Thursday, 10 March 2016

(Week 9) Reactions to Vietnam in the 1980s

Vietnam - The televised conflict. Reaction in the 1980s
Criticism at the time of war

Reaction to the Vietnam war at the time of conflict was mixed to say the least. Some supported the war initially, its fight against communism and the fear of the domino effect was a noble thing to stand by. However this time, unlike any war before it, the whole thing was televised to the people of America which caused support and reaction to the war to waver massively. Some famous celebrities actually threw away their conscription service card and songs emerged berating the President and his actions in Vietnam. A famous example of this being 'Hey Hey LBJ' which accused the president of killing thousands of innocent women and children. Even after the war had finished in 1975 many concerns begin to raise surrounding the war, such as MIA soldiers and the Vietnam memorial.

Reactions in the 1980s

Movies and Media
By the 1980s the horror caused by Vietnam on soldiers and people of America was not new news to anyone, if it was then they clearly didn't get out much and while some veterans were heavily traumatised by the war, some 500,000 to 700,000 developing some type of PTSD, most integrated back in society well, marrying and raising families of their own.
While the reaction to the war was by n means good in the 1980s, some wrote down their experience in Vietnam in literature, such as Born on the Fourth of July, A novel by Ron Kovic and the movie Platoon (1986) by Oliver Stone whose book was transformed into a movie in 1989. One critic suggests that the movie is wrongly overlooked "because of it's brutal but long-winded portrayal of the duality of man". The movie reacts very negatively of the Vietnam war, showing the War as 'Brutal' and as beneficial to no one. Although it was almost a decade after the war, there still seemed to be a fixation on its brutality and inhuman warfare. The use of Military advisor's on the set added to its accurate portrayal of the cold heartedness of Vietnam.

MIA Soldiers
Despite claiming that "we cannot rule out the possibility that American POWs or MIAs were left behind at the end of the [Vietnam] war" by the 1980s the government had changed all but one of the MIA reports in Vietnam to Presumptive Finding of Death. As expected the people of America who still had the hope of family returning from America did not take well to this change in status. But while the majority of the people still committed to finding their family member and not giving up, others saw it as an option to move on with life, one Lady named Edna Hunter-King said that it gave her the ability to close "the book and got on with living". Although this seems heartless this is what happened in America. The nation was divided by this decision by the government, some seeing it as opening a door to carry on and others the exact opposite. Film was produced to show this "Public passion for the return of MIAs increased following a spate of films in the mid-1980s, such as Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), starring Sylvester Stallone as a lone American freeing American POWs under intense enemy fire." Showing that while many people continued and went on in their life there was still an obligation to many Americans to recover all MIA soldiers in Vietnam, not merely changing their Status to PFOD.

Vietnam Memorial
Maya Ling Lin had the vision of the Vietnam Memorial to symbolize the conflict of the Vietnam war. However at the time of its creation in the early 1980s, it was heavily criticised. "Many veterans, politicians,critics, and the general public read its refusal to explicitly glorify the war". They felt it did not glorify the war of the American troops that fought in it. This negative reaction to the monument is similar to the rest of the reactions above. In the 1980s public reaction to the Vietnam war specifically and things to do with the war, was split. While the view remained highly negative of the war and actions taken after the war, some people saw these actions as a way to move forward and get on with life. However public reaction to the war was by no means positive as a whole, as shown above.


Lasting from November 1st 1955 and ending on April 30th 1975 this brutal conflict spanned twenty and 3 decades, the fifties, sixties and seventies. Of course this means the war is not simply going to drop out of contemporary existence and will eventually make it's way in to popular culture. this happened during the eighties with a number of war related films being released. Films such as Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Rambo II (1985), Good Morning Vietnam (1987) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) all present different representation, views and aspects of the Vietnam war. This is turn can be found to show that there were mixed reactions to the Vietnam war.

