Hearts and Minds  continued...

 

 

 

revelations now of Iraqi civilians and members of the press being slaughtered by machine gun fire from American helicopters now—not to forget the images of prisoners humiliated and tortured at Abu Ghraib. It is in one of the outtake scenes in which Westmoreland attempts to blame the antiwar movement's effect on US soldiers' morale that caused them to become complicit in the massacre. (Westmoreland further equivocate about the displacement of refugees from their homes and villages, as well as conditions that caused unaccountable civilian casualties and wounded.)

     

Embedded (assigned to military units) journalists today covering America's proxy wars and the fraudulent “war on terror” are hard-pressed to dig as deeply as did journalists, documentarians and photojournalists toward the end of the Vietnam era. Not to mention that the corporate-owned media, the State Department, as well as the Pentagon, do their best to hinder it. “Sanitized” killing has been coupled with “sanitized” reportage. And, now, all too commonly, we are subjected to the ambiguous fictionalizations of military actions like the "assassination" of Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty and jingoistic interpretations of history in films like Argo that deal in shallow stereotypes of Iranians, and offer little in the way of a fuller historical background—most noteworthy in this case, the U.S./British coup of democratically-elected leader Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 by the CIA and MI6 after he forged a plan to nationalize Iran's oil industry.

   

Did Hearts and Minds fall into the category of advocacy filmmaking? Or does the film simply remain, safe-to-say, by way of its evidence, an "objective" case against military adventurism? One of the criticisms leveled at Davis was his perhaps too-easy comparison of American football culture with military life—the pomp and celebration of halftime shows, the cheering crowds, the weeping cheerleaders that resembled “girls back home,” marching bands in freshly-pressed uniforms, the “game-of-life” sermons by priests and ministers that wove together religious faith, personal achievement, and an emphasis on winning in small-town America.

 

There is a clip at the beginning of the film of President Truman in the fifties proudly declaiming: “Our vision of progress is not limited to our own country. We extend it to all the peoples of the world.” By 1958 the U.S. was paying for 78-percent of the French war in Indochina. Even after the US had taken the reins from France and was funding the South Vietnamese government to the tune of $2 billion annually, all that most Americans saw during the early years of the war was the flag-waving, the Uncle Sam-bluster, the stars and stripes, the white gloves. Davis sought Irving Berlin's permission to use stock footage from the 1943 movie musical, This Is The Army. (Perhaps not so ironically, a young Ronald Reagan co-starred.) One of the songs had had its title changed from 'Dressed Up To Kill' to 'Dressed Up To Win.' In a scene in which a massive phalanx of troops—beneath studio lighting—heroically sang the song, 'This Time,' they proudly twirled their rifles to the rhythm of Berlin's patriotic music in a jingoistic choreography. To lovers of Americana or movie musicals this might seem like a cynical or unfair

Photograph in the Public Domain, author unknown

 

Even after the US had taken the reins from France and was funding the South Vietnamese government to the tune of $2 billion annually, all that most Americans saw through the beginning years of the war was the flag-waving, the Uncle Sam-satire, the white gloves, the stars and stripes.

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Photograph in Yoichi R. Okamotoin in the Public Domain

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assessment of the material. In reality, it explains much about the temperament of the country during World War II, which is further supported by Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford early on in the film.

     

 

 

Clifford, an aide to both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson (under whom he also became Secretary of State following Robert McNamara), admits that “'the Domino Theory' was a false theory... I could not have been more wrong.” Davis, in his attempt to maintain his embrace of the cinéma vérité fraternity, used as little narrative as possible, and let his subjects speak for themselves. The interviews consist of both “hawks” and “doves.” The hawks, as was to be expected, conveyed perhaps a more wooden demeanor in the sixties than they do now, though they were not necessarily reticent. They presented more like the visiting colonels and generals of the Korean War in the television sitcom, M*A*S*H*—sturdy and messianic. The attitudes of the doves, most of them veterans who had already returned home, and many of them maimed for life, ranged from angry, disillusioned, philosophical, resigned, peaceful, or wise as the result of their experiences. Deserter Edward Sowders, giving testimony before Congress, and for whom “underground life had become intolerable,” spoke of the concocted technical terms he found to be repugnant: “free fire zones,” “secure areas,” “kill ratios.” We are reminded today of the further corruption of language by a feckless State Department and sycophantic media ensnared by terms like “extraordinary rendition,” “enhanced interrogation,” "indefinite detention," and “collateral damage.”

     

One of the featured characters in the film was Lieutenant George Coker, who had been a prisoner-of-war for six-and-a-half years. He gave a talk to nine- and ten-year-olds in the local school of his home town of Linden, New Jersey, in which he stated about his Vietnam experience: “the people there are backward and primitive and just make a mess of everything.” He also addressed a women's group, attributing his abilities as a warrior to American mothers with the same starry-eyed optimism and faith in his country's mission as do latter-day military-saints like Oliver North and Erik Prince. Prince and North exhibit a ruddy optimism, make claims of innocence, and revel in an over-simplified heroic posturing and nationalistic pride, all the while making snarky comments about the antiwar left—not to forget making a considerable profit as covert renegade mercenaries, and later, sham political commentators. Indeed, throughout the film, unwitting self-parodies of the political cast are much too familiar and frequent. Nixon always seemed to be perspiring in the same way today Dick Cheney always seems to be snarling, or Bush tripping over his tongue.

     

One of the perhaps not-so-incidental revelations in the film is from George Bidault, who was the French Foreign Minister in 1954. In his interview with Davis, he claimed that John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of Defense at the time, offered France two atomic bombs to make use of against the Vietnamese. 

Title. Double click me.

Title. Double click me.