rather than communism was the true target of HUAC. He writes: The Right wished to discourage any Hollywood impulse to make films advocating social change at home or critical of foreign policy. The task of intimidation was focused on the role Communists played as 34 Georgakas. 1. 35 ibid. 2.

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23 screenwriters. Nearly 60 percent of all individuals called to testify and an equal percent of all those blacklisted were screenwriters. Only 20 percent of those called and 25 percent of those blacklisted were actors. 36 On November 24, 1949, Congress cited ten uncooperative screenwriters for contempt 37 Within days a bloc of prominent Hollywood producers met at the Waldorf Astoria hotel and pledged that no Communists or other subversives will be employed by Hollywood. By the middle of the next year most of the so-called Hollywood Ten began serving one-year prison sentences. As a result of the HUAC hearings, Hollywood overcompensated by releasing a series of strongly anti-Communist films. 38 The Red Menace (1949), I Married a Communist (1950), I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951), Walk East on Beacon (1952), My Son John (1952), and Trial (1955) were among the anti-Communist films issued in the wake of the HUAC hearings. In Big Jim McClain (1952), Hawaiian Communists were exposed by John Wayne. In Trial it was a Mexican American depicted as an insincere mercenary for the Soviets. Each of these films traced the roots of the global communist conspiracy directly or indirectly to the Soviet Union. 36 Georgakas. 4. 37 ibid. 6.

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24 The Hollywood Left Re-Emerges The Hollywood Left began to emerge in the late-1960s. This version of the movement felt warmly toward their predecessors and occasionally worked with formerly blacklisted actors and directors. 39 The new radical movement began to peak in the 1970s and 1980s. Former blacklisted writer, Ring Lardner, Jr., wrote Robert Altmans M*A*S*H (1970), a satire about the Korean War. Several films addressed labor issues; The Molly Maguires (1970), Norma Rae (1979), Silkwood (1983), and Matewan (1987). Daniel (1983) addressed the Rosenberg case. Reds (1982) included interviews with real-life radicals. American interventions in Latin America were questioned in the films Missing (1982), Under Fire (1983), Salvador (1986), and Latitio (1986). The blacklist itself was attacked in The Way We Were (1973), in which Barbra Streisand played a sympathetic Communist character. Liberal Film Schools Most of the filmmakers of anti-Vietnam War films attended college during the sixties when the universities were at the heart of the counterculture. The link between liberal universities and liberal Hollywood became the liberal film school. 38 Georgakas. 7.

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25 In 1993, an anonymous film student discussed the extent to which liberal ideals had pervaded the film schools of the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. 40 These schools are vitally important to the film industry. Together, they have produced a large number of the industrys most successful directors, writers, and producers. Star Wars The Godfather trilogy, the Indiana Jones franchise, The Lethal Weapon series, E.T. and Rain Man are just a few of the most financially successful films that have been made by filmmakers from these schools. This anonymous film student, who used the pseudonym Arlene Sterling, discussed the hostility that met any idea that seemed conservative at these schools. Conversely, any idea that struck a chord with liberalism was praised. Sterling writes, Courageous is the standard term used to defend anything depressing, nihilistic, and bleak. In an industry in which calling somebody a Republican constitutes a vicious personal smear, courageous is also used to praise any story that promotes a liberal political cause. For example, a story about two oppressed housewives finding independence through lesbianism would be courageous. Any script involving gays, lesbians, abortion, minorities, or the evils 39 Georgakas. 9. 40 Sterling, Arlene. Class conflict National Review ; June 21, 1993; p. 78.

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26 of Western civilization would be praised as timely, as well as courageous. 41 Sterling also describes pervasive anti-religious sentiment. The only religious content found in the students scripts were condemnations. Priests or pastors were commonly portrayed as corrupt. Film students write script after script about characters that grow by losing their faith. Sterling writes about an occasion of blatant anti-religious sentiment: During a class script reading, a student read a scene that he had written between a priest and a female environmental activist. In the scene, the priest attempts to show the activist the beauty of his church and his religion. After the scene was read aloud, another student immediately said, I've got a real problem with this religious element. Being anti-religious myself, I just shut down when I start seeing crosses and cassocks. My first instinct is, some slope-browed Jesus freak is trying to convert me, which I hate. The red-faced writer anxiously defended the scene on the grounds that it was being taken out of context. I'm passionately anti-church, he said. In the end of the story, the priest realizes the evils of organized religion and gains the courage to break free of it. The activist shows him her religion, which is all about people and nature, not God. Please don't think I'm for God. 42 The writer later presented a scene in which the priest has sex with the activist on the altar. This scene, according to Sterling, was greeted with 41 Sterling. 79.

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27 enthusiastic praise. Sterling describes a feeling of superiority among the students. Sony Pictures Chairman Peter Guber informed his class one day, Congratulations! You're all members of the cultural elite! Then added, Just don't let anyone know how much fun it is. Sterling admits that there is a certain amount of irony used by the students and faculty using this term. Sterling wants it known that the term is quickly losing that irony. As an example, she cites a party invitation that had been circulated at USC that was addressed, "Attention: Members of the Cultural Elite." This anonymous account probably should not be given too much weight, since there is no way to corroborate any of her stories. However, as a former film school student, I can attest that many of her accounts were similar to my experience and are not limited to schools in Los Angeles. Sterlings accounts again affirm Wuthnows liberal/conservative divide. The idea of Hollywood being alienated from the rest of the country began as a conservative criticism. If these accusations of elitism are true, it seems that now idea runs both ways, with Hollywood happily alienated from the unwashed masses--a 42 Sterling. 79.

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28 term that Sterling quotes her fellow students as using for those outside New York and Los Angeles. Porterfield and Wuthnow have described colleges as being centers of the antiwar and civil rights movements of the sixties. This becomes significant when considering some of the most influential antiwar filmmakers came from these liberal institutions. Oliver Stone, writer and director of three Vietnam War films, and Martin Scorsese, whos film Taxi Driver was the first film with a returning Vietnam Veteran as the central character, both attended New York University Film School. Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Apocalypse Now was a graduate of UCLAs film school. Brian DePalma, who directed Casualties of War graduated from Columbia University. Vietnam Syndrome Once these directors made the transition from liberal university students to liberal filmmakers, many of them still wanted to stop a war that had already ended. If the Vietnam War had ended, then they would make sure that nothing like it ever happened again. Marilyn B. Young identifies a pathology of foreign policy caused by the general revulsion to the Vietnam War that has been given a name by politicians--Vietnam

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29 Syndrome. 43 She identifies the symptoms as grave reluctance to send American troops abroad, close questioning of administration interventionist appeals, consistent poll results indicating that most judge the Vietnam War to have been not simply a mistake but fundamentally wrong. As a result, subsequent administrations have had to cautiously select their theaters of combat. Ronald Reagan used two very brief incursions, an invasion of Grenada in 1983, and air strikes against Libya in 1986, to reestablish the United States ability to project power in the world if it were deemed necessary. 44 Reagan also saw it necessary to revise the nature of the Vietnam War. He called it a noble cause. 45 Another time he told reporters that after World War II, France had liberated North and South Vietnam and that their reunification was blocked because Ho Chi Minh refused to participate in elections. During his speech at the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial, Reagan encouraged the nation to move on in unity and with resolve, with the resolve to always stand for freedom, as 43 Young. 314. 44 ibid. 315. 45 ibid. 315.

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30 Those who fought did, and to always try to protect and serve the peace. 46 Stone partially credits himself with the continuation of Vietnam Syndrome (though he did not use the term). He finished the script for Platoon in 1976, but found the film industry unwilling to make such a film. Initially, Stone felt betrayed by a country that he called a trasher of history. 47 After the film came out in 1986, Stone changed his mind, saying that the film coming out when it did made it more important. He saw it as a possible antidote to the reborn militarism of the Reagan Administration. Stone referred to the limited incursions in Grenada, Libya and Nicaragua. Stone believed that the popularity of his film, which won the Oscar for best picture and made over $100 million, had temporarily helped keep America out of another intervention. Stones point is difficult to ignore. Not only was Platoon an extremely visible film, it was followed by a second wave of anti-Vietnam films. High profile films such as, Full Metal Jacket (1987), Casualties of War (1989), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven and Earth (1993) kept Vietnam on the big screen through the rest of 46 Young. 328. 47 Hart, Dave. Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History; The University of Adelaide ; 1998. 2.

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31 the Reagan administration and throughout the Presidency of George H. W. Bush. These films all but disappeared during the Clinton Administration. This distribution in films tends to show that the film industry responded to the strong foreign policy rhetoric of Republican Presidents. Again we see that liberal filmmakers are addressing their conservative opponents.

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CHAPTER 4 EVIL AND SUFFERING IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR Liberal anti-Vietnam War filmmakers often use religious themes to address their conservative opponents. One of the common themes that these filmmakers use is that of evil or suffering. I believe this theme has been deliberately chosen to resonate with Christian beliefs that abhor useless suffering. Antiwar filmmakers are making the following case for a conservative audience: If the soldiers experience accomplished no goal yet caused great pain and suffering; then the war must be un-Christian and therefore it was unethical to support the Vietnam war or any new war like it. Useless Suffering In his book, The Working Class War Christian Appy shows that the Selective Service System or the draft was an obvious tool exploited by the rich to send a predominantly young, uneducated, working-class fighting force to Vietnam. Appy then uses the accounts of these men to show that the experience was so horrible on so many levels that any favoritism shown by the application of the draft system was 32

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33 woefully unfair. Appys method demonstrates a wide variety of useless suffering. By the late sixties, soldiers turned against the war in droves. 48 Many of them wrote UUUU on their helmets, representing the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary, for the ungrateful. In order to understand why so many of the troops felt so unappreciated, one must understand the cumulative effect of the wars many anxieties. The suffering of any American soldier in Vietnam began with the serious problems presented by walking. In Tim OBrians If I Die in a Combat Zone he explains that his unit met with enemy fire only once in his entire tour of duty. That was because the tactics utilized by the North Vietnamese forced American troops to walk endlessly in search of a hidden enemy. As a result, mines were a constant concern, often a greater concern than enemy troops. 49 During one five week period in 1966, a Marine infantry company of 175 men lost 64 due to deaths and injuries caused by mines and only three other casualties. Even during lulls in combat, mines killed. During July of 1969, when there were few clashes between opposing armies 48 Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam ; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; 1993. 43. 49 ibid. 170.

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34 in the four northernmost provinces of South Vietnam, mines caused 41 percent of casualties. 50 The mental anguish at second-guessing every step repeatedly preyed on the minds of the American soldiers. Even if the anxiety of mines had been removed, walking was still very dangerous and was responsible for thousands of American deaths. 51 During the periods of warmest weather, deaths from heat exhaustion exceeded death from combat. Victor Bellotti, a member of Bravo Company, told of an occasion when the men of Bravo Company drank so much of their own sweat that they became sick. Then they continued the practice hoping to be sent to an air-conditioned hospital. 52 The troops walked for twenty days without a sign of the enemy, yet in the first three days of the march sixty-five men had to be flown out due to heat exhaustion. Often enemy Vietnamese would wait until the men were so exhausted that they were ineffective before they would strike. Even successes sometimes bred damaging psychological effects. Often when troops were finally able to engage and defeat the enemy in the battlefield, the land fought for 50 Appy. 176. 51 ibid. 180. 52 ibid. 181.

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35 was soon abandoned. 53 This reinforced the idea that the men were simply killers and that the war was about nothing more than endlessly killing the enemy, not about borders or occupation. The military commands top priority was to produce a high enemy body count. 54 The news reported the count daily. Therefore, the average American thought of kills as a measure of progress. The fact that officers often used troops as bait to lure out the enemy bred a great deal of resentment among troops. 55 Stanley Goff, a decorated machine gunner described how this strategy worked: The purpose of [night movement] was for you to walk up on Charlie and for him to hit you, and then for our hardware to wipe them out... That was all we were--bait. They couldnt find Charlie any other way. They knew there was a regiment out there. They werent looking for just a handful of VC. Actually, theyd love for us to run into a regiment that would just wipe us out. Then they could plaster the regiment [with air strikes and artillery] and theyd have a big body count. The General gets another damned medal. He gets promoted. Oh, I only lost two hundred men, but I killed two thousand. 56 Many of these air strikes killed American soldiers. 57 53 Appy. 226. 54 ibid. 156. 55 ibid. 162. 56 ibid. 184. 57 ibid. 185.

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36 As the war continued, these anxieties resulted in a growing anger among the troops. When members of a platoon were killed, hopes of revenge motivated many American troops. The meticulous attention many soldiers paid to their kill counts was payback for every bit of suffering they have endured while in Vietnam. 58 Veteran Frank Matthews describes what a motivational factor payback was for his marine unit: After about a month I had a friend--as much friendship as you can make in a month--get shot. He said, Pay em back for me. From then on, if anybody got hurt we wanted revenge more than anything else. Every time we got psyched up for a patrol it was to pay em back. If another company down the road got waxed the night before, we were going out that night and pay em back. Payback was all we were doing. 59 Another way soldiers processed the unreality around them was to think of the war as a movie. Many soldiers told of both acting in and watching the war simultaneously. 60 Appy writes, [T]he metaphor of motion pictures helps explain a two-sided emotion: the feeling of participating in events far beyond ordinary experience (blown up on a huge screen) yet being powerless to control the outcome of the story. He feels at once the heady self-importance of the movie star and the helplessness of the 58 Appy. 229. 59 ibid. 229.

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37 moviegoer, impotent to affect the actions unfolding on the screen. 61 Veteran Frank Matthews, describes how dangerous that kind of thinking could be: Once in the middle of a firefight I decided to pull a John Wayne stunt. I saw a VC wide open, but it was just too easy [to kill him immediately]. So I hollered at him first so hed see me. Then I took off toward this log, jumped over, wanting to pop up shooting on the other side. But I broke my arm trying to pull that stunt. I wrote a letter to John Wayne telling him there was no damn way that stunt could work cause I broke my wrist trying it. I never got an answer, but I sure wrote him. 62 The feeling of the unreality of their surroundings manifest itself in the way Americans talked about their setting. American troops referred to the United States as The World. 63 Troops routinely used the phrase, When I get back to the World... to indicate what they would do when they returned to their homes in America. This terminology sets Vietnam in opposition to the world as they knew it. Appy wrote, The war proved so pointless, so contradictory, and so alien to any common assumption about life, they could not even locate the experience in the known world. 64 Vietnam contained so many different kinds of tortures, that 60 ibid. 281. 61 Appy. 281. 62 ibid. 281. 63 ibid. 290.

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38 the troops located this hellish place on a metaphysical plane. It could not be a geographical place on the Earth they knew. Making this psychological jump to a world without familiar moral structures allowed the soldiers to justify any kind of behavior. 65 Philip Caputo, author of A Rumor of War describes the phenomenon this way: As for the United States, we did not call it the World for nothing; it might as well have been on another planet. There was nothing familiar out where we were, no churches, no police, no newspapers, or any of the restraining influences without which the earths population of virtuous people would be reduced by ninety-five percent. It was the dawn of creation in the Indochina bush, an ethical as well as geographical wilderness. Out there, lacking restraints, sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile country and a relentless enemy, we sank into a brutish state. 66 Platoon Depicts Useless Suffering Stone begins Platoon with an ironic Biblical quote--Ecclesiastes 11:9--Rejoice young man in thy youth. Immediately Stone begins with a religious message for his religious conservative critics. That message is this, in Vietnam, no one could follow this command. Stone continues to methodically depicts the countless anxieties and tortures pointed out by Appy that make Vietnam an impossible place for young men to rejoice. 64 ibid. 290. 65 Appy. 252.

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39 Stone shows repeatedly the aimless wandering and fatigue of the platoon. In one scene Barnes accuses a private of damaging his own feet and then forces the soldier to continue marching despite the injury. Taylor and some of the other heads grew increasingly frustrated at the administration of the war. Bates describes the disillusionment felt by Taylor at learning that the same system of class privilege obtains in the military, where the warrior ethos has given way to the ethos of the corporate manager. 67 One such calculation places the battalion near the Cambodian border, within striking distance of an NVA regiment. Taylor says, We knew we were going to be the bait to lure them out. Phantom jets bomb both sides, causing heavy casualties on the part of the battalion in order to win the battle. Stone depicts the revenge drive in Platoon with the assault Barnes leads on the village that supported the VC that killed a platoon member. Taylor describes Barnes as their Ahab and the center of their rage. Payback remains a crucial theme throughout the film. As the Platoon degenerates, the object of vengeance shifts from the Vietnamese to themselves. Chris takes revenge on Barnes. 66 ibid. 252.