At the time of the war there were many protests about how unjust the war was and how it should be ended. Moving into the eighties however, the concerns were less with the morality of the war and more on the missing in action and prisoners of war. As seen with Rambo II this influenced popular culture, Rambo was depicted as attempting to go and retrieve some of the men who had not been accounted for. Contrastingly in a film that is not as unbelievable or over-glorified as Rambo, Ful Metal Jacket deals with a different reaction to the war, insanity.

Many of the war veterans suffered from PTSD, and there were also alarming numbers of suicides, as we were shown with Pyle's murder-suicide in FMJ. The estimated number of veterans suffering from PTSD was over 1.5 million and the estimated number of suicides exceeded 100,000. This shows just how brutal the conflict must have been and have no doub that PTSD is a reaction to the war and it will have affected most of the veterans most harshly throughout the eighties, but it will have continued into the nineties and even today. Groups and organisations were set up across the country for example, VietNow, began in 1982 and is a way of veterans helping other veterans to help resolve issues.

To sum up, the eighties saw a number of influences and reactions to the Vietnam war. This came in many different ways, shapes and sizes. American firms lobbied for more efficient extraction of MIA/POW soldiers from vietnam and of the 2500+ that were unaccounted for, it is estimated that only over a thousand have been located and returned home, there is the belief that many of these missing men are still alive in Vietnam. PTSD effected millions of solders and still does today, as portrayed within contemporary culture of the time through movies and other media.


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Vietnam War - documentary perspectives during the 1980s

Stills from the documentaries
When the conflicts between North and South Vietnam began in the mid-1950s, anti-Communist rhetoric was at its peak in the US and the American psyche was engulfed by fear. President Eisenhower was keen to prevent communism spreading to South Vietnam, but so soon after the First World War and the Korean War, he felt he would have had trouble generating support for another war from the American people. Consequently publicity around America’s efforts in Vietnam was kept to a minimum for some time and really, it was not until the late 1950s that America’s involvement in Vietnam started to be widely known. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon each inherited a deepening conflict, sending more troops and counting more casualties than the previous president had seen. By 1967 some 250,000 American troops were fighting in the Vietnam War, and as Eisenhower had feared over a decade before, dissent among the American people quickly spread, and anti-Vietnam war rhetoric began to replace the patriotic voice of the post First World War era.

The anti-war attitude bled into popular culture throughout the late 1960s and the early 1970s, with regular demonstrations and protests taking place across America. Numerous anti-war organisations and societies began and young adults (in particular, students and black Americans) were angry at what they viewed as the needless loss of life in a war which they felt America should not be fighting. With celebrities from across the music, art, film and television and the political spectrum weighing in to add to the pressure being placed on the US government, America’s efforts in Vietnam began to slow. In 1975, President Ford announced that America would be pulling out of Vietnam and that the Vietnam War was over "for America".

Post-war consideration and assessment had by the 1980s led to two main schools of thought. On the one hand the war was seen as a foolish, costly and tragic error on the part of the US government, and on the other hand it was seen as a capitalist necessity which the US government could not avoid.  However, whilst there were many people who felt the US had taken appropriate and necessary action during the Vietnam war, the depth of anger and resentment by so many people in the US at that time, and the absolute loss of faith in the government, seems to have led to a muting of support for the war and it seems that by far, it is the anti-war rhetoric which dominated during the 1980s and continues to do so. 

Two popular documentaries emerged during the 1980s, which I watched in full for the purpose of this blog. These were Vietnam: A Television History (1983) and Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (1987). 

From its opening line, it is fairly easy to discern the angle that Vietnam: A Television History is going to take. George Ball, Under Secretary of State from 1961 to 1966, is shown saying, “I think Vietnam was probably the greatest single error that America has made in its national history.” This is a grand statement when one considers some of America's 'errors' in history such as the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans, and the slave trade. As you might expect from a documentary of this title, it is filled with footage from the Vietnam War, and relies heavily on the use of images that have become representative of the world’s view of what the Vietnam war was about. The first images seen are very emblematic, such as helicopters flying over the American Embassy in Vietnam and communist leaders followed by images of Vietnamese refugees, tanks driving through the streets, and these images are intercut with many images of US soldiers in their camps or with their troops.

