Hearts and Minds continued...     

 

     

 

The electroshock torture that was perpetrated half a century ago in dank, CIA-run South Vietnamese interrogation rooms are just as dark as the black boxes of solitary confinement at Guantanamo today. How the memory of it all resonates with today's fraudulent global “war on terror.” However, the tight-lipped homeless veteran sitting at the edge of a bar or sleeping in a dingy doorway knows something else. He remembers too well what he will never forget: the burnt and charred villages, the beatings, the raids, the threats made to prisoners of being thrown out of helicopters, the makeshift graves, the body bags... or, perhaps, just the old woman in the film who wept as she clung to the feet of a young American soldier and begged for mercy.

     

In the end, all wars end the same—the tally of lies, excuses, and justifications, the cemetery scenes, the 21-gun salutes. The litany of destruction and waste of financial, environmental and human capital. The corruption, the corporate profit, the human injustice. Noam Chomsky wrote, “Both the doves and the hawks began by accepting a lie so astonishing that Orwell couldn't have imagined it. Namely the lie that we were defending South Vietnam when we were in fact attacking [it].”

     

In the outtakes, Davis interviews David Brinkley of NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report news program which ran on the air from 1956 to 1970. Brinkley states: “It came to the point where we had a $15-million dollar bomber dropping $3 million dollars worth of bombs to blow up a $50 ox-cart.” He goes on to say, “The American Public had never seen war before.” In World War II only movie theater newsreels and Life magazine perpetrated the “classic fiction” that war was an “heroic enterprise;” and even though the majority of the public eventually turned against the war, public opinion was largely ignored.                

 

“Washington pays very little attention to it.” Vietnam was also the first war in which servicemen's bodies—corpses—had been seen. “The body-count was a figure almost totally manufactured out of thin air by the military commanders on the scene... they were sometimes told by Washington what size body-count was wanted.”

     

If Davis and his editors were, in fact, guilty of giving into an accusatory editorial bent, they would almost certainly have to be excused. In the face of such heinous atrocities, how could anyone involved in such an undertaking not be moved by his or her own capacity for compassion? The alternative would be unthinkable. To assume the cold neutral focus of the assassin taking aim at his target-subject might be an admirable abstraction worthy of consideration by artists and academicians on a theoretical level; but consider that the artist must remain human above all else and no doubt any feeling for his or her oppressed fellow man, woman or child would be bound to expand the cool appraising glance, and soften it into the merciful gaze of empathy and witness. 

 

It must have been an agonizing and monumental task for Davis and his editors to reduce or completely eliminate sections of so much footage for the final cut. The outtakes contain their own secrets and power, no doubt in part from the inevitability and irony of serving as rejected material. They continue with disturbing scenes of Saigon's Cong Hoa Hospital where

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Photograph by US Marine/PFC G. Durbin in the Public Domain

Photograph in the Public Domain by Edgar Price.

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burn victims, who were left virtually skinless, writhed and stared through the sterile halls of crowded hospital wards. At a funeral in the province of Quang Nam, where a village of homes had been destroyed (accidentally), civilians wearing nón lá hats and thin raincoats carried baskets of earth to a grave while a woman grieved and the long grass waved in a gentle wind.

 

In one of the most memorable interviews (not included in the final film), Tony Russo, the RAND think tank employee, who along with Daniel Ellsberg, helped to copy and release the secret Pentagon Papers, spoke of the interviews with Vietnamese prisoners and citizens he was obligated to conduct as part of his job. In a CIA “jail”—in an interrogation room—where 

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"Both the doves and the hawks began by accepting a lie so astonishing that Orwell couldn't have imagined it."

       

                                                                                            — Noam Chomsky

 

 

"It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors.”

                                             

                                — Paulo Freire

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torture and murder had taken place, he interviewed a one-time “agitprop cadre” recruiter who read to him a poem he had written during his imprisonment—one that Russo never forgot. It was entitled “The Disgusting War.” Russo recited it aloud to Davis. Halfway through it, Russo shudders with emotion and gives into the joy of a moment to which he himself would always belong.

 

 

War cease, peace reappear...

Let the millions of young trees sprout their leaves and stretch their limbs

Let the barren land turn into bountiful farmland

Let the poison crop return to life again

 

War cease, the deadly game...

Let the frightening slaughter vanish

Let the farmers walk their contented feet to the paddy field

Let the paddy ears drink ecstatically the milk of the dew

 

War cease...

Let the prisoners open their gates

Let the sweet hand stroke gently the young hair

Let the people live in peace and abundance

Let the fresh smile blossom on the young lips

 

War cease...

Let the millions of hearts know the joy of reunion

Let everyone visit the entirety of our fatherland

Let the north and south enjoy the day of reunification...

 

 

“Then he went on,” Tony Russo said, "to sing a song... 

 

He threw his head back, and he sang out...”

 

 

Article ©2014-2018 by James Williamson   All rights reserved

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