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40 Lust for revenge, the heat, the kill count, the specter of ambushes and landmines, being used as bait all amount to unending suffering and anxiety on the part of American soldiers. Most of the soldiers in these films are sympathetic characters that viewers are made to identify with by skilled directors, screenwriters and actors. Theoretically, any Christian conservative should be swayed by this horrific display of useless suffering. 67 Bates. 111.

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CHAPTER 5 THE VIETNAM WAR MORALITY TALE A common trait of the Vietnam combat film is that of the morality tale. The filmmakers of this genre are so interested in the morality of the war that common Judeo-Christian morality codes dramatized by means of ethical dilemmas recur throughout these films. Brian DePalmas Casualties of War Terry Georges A Bright Shining Lie Stanley Kubricks Full Metal Jacket and Stones Platoon all question the morality of the behavior of soldiers in Vietnam. Before the first scene of 1989s Casualties of War we read these words on a title screen, This film is based on an actual event that occurred during the Vietnam War. It was first reported by Daniel Lang in The New Yorker magazine in 1969. Before the film begins we know were going to be watching a true story, or at least a Hollywood version of a true story. Telling us this minimizes escapism. Everything that happens in the story is judged by the audience who, in turn, question what they would do in each scenario. This method creates a greater communal response. 41

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42 Before Private Ericksonn (Michael J. Fox) encounters his moral dilemma, he first has to come to terms with the amorality of Vietnam. He learns quickly. In the first battle scene he is nearly killed by falling into a VC booby trap. Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn) saves him. Not much later we see Ericksonn playing with small South Vietnamese children. He wants to connect with the Vietnamese people. Hes interested in their farming. This lasts until a VC in a supposedly pacified village kills the beloved short-timer, Brown (Jack Gwaltney). 68 With Brown gone, Meserve becomes leader of the squad. On their next mission the squad kidnaps and eventually rapes a South Vietnamese teenager. Meserve insists that shes VC even though everyone knows that is not true. A grunt named Hatch (John C. Reilly) thinks of Meserve as a born again Ghengis Khan and the girl as spoils of war. When Ericksonn refuses to rape the girl, Meserve brazenly points out that Ericksonn could be killed by friendly fire at any time. He even accuses Ericksonn of being a Vietcong sympathizer. Later, a calm Meserve offers Ericksonn a different way to look at it. He explains, Its just, were out here right? Its the boonies. We got the Cong 68 Short-timers are troops with few days left in their tour of duty.

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43 hiding in every tree waiting to grease us out of existence. We hump 5-6 hours a day through the ugliest snakes and stinging spiders. What do we got in all that but each other? Meserve justifies his behavior by calling attention to the absurdity of their surroundings. He paraphrases badly from the bible to make his point, Yay, though I walk through the valley of evil I fear no death. Because I am the meanest motherfucker in the valley. Meserves immorality is reinforced by his superiors. Ericksonns immediate supervisor, Lt. Reilly (Ving Rhames), responds to the charges by breaking up the squad and saying, You cant expect anything different in a combat zone. Reillys superior, Captain Hill (Dale Dye), actually believes that Ericksonn is more damaging to the military than Meserve and the rest of the squad. He blames Ericksonn for wanting to embarrass the military. In the end Ericksonn persists and gets the rapists in his squad court-martialed. Each of the four men received significant sentences ranging from eight years to life. We see Ericksonn later, as a grizzled short-timer explaining to another soldier why morality is important in Vietnam. He says, This Goddamned thing is turning us on our heads. Were getting it backwards, man. Just because at any second each of us may be

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44 blown away, everybodys acting like we can do anything, man. And it dont matter what we do. But Im thinking maybe its the other way around. Maybe its just the opposite. Because we might be dead in the next split second maybe we should be extra careful what we do. Maybe it matters more. Jesus, maybe it matters more than we know. With this epiphany Ericksonn also becomes another of the conventions of the Vietnam Film, a good man who eventually does the right thing. In A Bright Shining Lie we follow the true story of John Paul Vanns involvement in the Vietnam War. Early in the film, Vann looks forward to going to Vietnam. He calls it the war of the future. In the days before escalated U.S. involvement he is given his assignment, as an advisor to the South Vietnamese command. Vann, however, takes the initiative. When U.S. lives are lost, an emotional Vann demands that the South Vietnamese general (Van Cao) hold the line. In this scene we begin to see that U.S. lives are sacred and South Vietnamese troops can be sacrificed to save Americans. Slowly the U.S. takes control of the war effort and the South Vietnamese become alienated from the war. Vanns morals are tested in two ways in the film. The first test comes from his commanders. A general (Harve Presnell) explains to Vann that a clear loss in the outback

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45 should be considered a victory and that he better not spread any defeatist bullshit. Vann responds to this by promptly going to the media and telling the truth, on the record, about what was going on in Vietnam. In Vanns assessment the South Vietnamese had no desire to fight the communists. South Vietnamese officers cared more about Diem staying in power than they did about beating the North. He revealed that American kill counts were often inflated. Guns that were given to the South Vietnamese are quickly turned over to the VC. In his assessment the U.S. Army Advisory Program was totally ineffective. This makes Vann a press hero. Of course, this meant that the inner ranks closed him out of the war. As successful as Vann is at telling the truth about the war, he is an equal failure in his marriage. In Vietnam, Vann begins an adulterous affair with a Vietnamese teacher (Vivian Wu). This is complicated by the fact that Vann had a prior indiscretion with a sixteen-year-old babysitter. After getting divorced from his wife Vann returns to Vietnam where he is forced to marry a young local woman whom he has impregnated. Vann devotes all of his time to the war and is never there for his wife and child.

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46 Jean Paul Vann was killed suddenly when his helicopter crashed in bad weather. Though Vann is the rare unredeemed main character in a Vietnam War movie, his (true) story clearly illustrates that the immorality of the war breeds immorality in the people who fight in it. In 1987, Stanley Kubrick finally released Full Metal Jacket The only character in this film with a noticeable moral compass, Joker (Matthew Modine), is largely content to observe the immorality around him. Kubrick shows Jokers moral strength in a scene from boot camp on Parris Island. The Drill Instructor (R. Lee Ermy) demands that Joker profess his love for the Virgin Mary. Joker declines on the grounds that reversal would be worse than disobedience. Impressed the Drill Instructor promotes Joker to squad leader. For the rest of the film Joker does not openly resist any of the injustice or immorality that takes place around him--on Parris Island or in Vietnam. Unlike Casualties of War none of the troops are in the least bit inclined to report any of the atrocities fellow soldiers commit. Kubrick establishes the hellish nature of South Vietnam by repeatedly showing how much the Americans and the South Vietnamese--allies in the war--hated one another. In the first scene in Saigon a teen South Vietnamese

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47 prostitute repeats the line me so horny. Moments later a Vietcong steals a camera from Joker and his photographer Rafterman. In the next scene Rafterman expresses his dislike to Joker. He says, You know what pisses me off about these people? Were supposed to be here to help them but they shit all over us. Later, Joker and Rafterman are taken by helicopter to rendezvous with Cowboys platoon. In the chopper, a deranged soldier is shooting every Vietnamese in sight. He explains, Anyone who runs is a VC. Anyone who stands still is a well disciplined VC. A Corporal that Joker meets later tells him that the United States is here because inside every gook is an American dying to get out. Even egregious racism toward African-American troops is ignored by African-Americans. A white soldier, Animal Mother, tells a black soldier that All niggers must hang, and thank God for the sickle-cell. No one bats an eye. The unreality of Vietnam has overcome the simplest of moral scruples. Aside from the rampant racism, Kubrick shows the immorality of the war in the official language used to report on the war. The Editor of the newspaper that Joker and Rafterman work for, Stars and Stripes informs his reporters of some of the linguistic mistakes theyve made.

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48 A North Vietnamese army regular is a soldier. If Americans move Vietnamese they are evacuees, not refugees. Instead of seek and destroy, the reporters should use the term sweep and clear. The editor tries to explain to Joker that he should be interested in making American soldiers feel good. We run two basic stories, he says, Grunts who give half of their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes--the winning of hearts and minds, ok--and combat action that results in a kill--winning the war. Again we see that killing is winning. The editor tells Joker to add a kill to his combat story. Joker protests that there was no proof of any kill. The editor responds, Thats why we have the law of probability. He tells Joker to write it again and this time give it a happy ending. The editor suggests that the kill could even be an officer. Jokers trek finally produces an ethical dilemma he can not walk away from. After losing three of their men, including Jokers friend Cowboy, the troops find the sniper responsible--the very prostitute they had encountered in the ville. Rafterman shoots her, but leaves her alive and in extreme pain. Animal Mother, now the senior officer, orders the troops to leave her for the rats. As the dying Vietnamese girl begs someone to shoot her, Joker must

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49 choose between compassion, killing her; or spite, letting her suffer for what she did to their friends. Joker finally chooses the moral high road and shoots the sniper, ending her suffering. For this he is both ridiculed and respected by different members of the platoon. In Oliver Stones Platoon the main character, Chris Taylors moral dilemma is what brings him to Vietnam in the first place. He tells members of the platoon that he volunteered for active duty because he didnt think it was fair that rich kids always get away with everything in society. Like Ericksonn, Taylor quickly learns how unfair Vietnam could be. After waking another soldier, Junior, for his shift, Taylor goes to sleep. He wakes up shortly to find that Junior has fallen asleep and they are about to be ambushed by NVA. After the ambush--in which a soldier dies--Junior turns on Taylor and blames him for sleeping on watch. Although Taylor makes the most important moral decision at the end of the film, throughout most of the film questions about the morality of the war center more on Staff Sergeant Barnes. John Stone argues that the hero/protagonist in the morality plays is important, but only insofar as he serves as a vehicle for examining characterizations of moral

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50 extremes. 69 The characterizations of good, and to a greater extent evil, provide the parameters for understanding what can be expected and, more significantly, what must be accepted in these environments. Oliver Stone fictionalizes a real event, the My Lai massacre, to further show how Barnes and his camp represent one moral extreme. The platoon returns to a nearby village seeking revenge for the killing of one of their own. Numerous members of the platoon commit atrocities. The sequence in which the village atrocities are carried out is an attempt to show what Obst tried to show with his story about My Lai. The difference is that nobody was held accountable in the film, whereas in reality the people had Lieutenant Calley as a scapegoat. Taylors final ethical dilemma comes at the end of the film when he is given the opportunity to kill Barnes. If he does it, he can avenge Eliass murder and he can end Barnes immoral behavior once and for all. The problem is that killing is a categorically immoral act. If Platoon is a morality play, then it is vital to decipher the symbolism of Taylors climatic murder of Barnes. Richard Corliss writes, 69 Stone, John. Evil in the Early Cinema of Oliver Stone: Platoon and Wall Street as Modern Morality Plays Journal of Popular Film and Television ; Summer 2000. 82.

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51 In the movie theaters, this illegal shooting usually gets a big hand. Good guy kills bad guy. But can Chris or the audience take moral satisfaction in this deed? Has Chris become like Elias, back from the grave to avenge his own murder? You have to fight evil if you are going to be a good man, Stone says. That's why Chris killed Barnes. Because Barnes deserved killing. 70 Chris is forced into the space between good and evil--he has to make a moral judgment about evil and he doesnt back away from it. Has Taylor become like Barnes in order to kill him? Stone has another answer: I also wanted to show that Chris came out of the war stained and soiled--like all of us, every vet. I want vets to face up to it and be proud they came back. So what if there was some bad in us? That's the price you pay. Chris pays a big price. He becomes a murderer. 71 Of all these morality plays, Platoon represents the morality of Vietnam the best, because the main character is left with the least appealing choice. Each of these films shows a fundamentally decent central character tempted to commit amoral acts, acts which are not in keeping with Americas Judeo-Christian ethic. Again the Christian conservatives are being addressed. None of these 70 Corliss, Richard. Platoon; Vietnam, the way it really was on film Time ; Jan 26 1987. 54.

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52 moral dilemmas would be moral dilemmas if they werent set in Vietnam. It is the amoral surroundings of the war that allow these ethical men to have their souls placed in peril. The point being communicated by the liberals to the conservatives is this: allow this war to happen and your code of ethics no longer exists. 71 Stone, Oliver. A filmmaker's credo: some thoughts on politics, history, and the movies. The Humanist ; Sept-Oct 1996. 11.

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CHAPTER 6 VIETNAM VETERANS: MORE SUFFERING AND DEMONIZATION After their tours of duty ended, Vietnam veterans who had faced the terrors of the war returned to the world to find a new set of difficulties. According to Marilyn Young, as of 1991, one quarter to one third of the homeless were Vietnam Veterans. 72 Symptoms stemming from the trauma of service--flashbacks, severe distress, sleep problems, depression and rage--manifested years later. Doctors incorrectly treated victims of postwar trauma for post-traumatic stress disorder. These treatments did not necessarily take war-related causes under consideration. Robert J. Lifton argues in his book, Home From the War that veterans of other wars could make a much easier transition from combat back into society. 73 Those veterans reconciled the evils of their war by focusing on the purpose for which they fought. After other wars, the greater purpose of the war would be repeatedly affirmed upon returning home. The stated purposes of the Vietnam 72 Appy. 311. 73 ibid. 322. 53

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54 War--to expel the invading NVA and to protect freedom and democracy for the South Vietnamese people--were continually contradicted by the soldiers experience during the war and by the clear lack of affirmation upon returning home. A greater number of veterans have committed suicide than the number of American soldiers killed during the Vietnam War. 74 Film narratives about Vietnam veterans implicate Vietnam as an extremely evil place that transformed our soldiers into antisocial monsters. Beginning with Oliver Stones account of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovics autobiography Born on the Fourth of July I will examine these films in order to show how the filmmakers of this genre have consistently used the damaged psyche of the main character to demonstrate the evils of the war. Continuing To Suffer The beginning sequence of Born on the Fourth of July shows clips from Kovics working-class 1950s childhood. These clips segue to an athletic Kovic competing as a wrestler while in high school. These scenes symbolize what will be lost when Kovic returns paralyzed from the war. The young men of his working class town know little about what they are getting into. Kovic is so excited about going to fight in the war he tells his friends, If 74 Appy. 324.

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55 we dont sign up soon we could miss it. These young men believed that communism is moving in everywhere. When one of Kovics friends, Stevie, admits his reluctance to go to Vietnam, the others emasculate him. Even the local high school girls think the war is neat. Kovic speaks of fighting the war in terms of service to his country. He longs to prove himself by freedom fighting like past generations did in World War II and Korea. After being paralyzed in the war, Kovic returns home with a sense of entitlement that quickly gives way to disillusionment. Kovic encounters many horrors in the Veterans hospital. An insensitive nurse tells him that no one around here cares about your Vietnam. Later, an inattentive nurse leaves him staring at his own vomit for hours. Another fails to understand why a paralyzed veteran would care to keep a broken leg. When Kovic finally gets to see a doctor, the doctor apologizes for all the budget cuts and their inability to take care of the wounded vets properly. When he moves back in with his parents he finds that his brother is adamantly opposed to the war. The rejection manifests itself in alcoholism. One night while drinking he tells a friend that during the attack that paralyzed him, he was initially shot in the foot. He then tells this

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56 friend that he wishes he had stayed down and not tried to be a hero. He describes his counter-attack as acting like John Wayne. Kovic describes the impact patriotic war films had on his youth. Every Saturday afternoon wed all go down to the movies in the shopping center and watch... war movies with John Wayne and Audie Murphy... Ill never forget Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back At the end he jumps on top of a flaming tank thats just about to explode and grabs the machine gun blasting it into the German lines. There were gasoline flames roaring around his legs, but he just kept firing that machine gun. It was the greatest movie I ever saw in my life... after it was over Castiglia and I crawled all over the back yard playing guns and army, making commando raids all summer into Ackermans housing project blasting away at the imaginary enemy... throwing dirt bombs and rocks into the windows, making loud explosions like hand grenades with our voices then charging in with our Matty Mattel machine guns blazing. I bandaged up the German who was still alive and had Castiglia question him as I threw a couple more grenades. 75 Eventually Kovic learns of a place in Mexico where disabled vets have congregated. The place represents a sort of city on a hill for handicapped vets. In a futile attempt to regain their lost sexuality they surround themselves with cheap prostitutes. Fed up, Kovic returns home and becomes a part of the 75 Kovic, Ron. Born On The Fourth of July ; New York, Pocket; 1977. 54-56.