This documentary takes a strong anti-war stance and focuses on the legacy of the Vietnam war, examining how war veterans found themselves unable to talk about their experiences because of the cold reception they received from their fellow Americans. This perspective is perhaps understandable given that documentary was made in 1983. The war had been over for less than a decade, the terrible effects of the war including the deaths of some 60,000 American servicemen, over 150,000 injured, and over 1500 soldiers missing in action, meant that America was experiencing a collective bereavement.

At the end of the documentary, it features a full five minutes of footage of veterans and their families, and the families of those American soldiers who died in Vietnam or were still missing, visiting the Vietnam War Memorial, a 75m long wall engraved with the names of the Vietnam servicemen, which was opened in November 1982.  Playing over this footage are the voices of many veterans talking about what the unveiling of the memorial, and their post-Vietnam experiences, had meant to them. In watching this documentary one is left with the clear message that the veterans were deserted by the country for whom they fought, in some cases for nearly 30 years.

Vietnam: A Television History ends with the narrator’s comment, “America’s Vietnam war is over but it lives on in all those who experienced it. This and all future generations will have to turn to this long dark and hard chapter of history to define the meaning and determine the lessons of Vietnam.”  This sums up the negatively questioning nature of this 1983 documentary.

Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam is one of the most emotional documentaries I’ve ever watched. The premise of this documentary is to tell the story of the Vietnam war in the words of the American servicemen through the letters they sent home while they were fighting in Vietnam, separated by real footage and news reports from the time. With actors such as Martin Sheen, Robert De Niro, Judd Nelson, Ellen Berstyn, Willem Defoe, Matt Dillon, Kathleen Turner, Sean Penn, Harvey Keitel, Robert Downey Jr, Tom Beringer, Randy Quaid, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael J Fox and Robin Williams all featuring in the documentary, reading the letters of the veterans, this film certainly attracted attention following its release in 1987 and its anti-war stance would likely have been very persuasive for the audience. Many of those actors who have contributed to this documentary were already very well known for their left-wing anti-war views.

The documentary begins with images of young men surfing and having good fun at the beach.  These images are playing to a soundtrack of Beach Boys music, but suddenly the images change to graphically abhorrent pictures of young US soldiers fighting in the Vietnam war. The images are of helicopters, tanks, bombs, injuries and death. Compared to Vietnam: A Television History, this documentary is graphic and edgy right from the start, and it is absolutely apparent that this documentary is not only taking an anti-war stance, but it is pulling no punches - the intention is to offer a non-sanitised representation of the war.

The soundtrack to this documentary is full of pop music from the time which really helps to create a sense of the contrast between what was happening in America at the time versus what was happening in Vietnam at the same time, and it really does give an impression of two very different worlds.

The film walks the audience through the Vietnam War year by year, beginning by showing the young American soldiers as they sign up and are measured up for their new uniforms and ending with footage of families at the Memorial wall, images of bodies being repatriated, and the letter of a mother to her dead son. It is an in-depth and truly tragic depiction of the war. I consider its message is distinctly anti-Vietnam.

For this exercise I also watched many excerpts from online documentaries in an attempt to find a documentary that presented the war from a different perspective. I hoped to find a documentary that celebrated the capitalist successes of the Vietnam war and presented a pro-war stance.  Instead, and in spite of knowing that there are many people who support this view, I found I was unable to locate any documentary from the 1980s that took an openly pro-Vietnam position.  I feel this in itself sums up how the Vietnam war was being viewed during the 1980s - such was the level of resentment and anger that even the war's supporters were not prepared to take too great a public stand in defence of the actions of the US during that time.
Vietnam: A Television History (1983),
Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (1987)
Boat People (1987).

'Good Morning Vietnam' 1987

Image result for good morning vietnam
Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause of the leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P.

