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Emile de Antonio
Harry S. Ashmore,
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This film recounts the history and attitudes of the opposing sides of the Vietnam War using archival news footage as well as its own film and interviews. A key theme is how attitudes of American racism and self-righteous militarism helped create and prolong this bloody conflict. The film also endeavors to give voice to the Vietnamese people themselves as to how the war has affected them and their reasons why they fight the United States and other western powers while showing the basic humanity of the people that US propaganda tried to dismiss. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
During his Oscar acceptance speech producer Bert Schneider read a letter from the head of the Viet Cong lauding his film. Bob Hope prompted Oscar host Frank Sinatra to disclaim any political statements that had been made during the show. See more »
Davis does a neat job of laying out the absurdity in the US's involvement in Vietnam. He does it mainly through the use of two techniques.
(1) Successive contrast, as it's called in the psychology of perception. If you stare at a black square for a while, then switch your gaze to a gray square, it looks white, not gray. In this movie Davis juxtaposes moments from interviews and newsreel footage to demonstrate how far removed high-level speeches can be from events as they take place on the ground. General Westmoreland, who, like General Douglas MacArthur, was another one of those giants in the field of Oriental psychology, explains to us that Asians don't place the same kind of value on human life as Westerners do. (He might have been thinking of kamikaze attacks from WWII.) Cut to a Vietnamese funeral full of wailing mourners. A coach gives a pep talk, screaming and weeping, to a high school football team in Niles, Ohio. "Don't let them BEAT US!" he cries. Cut to a scene of combat.
(2) Selective interviewing and editing. The Vietnamese seem to speak nothing but common sense and they are seen doing nothing but defending themselves -- and very little of that. The Americans that we see and hear are mostly divided into two types: phony idiots and wised-up ex-patriot veterans. Fred Coker is an exception. He's a naval aviator who was evidently a POW. He's clean-cut, intelligent, and articulate, and he's given a lot of screen time. This is all for the good because he's about the only pro-war character we see. He's been there and he still believes. He serves as a useful bridge between the pro-war idiots and the embittered anti-war Americans.
And of course the statements we hear on screen are selected for their dramatic value. One former pilot describes how he and his comrades approached their bombing missions -- for some of them it was just a job, part of the daily grind, but for some others it got to be kind of fun. And for him? "I enjoyed it." The amazing thing in propagandistic documentaries like this is not that the sound bites were selected. Of course they were, otherwise you'd have a dull movie of a thousand people from the middle of the road. "Dog bites man" is not news. "Man bites dog" IS news! No, the truly astonishing thing is that some of the interviewees actually SAID these things in the first place. Selective or not, here is the evidence on film. And how is it possible to "take out of context" General Westmoreland's disquisition on the Oriental attitude towards life? Or a vet smirking and saying he enjoyed killing Gooks?
I'm reminded of a scene in Michael Moore's first documentary, "Roger and Me." Moore is talking to a handful of rich wives who are on some Flint, Michigan, golf course, chipping balls. His camera rolls on and on while the ladies chat about the closing of the plants and the movement of jobs to cheaper labor markets. They love the area around Flint -- great golf courses, good riding country. And the newly unemployed? Well, says one of the wives, before a swing, now they'll have to get up and find a job. Poor people are always lazy anyway.
It's a shocking statement, and we hear similarly shocking statements throughout this movie. It all leaves a viewer with a sense of awe that anyone could be so unashamedly deluded.
I don't see any reason to point out the similarities between what happened in Viet Nam and what's going on as I write this. I wish our current leaders, practically none of whom served in the military let alone Viet Nam, could have seen this because it might have served as a useful reminder that war isn't REALLY very much like a high school football game.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote, "My country, right or wrong, is a thing no true patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober'".
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