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57 antiwar movement. Stone explains how the return home could turn a person against the war as effectively as service could. He writes, I can't tell you how cold a homecoming it was. In my experience, however, the majority of the American people didn't really care either way because they were making an enormous amount of money at the time; under Lyndon Johnson, the Great Society had started and an economic boom was underway. 76 In Born on the Fourth of July Kovic returns home to find that a friend who had avoided the war now owned a successful restaurant. After mocking Kovics belief in the domino theory he offers Kovic a job as cashier. The men who went to war missed the opportunities, and many never recovered. So, Stone said, we fought two wars back to back, and the one at home was, in some respects, a struggle against our society's indifference to and denial of the one overseas: a denial of Vietnam, a denial of pain, a denial of people like Ron Kovic and myself. 77 In Martin Scorseses 1976 film Taxi Driver we see a Vietnam veteran, Travis Bickle (Robert DiNiro), struggle to reintegrate into society. Bickle becomes a taxi driver because he cant sleep nights. While applying for the job 76 Stone, Oliver. 3. 77 ibid.

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58 he makes a subtle statement about the Vietnam War--My driving record is clean, like my conscience. Bickle is extremely disillusioned with the moral climate of New York City. He wishes for a real rain to wash the scum off the streets. Bickle falls for a high-class campaign volunteer (Cybil Sheppard). He thinks of her as a pure angel emerging from a filthy mass. When the presidential candidate that she supports asks Bickle what bothers him the most about America, Bickle answers that he would really like to see someone clean up New York. Bickles behavior gradually darkens as he becomes more and more obsessed with Sheppards character. He stalks the candidate. Bickle buys several guns and decides to assassinate the candidate. He is blocked from doing so, but he soon befriends a young prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), who provides him with a new target for his angst. Though he harshly, self-righteously assaults her morality, Bickle--now wearing a Mohawk--kills her pimp in order to set Iris free. In 1990s Jacobs Ladder the angst of reintegration manifests itself in a much more spiritual fashion. Jacob (Tim Robbins) plays a soldier killed in Vietnam. The film unfolds in three different time frames--before the war, during the war, and after the war. Even though he dies in

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59 the war, we see his life after the war, during which Jacob suffers greatly. This timeframe acts as a Samsara like burning away of the parts of his life that Jacob cant let go. The demons haunting him do so because, though he has died, he can not relinquish the pain of losing his son and the fact that his regiment in Vietnam slaughtered each other. They did so after they were given experimental drugs by the government meant to enhance the aggressiveness of the demoralized troops. Though no one has ever proved that such experiments took place, Sixty Minutes has long maintained that experiments happened. 78 A CIA radical hunts Jacob down and explains that the drugs the government gave them resulted in the troops killing one another like animals. The ghouls that haunt Jacobs post-Vietnam life are another way of describing the war as evil. Anything that could create such spiritual angst must have been a living hell. When Jacob finally receives the spiritual guidance he needs (from a cherub disguised as a chiropractor) he is finally able to get over the horrors of the war. A bright light consumes him and he is taken into Nirvana. The film then cuts to a makeshift hospital in Vietnam where we learn 78 Devine, Jeremy M. Viet n am at 24 Frames a Second ; University of Texas Press, Austin; 1995. 330

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60 Jacob has died. A doctor covers his body with a blanket and says, He put up a hell of a fight. Veteran Exploitation Films Born on the Fourth of July Taxi Driver and Jacobs Ladder are three of the more credible examples of films about Vietnam veterans. Many of the films that have depicted them create a false myth of antisocial monsters. While Taxi Driver comes close to this, Travis Bickle manages to act according to a morality code. The stereotyping of the Vietnam veteran came from the desire of filmmakers in the sixties and seventies to make films about Vietnam without a budget sufficient to film combat sequences. 79 These films often made murderers out of veterans with their reasoning being that war itself turns men into killers and that their return to society would not stop their murderous urges. A psychotic veteran is diagnosed by a psychiatrist in the 1973 film The Stone Killers 80 The doctor explains the main character--Lippers--problem, Aggression and violence are part of the learning process. Theyre habit forming. Now Lipper was a type of addict. We tend to count the victims among the innocent. Now, thats not always so Lieutenant. After weve shed our pity for the basketcases and 79 Muse, Eben J. The Land of Nam ; Scarecrow Press, Inc.; Lanham, Maryland; 1995. 54. 80 ibid. 55.

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61 the burned children, weve nothing left for the psychopath weve created. Vietnam doesnt make heroes; it makes a generation of Lippers. No other war produced such monsters, yet films about the antisocial Vietnam veteran became a genre. That genre soon mutated and quickly became fodder for horror films. In The Ravager a little known 1970 horror film--and only one of many horror films to use veterans as monsters, a soldier who witnessed atrocities committed by the Vietcong returns home and begins to bomb lovers in their vehicles. Less supernatural fare, such as 1968s Tiger By the Tail and 1971s The Bus is Coming both tell the story of a confused veteran who kills his brother because he could not separate the reality of the war from the home front. 81 In Elia Kazans The Visitors (1972) a scenario much like the one from Casualties of War spills over to the home front. The main character, Mike, is stalked by two soldiers from his squad in Vietnam that Mike had testified against for the rape of a Vietnamese woman. 82 In order to gain their revenge they nonchalantly rape Mikes girlfriend. Films about Vietnam vets were also conveniently merged with other genres in order to create antagonists who have been shaped by something profound and something other than race. The 81 Muse. 56. 82 ibid. 58.

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62 blaxploitation films of the seventies often made their stars (Jim Brown or Fred Williamson) veterans. The biker films genre also became synonymous with the veteran exploitation film. While Vietnam veterans were rarely cast in the sillier slasher roles after the initial onslaught of these films in the seventies, the damaged Vietnam veteran has made a couple of recent appearances. John Goodman played a veteran still obsessed with the injustices of Vietnam in the Cohen brothers film The Big Lebowski (1997). Emilio Estevez played a Veteran who has lost all ability to function socially in The War at Home (1996). All of these movies used Veterans as characters with a subtext. They had all become at the very least abnormal because of their experience in Vietnam. These films--which far-outnumbered Vietnam combat films--repeatedly communicate to Christian conservatives that some horrible evil lurked in the Vietnam War and that allowing it to happen again would be un-Christian.

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CHAPTER 7 VIETNAM FILMS: THE CONSERVATIVE DISCOURSE The reemergence of liberalism in Hollywood did not take hold until the early seventies. Anti-Vietnam War films didnt start appearing with frequency until the late seventies. Into this void came 1968s The Green Berets This film was despised by critics, both for its political message as well as its aesthetics. It was perhaps so despised that up and coming filmmakers were motivated to respond to it and were encouraged that their responses would be well received because of the negative reviews. John Wayne--a long time conservative voice in Hollywood--made The Green Berets in 1968, with the intention of reversing the growth in the antiwar movement. 83 In a letter to President Johnson, Wayne wrote, [It is] extremely important that not only the people of the United States but those all over the world should know why it is necessary for us to be there. 84 The Pentagon agreed to contribute to the film under the conditions that South Vietnamese brutality not be depicted and that the war in Vietnam not be referred to as a civil war. 63

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64 These points were conveyed to the audience via the character of Sergeant Muldoon (Aldo Ray). When Muldoon is asked why the United States was participating in the war, he answered, A soldier goes where he is told and fights whoever he is told to fight. 85 Another reporter asks why the United States should get involved in a war between the Vietnamese people. Muldoon points to weapons seized from the Vietnamese that had been made by the Soviets, the Chinese and the Czechs. He says, Whats involved here is Communist domination of the world. This skeptical reporters character represents the antiwar movement. Over the course of the film, he travels to Vietnam with Col. Mike Kirby (Wayne) and gradually comes to embrace U.S. involvement in the war to such an extent that he picks up a rifle and becomes part of the war. What Is a Conservative Film? It took ten years for another significant Vietnam combat film to be made--though Coppolas Apocalypse Now went into production in 1974. These films were part of the liberal reemergence in Hollywood that Georgakas described. Conservative film critic Spencer Warren believes the rebirth of the conservative film came with the making of 83 Gianos. 158. 84 ibid. 159. 85 Gianos. 159.

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65 George Lucass Star Wars Warren recently defined the conventions of the conservative film. He calls for films that honor God and country, tradition and family, freedom and resistance to tyranny, individual achievement and the American Dream. 86 He believes that films should celebrate Americas business creativity and should demonize collectivism. Warren decries the antiwar films of the seventies and eighties and celebrates Lucas for returning films to American themes of good versus evil. The run of anti-Vietnam War films did not go unchallenged by conservative politicians either. In 1987, during Republican Representative from California Robert K. Dornans fifth term--he would later run for president and become an Emmy winning television personality--he lashed out at Hollywood for what he considered to be the unfair conventions of the Vietnam War film genre. Dornan served in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1958 before covering the Vietnam War as a television journalist. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Veterans Committee, Dornan ripped Hollywood filmmakers, issuing the following statement. It is obvious the political Left in Hollywood is still feeling powerful pangs of 86 Warren, Spencer. The 100 best conservative movies National Review ; Oct 24, 1994. 53.

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66 guilt over the bloody aftermath of the Vietnam War. After actively seeking a North Vietnamese victory (euphemistically called American withdrawal), the Hollywood liberals now refuse to accept any responsibility for the slaughter that followed, and vilify as right-wing fanatics and fascists those who question the wisdom or motives of the antiwar faction. In this respect, Hollywood has much in common with America's self-anointed intelligentsia, which still refuses to accept the obvious immorality of its antiwar, or more accurately, pro-Hanoi position. To perpetuate the myth that Vietnam was anything but the noble cause Ronald Reagan said it was, Hollywood has produced a string of movies that consistently put the war and our fighting men in the most unflattering light. Apocalypse Now The Deer Hunter Coming Home and now the Academy Award-winning Platoon all depict our fighting men as neurotics, drug addicts, rapists, or murderers. It makes one wonder how, with armed forces like that, the United States managed to fight for two centuries without ever losing a significant military engagement. Tigerland and We Were Soldiers Since the attacks of 9-11, Vietnam Syndrome has apparently waned. Since then, President George W. Bush has prosecuted two overseas wars. The militaristic phase that Oliver Stone believed his film Platoon may have helped stave off in 1986, has clearly returned in the wake of 9-11. The last two Vietnam films--Tigerland (2000) and We Were Soldiers (2002)--show how quickly the political voice of the genre changed.

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67 Tigerland The last Vietnam film to come out before 9-11 was Tigerland Tigerland --which is about training for the war and is never actually set in Vietnam--follows in the footsteps of other conventional anti-Vietnam War films. The movie makes Vietnam out to be an evil event and the characters face the similar moral dilemmas to the ones faced by the characters in the other Vietnam morality tales. Based on the experiences of co-screenwriter Ross Klavan, the eponymous Tigerland is the final training zone for Army recruits before they are sent to Vietnam. The main character of the film, Roland Bozz (Colin Ferrel) deeply distrusts authority figures. He spends most of the film trying to devise ways to get out of the war or to get others out of it. Along the way he becomes a sergeant and also an alternate authority, as the privates trust him more than any of the Armys leaders. Bozz befriends Private Paxson (Matthew Davis). Together the two plot to get kicked out of the army before they can be sent to Vietnam. In this sequence, we see the same draft anxiety faced by Chris Taylor and some of Ron Kovics friends. Paxson and Bozz stand on top of a metal shed and agree to jump off in order to break their legs and

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68 get discharged. They quickly think better of it. Paxson suggests Canada and Bozz counters with Mexico. Paxson tells Bozz that he is unable to leave anyway because he volunteered and if he ran, someone else would have to be drafted to take his place. Therefore, running would be unethical because another person may be killed in his place. The filmmakers of Tigerland (a collaboration of director Joel Schumacher and screenwriters Klavan and Michael McGruther) construct a dualism along the lines of Stones good versus evil embodied by the battle between Elias and Barnes. In their dualism Bozz (non-conformist eccentric) is pit against Private Wilson (Shea Whigham playing a conformist sociopath). This dichotomy is clever, because it still stresses extremes, but these are the extremes of people deeply affected by the training experience. Bozz could never follow anyone other than himself and Wilson was driven mad by the rejection of Bozz and eventually the military establishment. So, on both sides of this dichotomy we see major flaws in the authoritarian strategy of American military training.

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69 We Were Soldiers Randall Wallaces 2002 film We Were Soldiers was the first Vietnam War movie released after 9-11, and shows a remarkably different side of the war. For the first time soldiers are upstanding, moral, churchgoing, family men. Recently Oliver Stone spoke out against We Were Soldiers saying, We Were Soldiers is a desecration of memory and the press supported it. 87 The reason Stone is so furious about this film is because it takes an event from early in the War--the epic battle in November 1965 for the La Drang Valley--and systematically responds to each of the moral concerns of the antiwar movement, which had not developed by that time. Mel Gibson portrays Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, leader of the seventh Calvary regiment--the same regiment led by General Custer. Gibson embodies the prevailing social norms of the fifties and early sixties. Hes a deeply religious man, caring father, and loving husband. He counters every authority figure depicted in Vietnam combat films since Green Berets Hes not cynical like Elias, not brutal like Barnes, not incompetent or incapable like the leaders Appy describes. An educated, erudite, warrior poet, Moore--who holds a masters degree-

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70 continuously breaks the stereotype of the Vietnam era military authority figure. The horrific tribulations of the war are brushed aside in one training scene. Moore trains his men to ignore explosions, heat, dust, screams of the wounded because in battle these are normal. Repeatedly characters affirm that they know what the war is about and support the reasoning behind it. At the end of the film, Moore returns home to his wife and family affected by the war, but functional, unlike Ron Kovic. Moore and Joe Galloway, the authors of Moores biography We Were Soldiers Once...and Young would only sell the film rights to Wallace after a long, personal courtship. 88 Wallace described the process, I would send them copies of two scripts to show them the kind of work I did and what I believed in and what my values were. Wallace is a devout Catholic with a seminary background. He acknowledges that his take on the Vietnam War film is not politically correct by Hollywoods standards. 89 Wallace financed the film himself. Through his relationship with Gibson--who won an Oscar for 87 Clinch, Catherine. Oliver Stone Takes on the Fourth Estate, The Pentagon and the Studios Creative Screenwriting ; Sept-Oct 2002. 12. 89 Chadwell, John. "We Were Soldiers: A Spiritual Journey of a Lost War p. 2.

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71 directing Wallaces script for the film Braveheart --he was able to secure a distribution deal without ever subjecting the material to Hollywoods editorial process. When asked about liberal discrimination in Hollywood, Wallace said, Well, I've been in meetings where people who I like and respect have said things like, Don't do business with so and so. He's a Republican. To me, that's like saying we ought to get together a blacklist, figure out who the conservatives are and make sure they don't have work. As for my own politics, I've voted both ways and will continue to. I often find there's a problem when people know that I come from a seminary background. I'll get this expectation that I should support their cause or be involved. I find people who want to use that, and I despise it. 90 Wallace believes that We Were Soldiers showed a side of the soldiers that no Vietnam War film has ever shown. What we think of as a Vietnam-era film is men killing babies, raping civilians, or napalming innocents, Wallace said. Conclusion The liberal/conservative divide began opening after World War II and became a clearly polarized rift in American ideology during the Vietnam War era. The film industry, fuelled by the radical students of 1960s who 90 Chadwell. 2.

