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RELIGION AND POLITICS
IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR
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
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
1 INTRODUCTION ......................................... 1
2 THE EVOLUTION OF THE LIBERAL/CONSERVATIVE
Prophetic and Priestly Type .........................10
The My Lai Massacre..................................13
Types in Oliver Stone's Platoon......................16
3 RELIGION, POLITICS AND THE EVOLUTION OF
The Production Code .................................21
The Hollywood Left Re-emerges .......................24
Liberal Film Schools ................................24
Vietnam Syndrome..................................... 28
4 EVIL AND SUFFERING IN FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM
Useless Suffering.................................... 32
Platoon Depicts Useless Suffering...................38
5 THE VIETNAM WAR MORALITY TALE.........................41
6 VIETNAM VETERANS: MORE SUFFERING AND
Continuing to Suffer ................................54
Veteran Exploitation Films ..........................60
7 VIETNAM FILMS: THE CONSERVATIVE DISCOURSE .............63
What Is a Conservative Film? ........................64
Tigerland and We Were Soldiers ......................66
We Were Soldiers.....................................69
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
Jay Michael Allbritton
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.
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
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
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
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.
Vietnam is an amoral place and that any behavior can be
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
'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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
moviegoer, impotent to affect the actions unfolding on the
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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.
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
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
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"
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,
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
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
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
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.
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Soldiers and Vietnam; Chapel Hill: University of North
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Bates, Milton J. "Oliver Stone's Platoon and the politics
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Clinch, Catherine. "Oliver Stone Takes on the Fourth
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Voytilla, Stuart. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the
mythic structure of 50 unforgettable films; Michael Weise
Productions; Studio City, California; 1999.
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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