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72 became the radical directors of the 1970s, repeatedly used the Vietnam War film as a political statement directed at conservatives. Combat images of all things un-Christian were meticulously made to seem real on the big screens of movie theaters in every town in America. Other films showed veterans returning home profoundly damaged. If this is the nature of the war, liberals were saying, then Christians should want nothing to do with it or any future war like it. Hollywood has used the Vietnam War as subject material for a very long time. So long in fact that it could be argued that after the first wave of anti-Vietnam War films (1978-1979), all subsequent films set in Vietnam have been about liberal fear of what they have at least perceived to be aggression on the part of conservative foreign policy makers. Oliver Stone understood that even though Platoon was a story set in Vietnam--perhaps the most realistic film ever made about the war--the political results of the film were felt on the 1986 political landscape. If the film altered foreign policy it altered the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan, not Lyndon Johnson. I believe that the approach I have used in this thesis can be broadened to include other fronts within the liberal/conservative divide. An example of one such genre

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73 could be the political film. Recent works such as All the Presidents Men JFK Nixon Primary Colors The Contender Bob Roberts and Cradle Will Rock all reflect the reemergence of the liberal film industry in the last quarter of the twentieth century. An argument can be made that almost all films are political and can be read within a conservative or liberal framework. If this is the case, then Politics and Film could be just as fertile an area for interdisciplinary study as Religion and Film has been.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam ; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; 1993. Bates, Milton J. Oliver Stone's Platoon and the politics of Romance Mosaic ; March 1994. Chadwell, John. "We Were Soldiers: A Spiritual Journey of a Lost War On-line article; 2002. Clinch, Catherine. Oliver Stone Takes on the Fourth Estate, The Pentagon and the Studios Creative Screenwriting ; Sept-Oct 2002. Corliss, Richard. Platoon; Vietnam, the way it really was on film Time ; Jan 26, 1987. Devine, Jeremy M. Vietnam at 24 Frames a Second ; University of Texas Press, Austin; 1995. Georgakas, Dan. Hollywood Blacklist Encyclopedia of the American Left ; Ed by Buhle, Buhle, and Georgakas; Urbana and Chicago; University of Illinois Press; 1992. Gianos, Phillip L. Politics and Politicians in American Film ; Praeger; Westport, Connecticut; 1998. Hart, Dave. Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History; The University of Adelaide; 1998. Kovic, Ron. Born On The Fourth of July ; New York, Pocket; 1977. Moore, R. Laurence. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture : New York, Oxford University Press, 1994. Muse, Eben J. The Land of Nam ; Scarecrow Press, Inc.; Lanham, Maryland; 1995. 74

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75 Porterfield, Amanda. The Transformation of American Religion ; Oxford University Press; 2001. Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era ; Henry Holt and Company; New York, New York; 1988. Sterling, Arlene. Class conflict National Review ; June 21, 1993. Stone, John. Evil in the Early Cinema of Oliver Stone: Platoon and Wall Street as Modern Morality Plays Journal of Popular Film and Television ; Summer 2000. Stone, Oliver. A filmmaker's credo: some thoughts on politics, history, and the movies. The Humanist ; SeptOct 1996. Voytilla, Stuart. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the mythic structure of 50 unforgettable films ; Michael Weise Productions; Studio City, California; 1999. Warren, Spencer. The 100 best conservative movies National Review ; Oct 24, 1994. Wuthnow, Robert. Old Fissures and New Fractures in American Religious Life Religion and American Culture ; Ed. by David Hackett; Routledge; New York, London; 1995. Young, Marilyn B. Vietnam-American Wars 1945-1990. Harper Collins, 1991.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Jay M. Allbritton was born on August 15, 1974, in the city of Los Angeles, California. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida in May of 2000. He then enrolled as a graduate student in the Department of Religion at the University of Florida in August of 2001. An aspiring writer, Jay is close to finishing his first novel, a science fiction comedy, which remains untitled. He also has co-wrote a screenplay (with fellow U.F. alumni, Kevin Kerins), which is in production in and around North Central Florida at the time of this writing. 76


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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0001227/00001

Material Information

Title: Religion and politics in films about the Vietnam War
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Creator: Allbriton, Jay Michael ( Author, Primary )
Publication Date: 2003
Copyright Date: 2003

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0001227:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0001227/00001

Material Information

Title: Religion and politics in films about the Vietnam War
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Creator: Allbriton, Jay Michael ( Author, Primary )
Publication Date: 2003
Copyright Date: 2003

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0001227:00001


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Full Text













RELIGION AND POLITICS
IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR

















By

JAY MICHAEL ALLBRITTON


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2003
















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

There are many people without whom this thesis could

not have been written. As the chair of my thesis committee

and a scholarly beacon, Dr. Gene R. Thursby guided me

whenever I sought him out, which was frequently. Dr. David

G. Hackett and Dr. Sheldon Isenberg rounded out the thesis

committee and provided much needed assistance. Dr. Manuel

Vasquez and Dr. Louise Newman (from the History

Department), though not on my committee, also provided a

great deal of direction and encouragement. This thesis

would not exist without Julia Smith and Annie Newman

because I doubt the department would exist without them.

The students who went before me--Michael Gressett, Paul

Moonoak, Stacey Crandle and Todd Best--showed me the way.

Of course, others can only help so much. Where this thesis

is strong it is due to those credited above. Where it is

weak the fault lies with me alone.

















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

AKNOWLEDGMENTS... ........................................iv

ABSTRACT.... ..............................................v

CHAPTER

1 INTRODUCTION ......................................... 1

2 THE EVOLUTION OF THE LIBERAL/CONSERVATIVE
DIVIDE.................................................... 8

Prophetic and Priestly Type .........................10
The My Lai Massacre..................................13
Types in Oliver Stone's Platoon......................16

3 RELIGION, POLITICS AND THE EVOLUTION OF
"LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD".................................20

The Production Code .................................21
The Blacklist........................................21
The Hollywood Left Re-emerges .......................24
Liberal Film Schools ................................24
Vietnam Syndrome..................................... 28

4 EVIL AND SUFFERING IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM
WAR....................................................... 32

Useless Suffering.................................... 32
Platoon Depicts Useless Suffering...................38

5 THE VIETNAM WAR MORALITY TALE.........................41

6 VIETNAM VETERANS: MORE SUFFERING AND
DEMONIZATION........................................53

Continuing to Suffer ................................54
Veteran Exploitation Films ..........................60




iii











7 VIETNAM FILMS: THE CONSERVATIVE DISCOURSE .............63

What Is a Conservative Film? ........................64
Tigerland and We Were Soldiers ......................66
Tigerland................................................. 67
We Were Soldiers.....................................69
Conclusion............................................... 71

BIBLIOGRAPHY... ..........................................74

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH....................................... 76



















Abstract of Thesis Presented to The graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

RELIGION AND POLITICS
IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR

By

Jay Michael Allbritton

August 2003


Chair: Gene R. Thursby
Major Department: Religion

During the first century of the American film

industry, a struggle has persisted over the kinds of values

that would be depicted in American films. Hollywood's

tendency to make films that represented liberal or leftist

ideals often brought the film industry into tension with

the dominant religious and political hierarchy. This

thesis examines how long-dormant fissures between liberals

and conservatives came to the surface after World War II;

and how those divisions manifest themselves in the

discourse of films about the Vietnam War.
















CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

The film industry often creates debates helpful for

understanding religion within the context of American

Culture. If a film sparks a controversy, the reasons for

that controversy can tell us much about our society. R.

Lawrence Moore discussed the film industry as a critical

site in the struggle between conservatives and liberals.'

For example, when director Martin Scorsese announced plans

to adapt The Last Temptation of Christ, from a novel by

Nikos Kazantzakis, Christian conservative groups ardently

opposed the project. Moore tells us that struggles like

this are an extension of conflicts that have played out

during the commodification of the novel, the radio, the

theater, and all other forms of mass media and popular

culture.

This thesis begins by examining how the divide between

conservatives and liberals began opening after World War

II; and how it continued to widen through the Vietnam Era

as well as the rest of the twentieth century.


1 Moore, R. Laurence. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace
of Culture: New York, Oxford University Press, 1994. 15.
2 ibid 16.










I then discuss ways in which Hollywood became a site

in the battle between these coalescing factions. From the

late 1970s until 2002, the conventions of the Vietnam genre

amounted to a unanimous liberal message spoken in this

voice.

This is my thesis: Liberals, who believe their

opponents to be conservative Christians, have made films

critical of the Vietnam War. Instead of using secular

reasoning, which they believe Christian conservatives will

dismiss, they use religious discourse--themes of evil and

suffering as well as the depiction of characters that face

great moral dilemmas that test the codes of Judeo-Christian

ethics--in order to confront their -critics in their own

vernacular.

In the first chapter, I discuss the evolution of what

Robert Wuthnow refers to as the liberal/conservative

divide. I intend to show that attitudes of deep distrust

between liberals and conservatives were most clearly

defined by the Vietnam War. Therefore, any text about the

Vietnam War must include discourse pertaining to the

difference between liberals and conservatives.

Wuthnow describes the ongoing division in American

religion and politics as being built on old fissures that

date back to the antebellum period then reemerge after










World War I. This divide opened wider in the 1960s because

of the different approaches taken by liberals and

conservatives to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War

movements. Amanda Porterfield also describes ways in which

the Vietnam Era contributed to the widening of the divide.

She refers to the liberals as the "prophetic" and

conservatives as the "priestly" voices of the period.4

She pinpoints the My Lai massacre as the event that

polarized the sides more than any other because of the

opposing and intractable views each side had of the event.5

This division is portrayed in former Vietnam Veteran Oliver

Stone's semi-autobiographical film Platoon. In this film,

the platoon is a symbolic body divided evenly between

priestly/conservative types and prophetic/liberal types.

These two sides are almost as much of a threat to one

another as the Vietcong.

In chapter 3, I intend to show that the film industry

during the seventies and eighties--when most of the most

important anti-Vietnam War films were made--predominantly

held liberal attitudes about politics and religion. Film

historian Dan Georgakas attributes the strong re-emergence


3 Wuthnow, Robert. "Old Fissures and New Fractures in American
Religious Life" Religion and American Culture; Ed. by David Hackett;
Routledge; New York, London; 1995. 370.
4 Porterfield, Amanda. The Transformation of American Religion; Oxford
University Press; 2001. 89.










of liberal filmmaking to the widespread discrediting of

Communist witch-hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the

House Un-American Activities Committee.

While anti-Vietnam War films were a large part of the

leftist backlash, conservatism in general was attacked on

several fronts by filmmakers.

Most of these filmmakers were in college during the

sixties when the universities were bastions of liberal

sentiment. This chapter also shows the link between

liberal Universities and liberal Hollywood: film school.

Most of the directors of these anti-Vietnam War films went

to the most prestigious (and most liberal) film schools.

Not only was Stone a veteran of the Vietnam War, he

was also a product of one of these liberal film schools--

New York University. Stone (and his fellow students who

became directors) in part used their films about the war in

an effort to deter other wars. These films became a large

factor in the demand that the United States stay out of

conflicts that did not explicitly serve national interests.

Historian Marilyn B. Young refers to this as Vietnam

Syndrome--a name given to the phenomenon by foreign




5 Porterfield 93.
SGeorgakas, Dan. "Hollywood Blacklist" Encyclopedia of the American
Left; Ed by Buhle, Buhle, and Georgakas; Urbana and Chicago; University
of Illinois Press; 1992. 1.










policymakers.' Stone believed that Platoon coming out in

1986, ten years later than he intended was important

because it became a popular film with an antiwar message at

a time when memories of Vietnam had been fading.

Chapters 4-6 describe the types of religious discourse

used by antiwar filmmakers. In chapter 3, I will discuss

films about the Vietnam War which include discourse on the

themes of evil or suffering. Vietnam War filmmakers

commonly use the religious theme of evil or suffering

because this is a theme with which Christians should

identify, since Christians are supposed to aid the less

fortunate. If the soldiers' experience (or the Vietnamese

experience) amounts to useless suffering that accomplished

no goal; it must be un-Christian to support this war or

others like it.

In Chapter 5, I discuss the tendency of anti-Vietnam

War films to be structured as morality tale. Anti-Vietnam

War filmmakers created characters with strong moral codes

usually consistent with Judeo-Christian ethics. These

characters then become involved in dilemmas that tempt them

to abandon their beliefs. The filmmakers make the

temptation harder to resist by showing repeatedly that


Young, Marylin B. Vietnam-American Wars, 1945-1990. Harper Collins.
1991. 314.










Vietnam is an amoral place and that any behavior can be

justified there.

Chapter 6 discusses the continuing suffering of the

Vietnam Veteran once he returns home to the United States.

Films about Vietnam Veterans show how the suffering

explained above continues once the soldier returns home.

Many of these films depict Vietnam Veterans as anti-social

monsters. This genre quickly mutated, using elements of

the occult to represent an anti-Christian retribution

wrought by soldiers who literally become monsters.

In Chapter 7, I will discuss how conservatives have

responded to the liberal messages of the anti-Vietnam War

films. I will look at a response from a conservative film

critic, a conservative politician, and a conservative

filmmaker. The response of that filmmaker comes in the

form of the first Vietnam War film with an overtly

conservative voice since The Green Berets (1968)--the 2002

film, Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers. The

discrimination faced by Wallace, a devout Catholic with a

seminary background who had to essentially pay for the film

himself, shows that Hollywood remains as liberal as ever.

The controversy that followed We Were Soldiers--Stone,

among others, lashed out at the film, calling it a










"desecration of memory"--shows that Wuthnow's divide

remains quite deep.8


8 Clinch, Catherine. "Oliver Stone Takes on the Fourth Estate, The
Pentagon and the Studios" Creative Screenwriting; Sept-Oct 2002. 12.
















CHAPTER 2
THE EVOLUTION OF THE LIBERAL/CONSERVATIVE DIVIDE

If the anti-Vietnam War films of the second half of

the Twentieth Century are messages sent from liberals to

conservatives, then we must start by defining the terms

liberal and conservative. How and when did these terms

emerge? What characteristics do liberals commonly share?

What do conservatives value? What motivates these groups?

Do they truly exist? In this chapter I will examine how

liberals and conservatives define themselves and each

other. I will look at the evolution of this divide and

attempt to understand the role of the Vietnam War in deeply

polarizing American culture.

Robert Wuthnow describes the current division in

American religion and politics as being built on old

fissures that date back to the antebellum period, when the

emergence of science allowed liberals to use theories like

Darwin's theory of evolution to challenge the religious

establishment.9 Wuthnow believes that both sides of what he

calls the "liberal/conservative divide" recognize "the




9 Wuthnow. 370.










reality of the division between two opposing camps"." They

also recognize the "the predominance of 'fundamentalists,'

'evangelicals,' and 'religious conservatives' in one camp

and the predominance of 'religious liberals', 'humanists'

and 'secularists' in the other". Both sides also generally

feel deep hostility and have strong misgivings about the

other.

Wuthnow warns that these two groups have within them a

variety of distinct entities that do not typically identify

with one another.1 For instance, fundamentalists often

make efforts to distinguish themselves from evangelicals.

Similar distinctions are made throughout both the right and

the left. Wuthnow argues that the binary way of thinking

exists in the "popular mind" where it is treated as a

reality.

This liberal/conservative division runs through

religions and denominations.12 Among Christian

denominations, Wuthnow mentions that Southern Baptists,

Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Catholics all experience

divisions between liberal and conservative church members.

Before the liberal/conservative divide, America had a

tripartite religious system. This system was based on two


0 ibid. 371.
1 Wuthnow. 371.
12 ibid. 372.










prevailing conflicts: Protestants vs. Catholics and

Christians vs. Jews. This model dissolved, according to

Wuthnow, because its basic divisions were eroded by

interfaith cooperation, greater education, remembrance of

the Holocaust and the growth of the civil rights movement.'

To a great extent, Wuthnow credits the widening of the

"old fissures" between conservatives and liberals to the

dramatic civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s.

With the advent of great social change, liberals and

conservatives showed a considerable difference in problem

solving methods. According to Wuthnow, values were much

more important to conservatives, while behavior mattered

more to liberals. Whether on not behavior would result

that could alleviate racial discrimination or the war in

Southeast Asia was not relevant to conservatives, rather

what mattered were the values that motivated one's actions.

Conversely, liberals believed that behavior was more

important than values and that social institutions needed

to be changed to bring behavior and values into agreement.

Prophetic and Priestly Types

In her book, The Transformation of American Religion,

Amanda Porterfield describes how the Vietnam War polarized

the country into two fundamentally different groups. These


ibid. 378.










groups parallel Wuthnow's liberal/conservative divide.

Using the terminology of Max Weber, Porterfield goes into

great detail identifying the "prophetic" and "priestly"

voices of the period.

Delineation of the prophetic and priestly types first

occurred during the Protestant Reformation and the ensuing

rise of Puritanism.14 Protestants were the prophetic

forces; Catholics were the priestly. By the 1960s however,

Protestantism had become the traditional patriarchy.

Catholics were critical of the prevailing Protestant

patriarchy while investing in their own patriarchy. When

the Vietnam War came, the prophetic types and the priestly

types emerged from both Protestant and Catholic communities

(Jews largely supported and often led the prophetic

types) This shift mirrors Wuthnow's explanation of how

America shifted from the tripartite system to the

liberal/conservative divide.

On the function of the priestly type Weber wrote,

"Priesthoods have always (in the interests of

traditionalism) protected patriarchalism against impersonal

relationships of dependence."'1 This group was widely

invested in the patriarchal structures and traditions of


14 Porterfield. 89.
15 ibid. 90.
16 Quoted in: Porterfield. 89.










America. As with the priestly voice of the Protestant

Reformation, the priestly type of the sixties was rooted in

a traditional role of religion--"to preserve the stability

of the material world." Along with this came a loyalty to

the government and support for the war effort. Part of the

reason this group maintained loyalty to the war effort was

the thinking that if America was wrong about something as

important as the war, then everything they invested their

faith in might also be wrong.

Porterfield believes that the prophetic type emerged

from the Vietnam era as the dominant worldview. Of the

priestly type she wrote,

Cynicism became widespread, especially
toward the structures and leaders of the
United States government. And some of the
people who came to feel most alienated from
the government were conservatives, such as
George Wallace, who blamed the antiwar
activists of the sixties and seventies for
destroying the traditional religious fabric
of American society.1

She describes this group of people as taking up the post-

war role of the prophetic type, touting a return to pre-

1960s values (now a sacred myth of "how America used to

be").18 According to Porterfield, this group blames

"cultural relativism and rampant hedonism" for the onset of

these current "dark ages".










Porterfield describes the antiwar, prophetic type as

typically economically and educationally privileged, young

and self-centered.19 This large group internalized

religious beliefs that called for fairness rooted in good

conscience. They believed that the government and the

military had become mechanical. What they considered the

"mindless destruction of human life going on in Vietnam"

disagreed with their religious upbringing. Porterfield

believes that what they did not understand was "how

privileged and potentially subversive their education in

ethical reasoning had been".20 Their education obligated

them to stand in moral opposition to society. This agrees

with Wuthnow's assertion that liberals favor correct

behavior over correct values and will change society if

necessary to bring it into agreement with proper behavior.

The My Lai Massacre

The division between the priestly type and prophetic

type deepened throughout the war. Porterfield believes

that the revelation of the My Lai massacre served to

polarize the priestly type and the prophetic type beyond

the point of impasse. In March of 1968--as an unofficial,

partial response to the Tet Offensive--a platoon of


17 Porterfield. 93.
8 ibid. 94.
19 Porterfield. 90.










American soldiers killed almost everyone in the South

Vietnam village of My Lai.21

Seymour Hersh's revealing articles in the New York

Times laid bare the events of My Lai and the subsequent

cover up to the people of the United States. The My Lai

massacre was no doubt a horrific atrocity. Many of the

women were raped before being killed.2 Al Hubbard,

executive secretary of the WAW said that "My Lai was not

an isolated incident" and that "[it] was only a minor step

beyond the standard official United States Policy in

Vietnam."23 Historian Marilyn B. Young argues that the

atrocities at My Lai spawned an identity crisis for many

Americans who were brought up to believe that the American

value structure could not allow for such aberrant

behavior.24 These people then had to watch a significant

portion of the American population argue that My Lai was

not an aberration, rather a continuation in the pattern of

American behavior that allowed the genocide of the Native

Americans, slavery, colonialism, and long term social

injustice.





2 ibid. 90.
21 Young. 243.
22 ibid. 243.
23 ibid. 256.
24 Young. 244.










Journalist David Obst thought that once the national

media distributed stories about the My Lai massacre the

American people would immediately cut off all support for

the war. This, Obst believed, would make it impossible for

the politicians in Washington to continue the war.

According to Porterfield, Obst was so trapped in his view

of the significance of the My Lai massacre that he failed

to see the ways in which those with a pro-war perspective

could continue to believe in their cause.25 Obst did not

explain fully in his story that Lieutenant Calley was at

fault for breaking the rules of the U.S. military, not the

entire war effort. As soon as the story was reported,

Calley was arrested and tried in due course. Even though

there was an attempted cover-up, it could be argued that

since the cover-up failed, the system worked. To those who

believed in the war effort to begin with, the story was

certainly not sufficient to resolve anything, much less the

immediate resolution that Obst and many in the antiwar

movement imagined.

The opposing perceptions of My Lai by the pro-war and

antiwar contingents served the purpose of further

mystifying the beliefs of the other. For the antiwar

group, My Lai was a barometer for how out of control our


Porterfield. 97.










forces had become and that anyone would dispute that must

be in favor of winning at all costs. The Pro-war group

believed the incident was wrong, but that it had been dealt

with effectively and that it was just another attempt of

the unpatriotic antiwar forces to undermine the efforts of

our troops. Liberals and conservatives moved even further

apart ideologically and their distrust of the other grew.

Types in Oliver Stone's Platoon

Of Oliver Stone's Vietnam War film Platoon, critic

Stuart Voytilla writes, "The Vietcong, the apparent enemy,

are beyond dehumanized uniforms becoming literal shadows

that flit through the jungles. The Platoon--the sacred

Hero's Team of World War II--is the battlefield. And we

have become our Enemy."26 The Vietcong in Oliver Stone's

Platoon are just another factor to weigh (along with heat,

fatigue, mines...) when considering the question of whether

or not the war effort was worth it. Stone divides the

military between those with pro-war tendencies and those

with antiwar tendencies. It's as if the soldiers were sent

to Vietnam simply to have the debate that was going on at

home, only their version of the debate was held among the

landmines, with the Vietcong "shadows" watching, under a


26Voytilla, Stuart. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the mythic
structure of 50 unforgettable films; Michael Weise Productions; Studio
City, California; 150.










blistering sun. Both factions were armed to the teeth, and

the officers, who were supposed to lead and keep order,

frequently became targets for their own men.

We can see Porterfield's priestly and prophetic types

in this division of the platoon. The 'heads' are Stone's

version of the prophetic type. According to Milton J.

Bates, they share many of the same characteristics of the

"portion of the working class which shared the antiwar

sentiment, hedonism, gender-blurring, racial tolerance,

recreational drugs and music of middle-class student

culture."27 The heads smoke pot the first time we see them.

A poster of Ho Chi Minh hangs on the wall. When we come

back to this warm, tight-knit group later in the film, they

dance intimately with each other or with chairs and brooms

to Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of my Tears."

The second group consists of the juicerss'. They

represent Stone's version of the priestly type. They tend

to be very macho. They prefer beer to marijuana. They

tend to come from rural locations. In one scene, Bunny

demonstrates their masculinity when he bites a hole in a

metal can of beer. They tend to use more racist language.





7 Bates, Milton J. "Oliver Stone's 'Platoon' and the politics of
Romance" Mosaic; March 1994. 118.
28 Bates. 119.










Elias (head/prophet) and Barnes (juicer/priest) most

epitomize their group/type. Elias draws all the common

cinematic Christ-like imagery. The scene in which Elias is

finally killed is titled in the screenplay "Elias

crucified."29 Elias's reason for going to Vietnam in the

first place is to avoid jail.

Barnes, conversely, is identified as the Beast from

the Book of Revelations--seven times shot, seven times

survived. Elias was forced to defy his natural place and

fight. Barnes, however, is a natural fighter.30 Barnes

personifies the rhetoric of the priestly type's need for

discipline with the line, "When the machine breaks down, we

break down."

Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) represents the triumph of

the prophetic type at the time of the Vietnam War. Chris's

character--and young Stone--matches Porterfield's

description of the war critic--well educated, economically

privileged, young, and self-centered. At the beginning of

the film, he's obsessed with himself, writing, "Maybe I've

finally found it, way down here in the mud. Maybe from

down here I can start up again and be something I can be

proud of, without having to fake it, be a fake human


ibid. 108.
ibid. 109.










being."" Both Stone and Taylor went to Vietnam because

they did not believe they should get out of service because

they were privileged. All of these things amount to Chris

having two mentors, one liberal and one conservative. In

the end, it is the conservative mentor that Chris kills.

Stone's film represents the attitudes of deep distrust

between liberals and conservatives by showing them killing

one another rather than the Vietcong. Stone is saying that

the war itself had more to do with the ideological

differences among Americans than it did with any

ideological differences between Americans and the North

Vietnamese.


ibid. 114.
















CHAPTER 3
RELIGION, POLITICS AND THE EVOLUTION OF "LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD"

From the earliest days of the film industry,

filmmakers have struggled with members of the social

hierarchy over the content of their work. People in power-

-religious figures and politicians--immediately recognized

the power inherent in the medium. In his book, Politics

and Politicians in American Film, Phillip Gianos wrote:

The history of movies is clear on one point:
people in and out of the industry have
behaved as though movies make a difference,
as though they are powerful. From the
beginning movies were the target of attempts
from without to control their content; these
were succeeded by attempts from within to do
the same. In one case movie executives
directed a campaign, using film as a weapon,
to defeat a candidate in an election in the
movies' home state of California. And of
course, there was the blacklist, the best
known episode in the history of politics and
film.32

In this chapter, I will explore the Wuthnow's

liberal/conservative divide as it manifested itself

throughout the history of the film industry. This is

important to the understanding of the messages of the anti-





32 Gianos, Phillip L. Politics and Politicians in American Film;
Praeger; Westport, Connecticut; 1998. 63.










Vietnam War film because the political climate of the

industry is not always the same as the political climate of

the rest of the country. The film industry during the

seventies and eighties--when most important Vietnam War

films were made--predominantly held liberal attitudes about

politics and religion. In this chapter I will attempt to

explain why.

The Production Code

In the early thirties, the film industry experienced

widespread criticism for too much sexual and violent

content." The industry took action before the government

could, instituting the Production Code. This doctrine of

ethics was devised by a Jesuit priest and a Catholic

publisher commissioned for the task. Among the rules

listed by the code was a dictate that characters who

participate in "crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin" not be

depicted in a sympathetic way. The code also called for

"moral retribution" and "compensating moral values". Even

though Hollywood self-imposed the code, many of its

filmmakers would spend countless hours devising ways to

circumvent the code.






33 Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the
Studio Era; Henry Holt and Company; New York, New York; 1988. 167.










The Blacklist

After the relative harmony of World War II, during

which the film industry largely aided the war cause, came

the onset of what may very well be the most tumultuous

period of American film history. In 1947, and again in

1951, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

investigated the film industry in an attempt to purge

Hollywood of communists and communist sympathizers.3 The

committee believed that communists had infiltrated

Hollywood and were disseminating communist propaganda by

way of American films. Reports surfaced that those in the

film industry who were unsympathetic to the communist

movement were commonly discriminated against.

Film historian Dan Georgakas argues that contrary to

the contentions of HUAC, communists in Hollywood operated

primarily from a defensive standpoint. The Communist

Party's focus was keeping anti-Soviet and anti-Left

sentiment out of films.35 Georgakas also believes that

liberalism rather than communism was the true target of

HUAC. He writes:

The Right wished to discourage any Hollywood
impulse to make films advocating social
change at home or critical of foreign
policy. The task of intimidation was focused
on the role Communists played as

34 Georgakas. 1.
35 ibid. 2.










screenwriters. Nearly 60 percent of all
individuals called to testify and an equal
percent of all those blacklisted were
screenwriters. Only 20 percent of those
called and 25 percent of those blacklisted
were actors.3

On November 24, 1949, Congress cited ten uncooperative

screenwriters for contempt"3. Within days a bloc of

prominent Hollywood producers met at the Waldorf Astoria

hotel and pledged that "no Communists or other subversives

will be employed by Hollywood." By the middle of the next

year most of the so-called Hollywood Ten began serving one-

year prison sentences.

As a result of the HUAC hearings, Hollywood

overcompensated by releasing a series of strongly anti-

Communist films."8 The Red Menace (1949), I Married a

Communist (1950), I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951),

Walk East on Beacon (1952), My Son John (1952), and Trial

(1955) were among the anti-Communist films issued in the

wake of the HUAC hearings. In Big Jim McClain (1952),

Hawaiian Communists were exposed by John Wayne. In Trial,

it was a Mexican American depicted as an insincere

mercenary for the Soviets. Each of these films traced the

roots of the global communist conspiracy directly or

indirectly to the Soviet Union.


Georgakas. 4.
ibid. 6.










The Hollywood Left Re-Emerges

The Hollywood Left began to emerge in the late-1960s.

This version of the movement felt warmly toward their

predecessors and occasionally worked with formerly

blacklisted actors and directors.39 The new radical

movement began to peak in the 1970s and 1980s. Former

blacklisted writer, Ring Lardner, Jr., wrote Robert

Altman's M*A*S*H (1970), a satire about the Korean War.

Several films addressed labor issues; The Molly Maguires

(1970), Norma Rae (1979), Silkwood (1983), and Matewan

(1987). Daniel (1983) addressed the Rosenberg case. Reds

(1982) included interviews with real-life radicals.

American interventions in Latin America were questioned in

the films Missing (1982), Under Fire (1983), Salvador

(1986), and Latitio (1986). The blacklist itself was

attacked in The Way We Were (1973), in which Barbra

Streisand played a sympathetic Communist character.

Liberal Film Schools

Most of the filmmakers of anti-Vietnam War films

attended college during the sixties when the universities

were at the heart of the counterculture. The link between

liberal universities and liberal Hollywood became the

liberal film school.


Georgakas. 7.










In 1993, an anonymous film student discussed the

extent to which liberal ideals had pervaded the film

schools of the University of Southern California and the

University of California at Los Angeles.40 These schools

are vitally important to the film industry. Together, they

have produced a large number of the industry's most

successful directors, writers, and producers. Star Wars,

The Godfather trilogy, the Indiana Jones franchise, The

Lethal Weapon series, E.T., and Rain Man are just a few of

the most financially successful films that have been made

by filmmakers from these schools.

This anonymous film student, who used the pseudonym

Arlene Sterling, discussed the hostility that met any idea

that seemed conservative at these schools. Conversely, any

idea that struck a chord with liberalism was praised.

Sterling writes,

'Courageous' is the standard term used to
defend anything depressing, nihilistic, and
bleak. In an industry in which calling
somebody a 'Republican' constitutes a
vicious personal smear, 'courageous' is also
used to praise any story that promotes a
liberal political cause. For example, a
story about two oppressed housewives finding
independence through lesbianism would be
'courageous'. Any script involving gays,
lesbians, abortion, minorities, or the evils


39 Georgakas. 9.
40 Sterling, Arlene. "Class conflict" National Review; June 21, 1993; p.
78.










of Western civilization would be praised as
'timely', as well as courageous.41

Sterling also describes pervasive anti-religious sentiment.

The only religious content found in the students' scripts

were condemnations. Priests or pastors were commonly

portrayed as corrupt. Film students write script after

script about characters that grow by losing their faith.

Sterling writes about an occasion of blatant anti-religious

sentiment:

During a class script reading, a student
read a scene that he had written between a
priest and a female environmental activist.
In the scene, the priest attempts to show
the activist the beauty of his church and
his religion. After the scene was read
aloud, another student immediately said,
'I've got a real problem with this religious
element. Being anti-religious myself, I just
shut down when I start seeing crosses and
cassocks. My first instinct is, some slope-
browed Jesus freak is trying to convert me,
which I hate.' The red-faced writer
anxiously defended the scene on the grounds
that it was being taken out of context. 'I'm
passionately anti-church,' he said. 'In the
end of the story, the priest realizes the
evils of organized religion and gains the
courage to break free of it. The activist
shows him her religion, which is all about
people and nature, not God. Please don't
think I'm for God.'42

The writer later presented a scene in which the

priest has sex with the activist on the altar. This

scene, according to Sterling, was greeted with


Sterling. 79.










enthusiastic praise. Sterling describes a feeling of

superiority among the students. Sony Pictures

Chairman Peter Guber informed his class one day,

"Congratulations! You're all members of the cultural

elite!" Then added, "Just don't let anyone know how

much fun it is." Sterling admits that there is a

certain amount of irony used by the students and

faculty using this term. Sterling wants it known that

the term is quickly losing that irony. As an example,

she cites a party invitation that had been circulated

at USC that was addressed, "Attention: Members of the

Cultural Elite."

This anonymous account probably should not be given

too much weight, since there is no way to corroborate any

of her stories. However, as a former film school student,

I can attest that many of her accounts were similar to my

experience and are not limited to schools in Los Angeles.

Sterling's accounts again affirm Wuthnow's

liberal/conservative divide. The idea of Hollywood being

alienated from the rest of the country began as a

conservative criticism. If these accusations of elitism

are true, it seems that now idea runs both ways, with

Hollywood happily alienated from the "unwashed masses"--a


Sterling. 79.










term that Sterling quotes her fellow students as using for

those outside New York and Los Angeles.

Porterfield and Wuthnow have described colleges as

being centers of the antiwar and civil rights movements of

the sixties. This becomes significant when considering

some of the most influential antiwar filmmakers came from

these liberal institutions. Oliver Stone, writer and

director of three Vietnam War films, and Martin Scorsese,

who's film Taxi Driver was the first film with a returning

Vietnam Veteran as the central character, both attended New

York University Film School. Francis Ford Coppola, who

directed Apocalypse Now, was a graduate of UCLA's film

school. Brian DePalma, who directed Casualties of War,

graduated from Columbia University.

Vietnam Syndrome

Once these directors made the transition from liberal

university students to liberal filmmakers, many of them

still wanted to stop a war that had already ended. If the

Vietnam War had ended, then they would make sure that

nothing like it ever happened again.

Marilyn B. Young identifies a "pathology" of foreign

policy caused by the general revulsion to the Vietnam War

that has been given a name by politicians--Vietnam










Syndrome." She identifies the symptoms as "grave

reluctance to send American troops abroad, close

questioning of administration interventionist appeals,

consistent poll results indicating that most judge the

Vietnam War to have been not simply a mistake but

fundamentally wrong".

As a result, subsequent administrations have had to

cautiously select their theaters of combat. Ronald Reagan

used two very brief incursions, an invasion of Grenada in

1983, and air strikes against Libya in 1986, to reestablish

the United States' ability to project power in the world if

it were deemed necessary.44 Reagan also saw it necessary to

revise the nature of the Vietnam War. He called it "a

noble cause".4 Another time he told reporters that after

World War II, France had liberated North and South Vietnam

and that their reunification was blocked because Ho Chi

Minh refused to participate in elections. During his

speech at the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial, Reagan

encouraged the nation to move on "in unity and with

resolve, with the resolve to always stand for freedom, as







43 Young. 314.
44 ibid. 315.
45 ibid. 315.










Those who fought did, and to always try to protect and

serve the peace".4

Stone partially credits himself with the continuation

of Vietnam Syndrome (though he did not use the term). He

finished the script for Platoon in 1976, but found the film

industry unwilling to make such a film. Initially, Stone

felt betrayed by a country that he called a "trasher of

history".4 After the film came out in 1986, Stone changed

his mind, saying that the film coming out when it did made

it more important. He saw it as "a possible antidote to

the reborn militarism" of the Reagan Administration. Stone

referred to the limited incursions in Grenada, Libya and

Nicaragua. Stone believed that the popularity of his film,

which won the Oscar for best picture and made over $100

million, had temporarily helped keep America out of another

intervention.

Stone's point is difficult to ignore. Not only was

Platoon an extremely visible film, it was followed by a

second wave of anti-Vietnam films. High profile films such

as, Full Metal Jacket (1987), Casualties of War (1989),

Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven and Earth

(1993) kept Vietnam on the big screen through the rest of


46 Young. 328.
47 Hart, Dave. Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History;
The University of Adelaide; 1998. 2.







31


the Reagan administration and throughout the Presidency of

George H. W. Bush. These films all but disappeared during

the Clinton Administration. This distribution in films

tends to show that the film industry responded to the

strong foreign policy rhetoric of Republican Presidents.

Again we see that liberal filmmakers are addressing their

conservative opponents.
















CHAPTER 4
EVIL AND SUFFERING IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR

Liberal anti-Vietnam War filmmakers often use

religious themes to address their conservative opponents.

One of the common themes that these filmmakers use is that

of evil or suffering. I believe this theme has been

deliberately chosen to resonate with Christian beliefs that

abhor useless suffering. Antiwar filmmakers are making the

following case for a conservative audience: If the

soldiers' experience accomplished no goal yet caused great

pain and suffering; then the war must be un-Christian and

therefore it was unethical to support the Vietnam war or

any new war like it.

Useless Suffering

In his book, The Working Class War, Christian Appy

shows that the Selective Service System or the draft was an

obvious tool exploited by the rich to send a predominantly

young, uneducated, working-class fighting force to Vietnam.

Appy then uses the accounts of these men to show that the

experience was so horrible on so many levels that any

favoritism shown by the application of the draft system was










woefully unfair. Appy's method demonstrates a wide variety

of useless suffering.

By the late sixties, soldiers turned against the war

in droves.48 Many of them wrote UUUU on their helmets,

representing "the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing

the unnecessary, for the ungrateful". In order to

understand why so many of the troops felt so unappreciated,

one must understand the cumulative effect of the war's many

anxieties.

The suffering of any American soldier in Vietnam began

with the serious problems presented by walking. In Tim

O'Brian's If I Die in a Combat Zone, he explains that his

unit met with enemy fire only once in his entire tour of

duty. That was because the tactics utilized by the North

Vietnamese forced American troops to walk endlessly in

search of a hidden enemy. As a result, mines were a

constant concern, often a greater concern than enemy

troops.49 During one five week period in 1966, a Marine

infantry company of 175 men lost 64 due to deaths and

injuries caused by mines and only three other casualties.

Even during lulls in combat, mines killed. During July of

1969, when there were few clashes between opposing armies


48 Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and
Vietnam; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; 1993. 43.
49 ibid. 170.










in the four northernmost provinces of South Vietnam, mines

caused 41 percent of casualties.s0 The mental anguish at

second-guessing every step repeatedly preyed on the minds

of the American soldiers.

Even if the anxiety of mines had been removed, walking

was still very dangerous and was responsible for thousands

of American deaths.51 During the periods of warmest

weather, deaths from heat exhaustion exceeded death from

combat. Victor Bellotti, a member of Bravo Company, told

of an occasion when the men of Bravo Company drank so much

of their own sweat that they became sick. Then they

continued the practice hoping to be sent to an air-

conditioned hospital.5 The troops walked for twenty days

without a sign of the enemy, yet in the first three days of

the march sixty-five men had to be flown out due to heat

exhaustion. Often enemy Vietnamese would wait until the

men were so exhausted that they were ineffective before

they would strike.

Even successes sometimes bred damaging psychological

effects. Often when troops were finally able to engage and

defeat the enemy in the battlefield, the land fought for





50 Appy. 176.
51 ibid. 180.
52 ibid. 181.










was soon abandoned. This reinforced the idea that the men

were simply killers and that the war was about nothing more

than endlessly killing the enemy, not about borders or

occupation. The military command's top priority was to

produce a high enemy body count.54 The news reported the

count daily. Therefore, the average American thought of

kills as a measure of progress.

The fact that officers often used troops as bait to

lure out the enemy bred a great deal of resentment among

troops. Stanley Goff, a decorated machine gunner

described how this strategy worked:

The purpose of [night movement] was for you
to walk up on Charlie and for him to hit
you, and then for our hardware to wipe them
out... That was all we were--bait. They
couldn't find Charlie any other way. They
knew there was a regiment out there. They
weren't looking for just a handful of VC.
Actually, they'd love for us to run into a
regiment that would just wipe us out. Then
they could plaster the regiment [with air
strikes and artillery] and they'd have a big
body count. The General gets another damned
medal. He gets promoted. "Oh, I only lost
two hundred men, but I killed two
thousand."56

Many of these air strikes killed American soldiers.5





53 Appy. 226.
54 ibid. 156.
55 ibid. 162.
56 ibid. 184.
57 ibid. 185.










As the war continued, these anxieties resulted in a

growing anger among the troops. When members of a platoon

were killed, hopes of revenge motivated many American

troops. The meticulous attention many soldiers paid to

their kill counts was payback for every bit of suffering

they have endured while in Vietnam.5 Veteran Frank

Matthews describes what a motivational factor payback was

for his marine unit:

After about a month I had a friend--as much
friendship as you can make in a month--get
shot. He said, 'Pay 'em back for me.' From
then on, if anybody got hurt we wanted
revenge more than anything else. Every time
we got psyched up for a patrol it was to pay
'em back. If another company down the road
got waxed the night before, we were going
out that night and pay 'em back. Payback
was all we were doing.59

Another way soldiers processed the unreality around

them was to think of the war as a movie. Many soldiers

told of both acting in and watching the war

simultaneously.60 Appy writes, "[T]he metaphor of motion

pictures helps explain a two-sided emotion: the feeling of

participating in events far beyond ordinary experience

(blown up on a huge screen) yet being powerless to control

the outcome of the story. He feels at once the heady self-

importance of the movie star and the helplessness of the


Appy. 229.
ibid. 229.










moviegoer, impotent to affect the actions unfolding on the

screen."

Veteran Frank Matthews, describes how dangerous that

kind of thinking could be:

Once in the middle of a firefight I decided
to pull a John Wayne stunt. I saw a VC wide
open, but it was just too easy [to kill him
immediately]. So I hollered at him first so
he'd see me. Then I took off toward this
log, jumped over, wanting to pop up shooting
on the other side. But I broke my arm
trying to pull that stunt. I wrote a letter
to John Wayne telling him there was no damn
way that stunt could work cause I broke my
wrist trying it. I never got an answer, but
I sure wrote him.62

The feeling of the unreality of their surroundings manifest

itself in the way Americans talked about their setting.

American troops referred to the United States as "The

World".63 Troops routinely used the phrase, "When I get

back to the World..." to indicate what they would do when

they returned to their homes in America. This terminology

sets Vietnam in opposition to the world as they knew it.

Appy wrote, "The war proved so pointless, so contradictory,

and so alien to any common assumption about life, they

could not even locate the experience in the known world."64

Vietnam contained so many different kinds of tortures, that


o ibid. 281.
61 Appy. 281.
62 ibid. 281.
63 ibid. 290.










the troops located this hellish place on a metaphysical

plane. It could not be a geographical place on the Earth

they knew. Making this psychological jump to a world

without familiar moral structures allowed the soldiers to

justify any kind of behavior." Philip Caputo, author of A

Rumor of War, describes the phenomenon this way:

As for the United States, we did not call it
'the World' for nothing; it might as well
have been on another planet. There was
nothing familiar out where we were, no
churches, no police, no newspapers, or any
of the restraining influences without which
the earth's population of virtuous people
would be reduced by ninety-five percent. It
was the dawn of creation in the Indochina
bush, an ethical as well as geographical
wilderness. Out there, lacking restraints,
sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile
country and a relentless enemy, we sank into
a brutish state.

Platoon Depicts Useless Suffering

Stone begins Platoon with an ironic Biblical quote--

Ecclesiastes 11:9--"Rejoice young man in thy youth."

Immediately Stone begins with a religious message for his

religious conservative critics. That message is this, in

Vietnam, no one could follow this command. Stone continues

to methodically depicts the countless anxieties and

tortures pointed out by Appy that make Vietnam an

impossible place for young men to rejoice.


4 ibid. 290.
65 Appy. 252.










Stone shows repeatedly the aimless wandering and

fatigue of the platoon. In one scene Barnes accuses a

private of damaging his own feet and then forces the

soldier to continue marching despite the injury.

Taylor and some of the other heads grew increasingly

frustrated at the administration of the war. Bates

describes the disillusionment felt by Taylor at learning

"that the same system of class privilege obtains in the

military, where the warrior ethos has given way to the

ethos of the corporate manager."" One such calculation

places the battalion near the Cambodian border, within

striking distance of an NVA regiment. Taylor says, "We

knew we were going to be the bait to lure them out."

Phantom jets bomb both sides, causing heavy casualties on

the part of the battalion in order to win the battle.

Stone depicts the revenge drive in Platoon with the

assault Barnes leads on the village that supported the VC

that killed a platoon member. Taylor describes Barnes as

their "Ahab" and "the center of their rage". Payback

remains a crucial theme throughout the film. As the

Platoon degenerates, the object of vengeance shifts from

the Vietnamese to themselves. Chris takes revenge on

Barnes.


ibid. 252.










Lust for revenge, the heat, the kill count, the

specter of ambushes and landmines, being used as bait all

amount to unending suffering and anxiety on the part of

American soldiers. Most of the soldiers in these films are

sympathetic characters that viewers are made to identify

with by skilled directors, screenwriters and actors.

Theoretically, any Christian conservative should be swayed

by this horrific display of useless suffering.


Bates. 111.
















CHAPTER 5
THE VIETNAM WAR MORALITY TALE

A common trait of the Vietnam combat film is that of

the morality tale. The filmmakers of this genre are so

interested in the morality of the war that common Judeo-

Christian morality codes dramatized by means of ethical

dilemmas recur throughout these films. Brian DePalma's

Casualties of War, Terry George's A Bright Shining Lie,

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Stone's Platoon all

question the morality of the behavior of soldiers in

Vietnam.

Before the first scene of 1989's Casualties of War we

read these words on a title screen, "This film is based on

an actual event that occurred during the Vietnam War. It

was first reported by Daniel Lang in The New Yorker

magazine in 1969." Before the film begins we know we're

going to be watching a true story, or at least a Hollywood

version of a true story. Telling us this minimizes

escapism. Everything that happens in the story is judged

by the audience who, in turn, question what they would do

in each scenario. This method creates a greater communal

response.










Before Private Ericksonn (Michael J. Fox) encounters

his moral dilemma, he first has to come to terms with the

amorality of Vietnam. He learns quickly. In the first

battle scene he is nearly killed by falling into a VC booby

trap. Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn) saves him. Not much

later we see Ericksonn playing with small South Vietnamese

children. He wants to connect with the Vietnamese people.

He's interested in their farming. This lasts until a VC in

a supposedly pacified village kills the beloved short-

timer, Brown (Jack Gwaltney).6

With Brown gone, Meserve becomes leader of the squad.

On their next mission the squad kidnaps and eventually

rapes a South Vietnamese teenager. Meserve insists that

she's VC even though everyone knows that is not true. A

grunt named Hatch (John C. Reilly) thinks of Meserve as a

born again Ghengis Khan and the girl as spoils of war.

When Ericksonn refuses to rape the girl, Meserve

brazenly points out that Ericksonn could be killed by

friendly fire at any time. He even accuses Ericksonn of

being a Vietcong sympathizer. Later, a calm Meserve offers

Ericksonn a different way to look at it. He explains,

"It's just, we're out here right? It's the boonies. We

got the Cong


68 Short-timers are troops with few days left in their tour of duty.










hiding in every tree waiting to grease us out of existence.

We hump 5-6 hours a day through the ugliest snakes and

stinging spiders. What do we got in all that but each

other?" Meserve justifies his behavior by calling

attention to the absurdity of their surroundings. He

paraphrases badly from the bible to make his point, "Yay,

though I walk through the valley of evil I fear no death.

Because I am the meanest motherfucker in the valley."

Meserve's immorality is reinforced by his superiors.

Ericksonn's immediate supervisor, Lt. Reilly (Ving Rhames),

responds to the charges by breaking up the squad and

saying, "You can't expect anything different in a combat

zone." Reilly's superior, Captain Hill (Dale Dye),

actually believes that Ericksonn is more damaging to the

military than Meserve and the rest of the squad. He blames

Ericksonn for wanting to embarrass the military.

In the end Ericksonn persists and gets the rapists in

his squad court-martialed. Each of the four men received

significant sentences ranging from eight years to life. We

see Ericksonn later, as a grizzled short-timer explaining

to another soldier why morality is important in Vietnam.

He says,

This Goddamned thing is turning us on our
heads. We're getting it backwards, man.
Just because at any second each of us may be










blown away, everybody's acting like we can
do anything, man. And it don't matter what
we do. But I'm thinking maybe it's the
other way around. Maybe it's just the
opposite. Because we might be dead in the
next split second maybe we should be extra
careful what we do. Maybe it matters more.
Jesus, maybe it matters more than we know.

With this epiphany Ericksonn also becomes another of the

conventions of the Vietnam Film, a good man who eventually

does the right thing.

In A Bright Shining Lie we follow the true story of

John Paul Vann's involvement in the Vietnam War. Early in

the film, Vann looks forward to going to Vietnam. He calls

it the war of the future. In the days before escalated

U.S. involvement he is given his assignment, as an advisor

to the South Vietnamese command. Vann, however, takes the

initiative. When U.S. lives are lost, an emotional Vann

demands that the South Vietnamese general (Van Cao) hold

the line. In this scene we begin to see that U.S. lives

are sacred and South Vietnamese troops can be sacrificed to

save Americans. Slowly the U.S. takes control of the war

effort and the South Vietnamese become alienated from the

war.

Vann's morals are tested in two ways in the film. The

first test comes from his commanders. A general (Harve

Presnell) explains to Vann that a clear loss in the outback










should be considered a victory and that he "better not

spread any defeatist bullshit". Vann responds to this by

promptly going to the media and telling the truth, on the

record, about what was going on in Vietnam. In Vann's

assessment the South Vietnamese had no desire to fight the

communists. South Vietnamese officers cared more about

Diem staying in power than they did about beating the

North. He revealed that American kill counts were often

inflated. Guns that were given to the South Vietnamese are

quickly turned over to the VC. In his assessment the U.S.

Army Advisory Program was totally ineffective. This makes

Vann a press hero. Of course, this meant that the inner

ranks closed him out of the war.

As successful as Vann is at telling the truth about

the war, he is an equal failure in his marriage. In

Vietnam, Vann begins an adulterous affair with a Vietnamese

teacher (Vivian Wu). This is complicated by the fact that

Vann had a prior indiscretion with a sixteen-year-old

babysitter. After getting divorced from his wife Vann

returns to Vietnam where he is forced to marry a young

local woman whom he has impregnated. Vann devotes all of

his time to the war and is never there for his wife and

child.










Jean Paul Vann was killed suddenly when his helicopter

crashed in bad weather. Though Vann is the rare unredeemed

main character in a Vietnam War movie, his (true) story

clearly illustrates that the immorality of the war breeds

immorality in the people who fight in it.

In 1987, Stanley Kubrick finally released Full Metal

Jacket. The only character in this film with a noticeable

moral compass, Joker (Matthew Modine), is largely content

to observe the immorality around him. Kubrick shows

Joker's moral strength in a scene from boot camp on Parris

Island. The Drill Instructor (R. Lee Ermy) demands that

Joker profess his love for the Virgin Mary. Joker declines

on the grounds that reversal would be worse than

disobedience. Impressed the Drill Instructor promotes

Joker to squad leader.

For the rest of the film Joker does not openly resist

any of the injustice or immorality that takes place around

him--on Parris Island or in Vietnam. Unlike Casualties of

War, none of the troops are in the least bit inclined to

report any of the atrocities fellow soldiers commit.

Kubrick establishes the hellish nature of South

Vietnam by repeatedly showing how much the Americans and

the South Vietnamese--allies in the war--hated one another.

In the first scene in Saigon a teen South Vietnamese










prostitute repeats the line "me so horny". Moments later a

Vietcong steals a camera from Joker and his photographer

Rafterman.

In the next scene Rafterman expresses his dislike to

Joker. He says, "You know what pisses me off about these

people? We're supposed to be here to help them but they

shit all over us." Later, Joker and Rafterman are taken by

helicopter to rendezvous with Cowboy's platoon. In the

chopper, a deranged soldier is shooting every Vietnamese in

sight. He explains, "Anyone who runs is a VC. Anyone who

stands still is a well disciplined VC." A Corporal that

Joker meets later tells him that the United States is here

because "inside every gook is an American dying to get

out." Even egregious racism toward African-American troops

is ignored by African-Americans. A white soldier, Animal

Mother, tells a black soldier that "All niggers must hang,"

and "thank God for the sickle-cell". No one bats an eye.

The unreality of Vietnam has overcome the simplest of moral

scruples.

Aside from the rampant racism, Kubrick shows the

immorality of the war in the official language used to

report on the war. The Editor of the newspaper that Joker

and Rafterman work for, Stars and Stripes, informs his

reporters of some of the linguistic mistakes they've made.










A North Vietnamese army regular is a soldier. If Americans

move Vietnamese they are evacuees, not refugees. Instead

of seek and destroy, the reporters should use the term

sweep and clear.

The editor tries to explain to Joker that he should be

interested in making American soldiers feel good. "We run

two basic stories," he says, "Grunts who give half of their

pay to buy gooks toothbrushes--the winning of hearts and

minds, ok--and combat action that results in a kill--

winning the war." Again we see that killing is winning.

The editor tells Joker to add a kill to his combat story.

Joker protests that there was no proof of any kill. The

editor responds, "That's why we have the law of

probability." He tells Joker to write it again and "this

time give it a happy ending." The editor suggests that the

kill could even be an officer.

Joker's trek finally produces an ethical dilemma he

can not walk away from. After losing three of their men,

including Joker's friend Cowboy, the troops find the sniper

responsible--the very prostitute they had encountered in

the ville. Rafterman shoots her, but leaves her alive and

in extreme pain. Animal Mother, now the senior officer,

orders the troops to leave her for the rats. As the dying

Vietnamese girl begs someone to shoot her, Joker must










choose between compassion, killing her; or spite, letting

her suffer for what she did to their friends. Joker

finally chooses the moral high road and shoots the sniper,

ending her suffering. For this he is both ridiculed and

respected by different members of the platoon.

In Oliver Stone's Platoon, the main character, Chris

Taylor's moral dilemma is what brings him to Vietnam in the

first place. He tells members of the platoon that he

volunteered for active duty because he didn't think it was

fair that rich kids always get away with everything in

society.

Like Ericksonn, Taylor quickly learns how unfair

Vietnam could be. After waking another soldier, Junior,

for his shift, Taylor goes to sleep. He wakes up shortly

to find that Junior has fallen asleep and they are about to

be ambushed by NVA. After the ambush--in which a soldier

dies--Junior turns on Taylor and blames him for sleeping on

watch. Although Taylor makes the most important moral

decision at the end of the film, throughout most of the

film questions about the morality of the war center more on

Staff Sergeant Barnes.

John Stone argues that the hero/protagonist in the

morality plays is important, but only insofar as he serves

as a vehicle for examining characterizations of moral










extremes." The characterizations of good, and to a greater

extent evil, provide the parameters for understanding what

can be expected and, more significantly, what must be

accepted in these environments. Oliver Stone fictionalizes

a real event, the My Lai massacre, to further show how

Barnes and his camp represent one moral extreme.

The platoon returns to a nearby village seeking

revenge for the killing of one of their own. Numerous

members of the platoon commit atrocities. The sequence in

which the village atrocities are carried out is an attempt

to show what Obst tried to show with his story about My

Lai. The difference is that nobody was held accountable in

the film, whereas in reality the people had Lieutenant

Calley as a scapegoat.

Taylor's final ethical dilemma comes at the end of the

film when he is given the opportunity to kill Barnes. If

he does it, he can avenge Elias's murder and he can end

Barnes immoral behavior once and for all. The problem is

that killing is a categorically immoral act. If Platoon is

a morality play, then it is vital to decipher the symbolism

of Taylor's climatic murder of Barnes. Richard Corliss

writes,


69 Stone, John. "Evil in the Early Cinema of Oliver Stone: Platoon and
Wall Street as Modern Morality Plays" Journal of Popular Film and
Television; Summer 2000. 82.










In the movie theaters, this illegal shooting
usually gets a big hand. Good guy kills bad
guy. But can Chris or the audience take
moral satisfaction in this deed? Has Chris
become like Elias, back from the grave to
avenge his own murder? "You have to fight
evil if you are going to be a good man,"
Stone says. "That's why Chris killed Barnes.
Because Barnes deserved killing."70

Chris is forced into the space between good and evil--he

has to make a moral judgment about evil and he doesn't back

away from it.

Has Taylor become like Barnes in order to kill him?

Stone has another answer:

I also wanted to show that Chris came out of
the war stained and soiled--like all of us,
every vet. I want vets to face up to it and
be proud they came back. So what if there
was some bad in us? That's the price you
pay. Chris pays a big price. He becomes a
murderer.7

Of all these morality plays, Platoon represents the

morality of Vietnam the best, because the main character is

left with the least appealing choice.

Each of these films shows a fundamentally decent

central character tempted to commit amoral acts, acts which

are not in keeping with America's Judeo-Christian ethic.

Again the Christian conservatives are being addressed.

None of these


0 Corliss, Richard. "Platoon; Vietnam, the way it really was on film"
Time; Jan 26 1987. 54.










moral dilemmas would be moral dilemmas if they weren't set

in Vietnam. It is the amoral surroundings of the war that

allow these ethical men to have their souls placed in

peril. The point being communicated by the liberals to the

conservatives is this: allow this war to happen and your

code of ethics no longer exists.


71 Stone, Oliver. "A filmmaker's credo: some thoughts on politics,
history, and the movies." The Humanist; Sept-Oct 1996. 11.
















CHAPTER 6
VIETNAM VETERANS: MORE SUFFERING AND DEMONIZATION

After their tours of duty ended, Vietnam veterans who

had faced the terrors of the war returned to the world to

find a new set of difficulties. According to Marilyn

Young, as of 1991, one quarter to one third of the homeless

were Vietnam Veterans.72 Symptoms stemming from the trauma

of service--flashbacks, severe distress, sleep problems,

depression and rage--manifested years later. Doctors

incorrectly treated victims of postwar trauma for post-

traumatic stress disorder. These treatments did not

necessarily take war-related causes under consideration.

Robert J. Lifton argues in his book, Home From the

War, that veterans of other wars could make a much easier

transition from combat back into society.7 Those veterans

reconciled the evils of their war by focusing on the

purpose for which they fought. After other wars, the

greater purpose of the war would be repeatedly affirmed

upon returning home. The stated purposes of the Vietnam






72 Appy. 311.
73 ibid. 322.










War--to expel the invading NVA and to protect freedom and

democracy for the South Vietnamese people--were continually

contradicted by the soldiers' experience during the war and

by the clear lack of affirmation upon returning home. A

greater number of veterans have committed suicide than the

number of American soldiers killed during the Vietnam War.7

Film narratives about Vietnam veterans implicate

Vietnam as an extremely evil place that transformed our

soldiers into antisocial monsters. Beginning with Oliver

Stone's account of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic's

autobiography Born on the Fourth of July, I will examine

these films in order to show how the filmmakers of this

genre have consistently used the damaged psyche of the main

character to demonstrate the evils of the war.

Continuing To Suffer

The beginning sequence of Born on the Fourth of July

shows clips from Kovic's working-class 1950s childhood.

These clips segue to an athletic Kovic competing as a

wrestler while in high school. These scenes symbolize what

will be lost when Kovic returns paralyzed from the war.

The young men of his working class town know little

about what they are getting into. Kovic is so excited

about going to fight in the war he tells his friends, "If


Appy. 324.










we don't sign up soon we could miss it." These young men

believed that "communism is moving in everywhere". When

one of Kovic's friends, Stevie, admits his reluctance to go

to Vietnam, the others emasculate him. Even the local high

school girls think the war is "neat". Kovic speaks of

fighting the war in terms of service to his country. He

longs to prove himself by "freedom fighting" like past

generations did in World War II and Korea.

After being paralyzed in the war, Kovic returns home

with a sense of entitlement that quickly gives way to

disillusionment. Kovic encounters many horrors in the

Veterans' hospital. An insensitive nurse tells him that

"no one around here cares about your Vietnam." Later, an

inattentive nurse leaves him staring at his own vomit for

hours. Another fails to understand why a paralyzed veteran

would care to keep a broken leg. When Kovic finally gets

to see a doctor, the doctor apologizes for all the budget

cuts and their inability to take care of the wounded vets

properly.

When he moves back in with his parents he finds that

his brother is adamantly opposed to the war. The rejection

manifests itself in alcoholism. One night while drinking

he tells a friend that during the attack that paralyzed

him, he was initially shot in the foot. He then tells this










friend that he wishes he had stayed down and not tried to

be a hero. He describes his counter-attack as acting like

John Wayne. Kovic describes the impact patriotic war films

had on his youth.

Every Saturday afternoon we'd all go down to
the movies in the shopping center and
watch... war movies with John Wayne and
Audie Murphy... I'll never forget Audie
Murphy in To Hell and Back. At the end he
jumps on top of a flaming tank that's just
about to explode and grabs the machine gun
blasting it into the German lines. There
were gasoline flames roaring around his
legs, but he just kept firing that machine
gun. It was the greatest movie I ever saw
in my life... after it was over Castiglia
and I crawled all over the back yard playing
guns and army, making commando raids all
summer into Ackerman's housing project
blasting away at the imaginary enemy...
throwing dirt bombs and rocks into the
windows, making loud explosions like hand
grenades with our voices then charging in
with our Matty Mattel machine guns blazing.
I bandaged up the German who was still alive
and had Castiglia question him as I threw a
couple more grenades.7

Eventually Kovic learns of a place in Mexico where

disabled vets have congregated. The place represents a

sort of city on a hill for handicapped vets. In a futile

attempt to regain their lost sexuality they surround

themselves with cheap prostitutes.

Fed up, Kovic returns home and becomes a part of the



75 Kovic, Ron. Born On The Fourth of July; New York, Pocket; 1977. 54-










antiwar movement. Stone explains how the return home could

turn a person against the war as effectively as service

could. He writes, "I can't tell you how cold a homecoming

it was. In my experience, however, the majority of the

American people didn't really care either way because they

were making an enormous amount of money at the time; under

Lyndon Johnson, the Great Society had started and an

economic boom was underway."7 In Born on the Fourth of

July, Kovic returns home to find that a friend who had

avoided the war now owned a successful restaurant. After

mocking Kovic's belief in the domino theory he offers Kovic

a job as cashier. The men who went to war missed the

opportunities, and many never recovered. "So," Stone said,

"we fought two wars back to back, and the one at home was,

in some respects, a struggle against our society's

indifference to and denial of the one overseas: a denial of

Vietnam, a denial of pain, a denial of people like Ron

Kovic and myself."77

In Martin Scorsese's 1976 film Taxi Driver, we see a

Vietnam veteran, Travis Bickle (Robert DiNiro), struggle to

reintegrate into society. Bickle becomes a taxi driver

because he can't sleep nights. While applying for the job


Stone, Oliver. 3.
ibid.










he makes a subtle statement about the Vietnam War--"My

driving record is clean, like my conscience." Bickle is

extremely disillusioned with the moral climate of New York

City. He wishes for "a real rain to wash the scum off the

streets". Bickle falls for a high-class campaign volunteer

(Cybil Sheppard). He thinks of her as a pure angel

emerging from a filthy mass.

When the presidential candidate that she supports asks

Bickle what bothers him the most about America, Bickle

answers that he would really like to see someone clean up

New York. Bickle's behavior gradually darkens as he

becomes more and more obsessed with Sheppard's character.

He stalks the candidate. Bickle buys several guns and

decides to assassinate the candidate. He is blocked from

doing so, but he soon befriends a young prostitute, Iris

(Jodie Foster), who provides him with a new target for his

angst. Though he harshly, self-righteously assaults her

morality, Bickle--now wearing a Mohawk--kills her pimp in

order to set Iris free.

In 1990's Jacob's Ladder the angst of reintegration

manifests itself in a much more spiritual fashion. Jacob

(Tim Robbins) plays a soldier killed in Vietnam. The film

unfolds in three different time frames--before the war,

during the war, and after the war. Even though he dies in










the war, we see his life after the war, during which Jacob

suffers greatly. This timeframe acts as a Samsara like

burning away of the parts of his life that Jacob can't let

go. The demons haunting him do so because, though he has

died, he can not relinquish the pain of losing his son and

the fact that his regiment in Vietnam slaughtered each

other. They did so after they were given experimental

drugs by the government meant to enhance the aggressiveness

of the demoralized troops. Though no one has ever proved

that such experiments took place, "Sixty Minutes" has long

maintained that experiments happened.7 A CIA radical hunts

Jacob down and explains that the drugs the government gave

them resulted in the troops killing one another like

animals.

The ghouls that haunt Jacob's post-Vietnam life are

another way of describing the war as evil. Anything that

could create such spiritual angst must have been a living

hell. When Jacob finally receives the spiritual guidance

he needs (from a cherub disguised as a chiropractor) he is

finally able to get over the horrors of the war. A bright

light consumes him and he is taken into Nirvana. The film

then cuts to a makeshift hospital in Vietnam where we learn



78 Devine, Jeremy M. Vietnam at 24 Frames a Second; University of Texas
Press, Austin; 1995. 330










Jacob has died. A doctor covers his body with a blanket

and says, "He put up a hell of a fight."

Veteran Exploitation Films

Born on the Fourth of July, Taxi Driver and Jacob's

Ladder are three of the more credible examples of films

about Vietnam veterans. Many of the films that have

depicted them create a false myth of antisocial monsters.

While Taxi Driver comes close to this, Travis Bickle

manages to act according to a morality code. The

stereotyping of the Vietnam veteran came from the desire of

filmmakers in the sixties and seventies to make films about

Vietnam without a budget sufficient to film combat

sequences.7

These films often made murderers out of veterans with

their reasoning being that war itself turns men into

killers and that their return to society would not stop

their murderous urges. A psychotic veteran is diagnosed by

a psychiatrist in the 1973 film The Stone Killers.80 The

doctor explains the main character--Lipper's--problem,

Aggression and violence are part of the
learning process. They're habit forming.
Now Lipper was a type of addict. We tend to
count the victims among the innocent. Now,
that's not always so Lieutenant. After
we've shed our pity for the basketcases and

79 Muse, Eben J. The Land of Nam; Scarecrow Press, Inc.; Lanham,
Maryland; 1995. 54.
0 ibid. 55.










the burned children, we've nothing left for
the psychopath we've created. Vietnam
doesn't make heroes; it makes a generation
of Lippers.

No other war produced such monsters, yet films about

the antisocial Vietnam veteran became a genre. That genre

soon mutated and quickly became fodder for horror films.

In The Ravager, a little known 1970 horror film--and only

one of many horror films to use veterans as monsters, a

soldier who witnessed atrocities committed by the Vietcong

returns home and begins to bomb lovers in their vehicles.

Less supernatural fare, such as 1968's Tiger By the Tail

and 1971's The Bus is Coming both tell the story of a

confused veteran who kills his brother because he could not

separate the reality of the war from the home front.81 In

Elia Kazan's The Visitors (1972) a scenario much like the

one from Casualties of War spills over to the home front.

The main character, Mike, is stalked by two soldiers from

his squad in Vietnam that Mike had testified against for

the rape of a Vietnamese woman.82 In order to gain their

revenge they nonchalantly rape Mike's girlfriend. Films

about Vietnam vets were also conveniently merged with other

genres in order to create antagonists who have been shaped

by something profound and something other than race. The


Muse. 56.
ibid. 58.










blaxploitation films of the seventies often made their

stars (Jim Brown or Fred Williamson) veterans. The biker

films genre also became synonymous with the veteran

exploitation film.

While Vietnam veterans were rarely cast in the sillier

slasher roles after the initial onslaught of these films in

the seventies, the damaged Vietnam veteran has made a

couple of recent appearances. John Goodman played a

veteran still obsessed with the injustices of Vietnam in

the Cohen brothers' film The Big Lebowski (1997). Emilio

Estevez played a Veteran who has lost all ability to

function socially in The War at Home (1996). All of these

movies used Veterans as characters with a subtext. They

had all become at the very least abnormal because of their

experience in Vietnam. These films--which far-outnumbered

Vietnam combat films--repeatedly communicate to Christian

conservatives that some horrible evil lurked in the Vietnam

War and that allowing it to happen again would be un-

Christian.
















CHAPTER 7
VIETNAM FILMS: THE CONSERVATIVE DISCOURSE

The reemergence of liberalism in Hollywood did not

take hold until the early seventies. Anti-Vietnam War

films didn't start appearing with frequency until the late

seventies. Into this void came 1968's The Green Berets.

This film was despised by critics, both for its political

message as well as its aesthetics. It was perhaps so

despised that up and coming filmmakers were motivated to

respond to it and were encouraged that their responses

would be well received because of the negative reviews.

John Wayne--a long time conservative voice in

Hollywood--made The Green Berets in 1968, with the

intention of reversing the growth in the antiwar movement.

In a letter to President Johnson, Wayne wrote, "[It is]

extremely important that not only the people of the United

States but those all over the world should know why it is

necessary for us to be there."84 The Pentagon agreed to

contribute to the film under the conditions that South

Vietnamese brutality not be depicted and that the war in

Vietnam not be referred to as a civil war.










These points were conveyed to the audience via the

character of Sergeant Muldoon (Aldo Ray). When Muldoon is

asked why the United States was participating in the war,

he answered, "A soldier goes where he is told and fights

whoever he is told to fight."85 Another reporter asks why

the United States should get involved in a war between the

Vietnamese people. Muldoon points to weapons seized from

the Vietnamese that had been made by the Soviets, the

Chinese and the Czechs. He says, "What's involved here is

Communist domination of the world."

This skeptical reporter's character represents the

antiwar movement. Over the course of the film, he travels

to Vietnam with Col. Mike Kirby (Wayne) and gradually comes

to embrace U.S. involvement in the war to such an extent

that he picks up a rifle and becomes part of the war.

What Is a Conservative Film?

It took ten years for another significant Vietnam

combat film to be made--though Coppola's Apocalypse Now

went into production in 1974. These films were part of the

liberal reemergence in Hollywood that Georgakas described.

Conservative film critic Spencer Warren believes the

rebirth of the conservative film came with the making of


8" Gianos. 158.
84 ibid. 159.
85 Gianos. 159.










George Lucas's Star Wars. Warren recently defined the

conventions of the conservative film. He calls for films

that honor "God and country, tradition and family, freedom

and resistance to tyranny, individual achievement and the

American Dream"." He believes that films should celebrate

America's business creativity and should demonize

collectivism. Warren decries the antiwar films of the

seventies and eighties and celebrates Lucas for returning

films to "American" themes of good versus evil.

The run of anti-Vietnam War films did not go

unchallenged by conservative politicians either. In 1987,

during Republican Representative from California Robert K.

Dornan's fifth term--he would later run for president and

become an Emmy winning television personality--he lashed

out at Hollywood for what he considered to be the unfair

conventions of the Vietnam War film genre. Dornan served

in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1958 before covering the

Vietnam War as a television journalist. As a member of the

House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Veterans

Committee, Dornan ripped Hollywood filmmakers, issuing the

following statement.

It is obvious the political Left in
Hollywood is still feeling powerful pangs of


86 Warren, Spencer. "The 100 best conservative movies" National Review;
Oct 24, 1994. 53.










guilt over the bloody aftermath of the
Vietnam War. After actively seeking a North
Vietnamese victory (euphemistically called
American withdrawal), the Hollywood
'liberals' now refuse to accept any
responsibility for the slaughter that
followed, and vilify as 'right-wing
fanatics' and 'fascists' those who question
the wisdom or motives of the antiwar
faction. In this respect, Hollywood has much
in common with America's self-anointed
intelligentsia, which still refuses to
accept the obvious immorality of its
antiwar, or more accurately, pro-Hanoi
position. To perpetuate the myth that
Vietnam was anything but the 'noble cause'
Ronald Reagan said it was, Hollywood has
produced a string of movies that
consistently put the war and our fighting
men in the most unflattering light.
Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Coming
Home, and now the Academy Award-winning
Platoon all depict our fighting men as
neurotics, drug addicts, rapists, or
murderers. It makes one wonder how, with
armed forces like that, the United States
managed to fight for two centuries without
ever losing a significant military
engagement.

Tigerland and We Were Soldiers

Since the attacks of 9-11, Vietnam Syndrome has

apparently waned. Since then, President George W. Bush has

prosecuted two overseas wars. The militaristic phase that

Oliver Stone believed his film Platoon may have helped

stave off in 1986, has clearly returned in the wake of 9-

11. The last two Vietnam films--Tigerland (2000) and We

Were Soldiers (2002)--show how quickly the political voice


of the genre changed.










Tigerland

The last Vietnam film to come out before 9-11 was

Tigerland. Tigerland--which is about training for the war

and is never actually set in Vietnam--follows in the

footsteps of other conventional anti-Vietnam War films.

The movie makes Vietnam out to be an evil event and the

characters face the similar moral dilemmas to the ones

faced by the characters in the other Vietnam morality

tales.

Based on the experiences of co-screenwriter Ross

Klavan, the eponymous Tigerland is the final training zone

for Army recruits before they are sent to Vietnam. The

main character of the film, Roland Bozz (Colin Ferrel)

deeply distrusts authority figures. He spends most of the

film trying to devise ways to get out of the war or to get

others out of it. Along the way he becomes a sergeant and

also an alternate authority, as the privates trust him more

than any of the Army's leaders.

Bozz befriends Private Paxson (Matthew Davis).

Together the two plot to get kicked out of the army before

they can be sent to Vietnam. In this sequence, we see the

same draft anxiety faced by Chris Taylor and some of Ron

Kovic's friends. Paxson and Bozz stand on top of a metal

shed and agree to jump off in order to break their legs and










get discharged. They quickly think better of it. Paxson

suggests Canada and Bozz counters with Mexico. Paxson

tells Bozz that he is unable to leave anyway because he

volunteered and if he ran, someone else would have to be

drafted to take his place. Therefore, running would be

unethical because another person may be killed in his

place.

The filmmakers of Tigerland (a collaboration of

director Joel Schumacher and screenwriters Klavan and

Michael McGruther) construct a dualism along the lines of

Stone's good versus evil embodied by the battle between

Elias and Barnes. In their dualism Bozz (non-conformist

eccentric) is pit against Private Wilson (Shea Whigham

playing a conformist sociopath). This dichotomy is clever,

because it still stresses extremes, but these are the

extremes of people deeply affected by the training

experience. Bozz could never follow anyone other than

himself and Wilson was driven mad by the rejection of Bozz

and eventually the military establishment. So, on both

sides of this dichotomy we see major flaws in the

authoritarian strategy of American military training.










We Were Soldiers

Randall Wallace's 2002 film We Were Soldiers was the

first Vietnam War movie released after 9-11, and shows a

remarkably different side of the war. For the first time

soldiers are upstanding, moral, churchgoing, family men.

Recently Oliver Stone spoke out against We Were

Soldiers, saying, "We Were Soldiers is a desecration of

memory and the press supported it.""8 The reason Stone is

so furious about this film is because it takes an event

from early in the War--the epic battle in November 1965 for

the La Drang Valley--and systematically responds to each of

the moral concerns of the antiwar movement, which had not

developed by that time.

Mel Gibson portrays Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore,

leader of the seventh Calvary regiment--the same regiment

led by General Custer. Gibson embodies the prevailing

social norms of the fifties and early sixties. He's a

deeply religious man, caring father, and loving husband.

He counters every authority figure depicted in Vietnam

combat films since Green Berets. He's not cynical like

Elias, not brutal like Barnes, not incompetent or incapable

like the leaders Appy describes. An educated, erudite,

warrior poet, Moore--who holds a masters degree--










continuously breaks the stereotype of the Vietnam era

military authority figure.

The horrific tribulations of the war are brushed aside

in one training scene. Moore trains his men to "ignore

explosions, heat, dust, screams of the wounded" because in

battle these are normal. Repeatedly characters affirm that

they know what the war is about and support the reasoning

behind it. At the end of the film, Moore returns home to

his wife and family affected by the war, but functional,

unlike Ron Kovic.

Moore and Joe Galloway, the authors of Moore's

biography We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, would only

sell the film rights to Wallace after a long, personal

courtship.88 Wallace described the process, "I would send

them copies of two scripts to show them the kind of work I

did and what I believed in and what my values were."

Wallace is a devout Catholic with a seminary

background. He acknowledges that his take on the Vietnam

War film is not politically correct by Hollywood's

standards.89 Wallace financed the film himself. Through

his relationship with Gibson--who won an Oscar for



87 Clinch, Catherine. "Oliver Stone Takes on the Fourth Estate, The
Pentagon and the Studios" Creative Screenwriting; Sept-Oct 2002. 12.

89 Chadwell, John. "We Were Soldiers: A Spiritual Journey of a Lost War"
p. 2.










directing Wallace's script for the film Braveheart--he was

able to secure a distribution deal without ever subjecting

the material to Hollywood's editorial process.

When asked about liberal discrimination in Hollywood,

Wallace said,

Well, I've been in meetings where people who
I like and respect have said things like,
'Don't do business with so and so. He's a
Republican.' To me, that's like saying we
ought to get together a blacklist, figure
out who the conservatives are and make sure
they don't have work. As for my own
politics, I've voted both ways and will
continue to. I often find there's a problem
when people know that I come from a seminary
background. I'll get this expectation that
I should support their cause or be involved.
I find people who want to use that, and I
despise it.90

Wallace believes that We Were Soldiers showed a side

of the soldiers that no Vietnam War film has ever shown.

"What we think of as a Vietnam-era film is men killing

babies, raping civilians, or napalming innocents," Wallace

said.

Conclusion

The liberal/conservative divide began opening after

World War II and became a clearly polarized rift in

American ideology during the Vietnam War era. The film

industry, fuelled by the radical students of 1960s who


Chadwell. 2.










became the radical directors of the 1970s, repeatedly used

the Vietnam War film as a political statement directed at

conservatives. Combat images of all things un-Christian

were meticulously made to seem real on the big screens of

movie theaters in every town in America. Other films

showed veterans returning home profoundly damaged. If this

is the nature of the war, liberals were saying, then

Christians should want nothing to do with it or any future

war like it.

Hollywood has used the Vietnam War as subject material

for a very long time. So long in fact that it could be

argued that after the first wave of anti-Vietnam War films

(1978-1979), all subsequent films set in Vietnam have been

about liberal fear of what they have at least perceived to

be aggression on the part of conservative foreign policy

makers. Oliver Stone understood that even though Platoon

was a story set in Vietnam--perhaps the most realistic film

ever made about the war--the political results of the film

were felt on the 1986 political landscape. If the film

altered foreign policy it altered the foreign policy of

Ronald Reagan, not Lyndon Johnson.

I believe that the approach I have used in this thesis

can be broadened to include other fronts within the

liberal/conservative divide. An example of one such genre










could be the political film. Recent works such as All the

Presidents Men, JFK, Nixon, Primary Colors, The Contender,

Bob Roberts, and Cradle Will Rock all reflect the

reemergence of the liberal film industry in the last

quarter of the twentieth century. An argument can be made

that almost all films are political and can be read within

a conservative or liberal framework. If this is the case,

then Politics and Film could be just as fertile an area for

interdisciplinary study as Religion and Film has been.
















BIBLIOGRAPHY


Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat
Soldiers and Vietnam; Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press; 1993.

Bates, Milton J. "Oliver Stone's Platoon and the politics
of Romance" Mosaic; March 1994.

Chadwell, John. "We Were Soldiers: A Spiritual Journey of a
Lost War" On-line article; 2002.

Clinch, Catherine. "Oliver Stone Takes on the Fourth
Estate, The Pentagon and the Studios" Creative
Screenwriting; Sept-Oct 2002.

Corliss, Richard. "Platoon; Vietnam, the way it really was
on film" Time; Jan 26, 1987.

Devine, Jeremy M. Vietnam at 24 Frames a Second; University
of Texas Press, Austin; 1995.

Georgakas, Dan. "Hollywood Blacklist" Encyclopedia of the
American Left; Ed by Buhle, Buhle, and Georgakas; Urbana
and Chicago; University of Illinois Press; 1992.

Gianos, Phillip L. Politics and Politicians in American
Film; Praeger; Westport, Connecticut; 1998.

Hart, Dave. Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural
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Kovic, Ron. Born On The Fourth of July; New York, Pocket;
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Moore, R. Laurence. Selling God: American Religion in the
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Porterfield, Amanda. The Transformation of American
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Stone, John. "Evil in the Early Cinema of Oliver Stone:
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Stone, Oliver. "A filmmaker's credo: some thoughts on
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Voytilla, Stuart. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the
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Warren, Spencer. "The 100 best conservative movies"
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Jay M. Allbritton was born on August 15, 1974, in the

city of Los Angeles, California. He received the Bachelor

of Arts degree from the University of Florida in May of

2000. He then enrolled as a graduate student in the

Department of Religion at the University of Florida in

August of 2001. An aspiring writer, Jay is close to

finishing his first novel, a science fiction comedy, which

remains untitled. He also has co-wrote a screenplay (with

fellow U.F. alumni, Kevin Kerins), which is in production

in and around North Central Florida at the time of this

writing.