The depiction of the Vietnam 'Conflict', starring Robin William (1987), became a silver screen sensation, due to the infusion of satirical comedy and the maintenance of the taboo subject of the Vietnam war in the 1960's. The film is centered around Robin William's character  'Armed Forces Radio disc jockey (Adrian Cronauer) whose manic, hilarious delivery from a studio in 1965 Saigon gives U.S. troops in the field a morale boost (while upsetting military brass)'1. Although the 80's era, had begun to produce some of the most significant and hard hitting Vietnam films, such as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Foruth of July,. 'Good Morning Vietnam', altered as it depicted an alternative perspective; in that it was show from behind the front lines, thus making the audience begin to analysis the alternative (depicted) reality. 

One of the key themes is the use of satirical humor and emphasis on maintaining an attitude of disregard for superiority. This style of cinema, during this era, is interesting as is is an approach to the ideas of patriotism, and conformity, countering the presented ideaologies of the Regan period, where the same ideological conflict presided, the 'war on drugs' established i a 'front line' insight for average Americans, to experience, (an alternative and tuned down) form of violence and blood shed. 



MIA Soldiers

During the Vietnam War, there were many examples of soldiers going MIA. Many of their bodies, or remains, haven't been recovered, and their Headstones stand over empty Graves.
It is reported that there were/are 1350 MIA/POW soldiers, as some haven't been closed yet, although there is obvious assumption that they are dead.

One of the most notorious, or infamous, examples, is a soldier by the name of Robert R. Garwood. Garwood was captured and presumed MIA in 1965. However, he was accused and eventually convicted of collaborating with the Viet Cong while he was MIA, as well as being accused of assaulting a fellow Soldier.
"A jury of five Marine Corps officers deliberated two days before returning the conviction. Private Garwood is the only Vietnam prisoner of war to be tried by court-martial on a collaboration charge, and his conviction is the first on such a charge in the armed services since 10 prisoners of the Korean War were convicted 25 years ago."
'These former prisoners said that Private Garwood was living with the Vietnamese camp guards and, in the words of Gustave A. Mehrer of the Army, ''He was squatting like them, walking like them and giggling like them. In my opinion, he was a white Vietnamese.'''
It was claimed by his defense lawyers that for 2 years he had suffered the same torture and deprivation as the other prisoners, and as a result, his mental condition had deteriorated further from the experience when the other prisoners saw him. It was also claimed that he was "driven mad by this coercive persuasion."

One of the most well-known soldiers that went "MIA" is John McCain, who was a POW and in 2008 ran against Obama for President of the United States. He was a POW for 5 and 1/2 years after his Plane was shot down in North Vietnam. There are many conspiracies surrounding McCain and the time he spent MIA. He was tortured, and suffered multiple injuries that were for the most, part untreated, and when they were it was minimal. These injuries included 2 fractured arms and a fractured leg, suffered by ejecting from his Plane.

John McCain being pulled from the water following his Plane crash.

Even today, there are still forensic tests that take place with the intention of identifying some of the remains that have been found. But, for many of the families that had members go MIA, they will never know whether they get found, or identified, and have to live with the knowledge that they will not get a proper burial.
There has been some accusation that America left some of the troops behind, although this has been repeatedly denied by politicians, in particular, McCain, who suggests that the records that may contain that information would only make things painful for the families involved, and as a result, this conspiracy remains, that the US simply left some of the POW's behind. 

"According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, as at 2015 there are still 1,627 U.S. servicemen still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War."

Plaque for the MIA soldiers in Texas.

Vietnam War


During the course of the Vietnamese conflict, hundreds of American soldiers were incarcerated in Vietnamese prisons. Of these only, 591 people were realeased during the Operaion Homecoming however more than 2000 Americans still remained unaccounted for. As the Vietnamese held many of their prisoners at facilities in well defende urban areas, a military solution to the POW problem was not possible for the U.S. forces. On November 21, 1970, a unit of U.S. Army Special Forces troops raided the Vietnamese prison camp at Son Tay, the raiders killed more than thirty Vietnamese troops, but no prisoners were freed; the Americans had been moved some time earlier.

The American people felt that the U.S. government had abandoned their soldiers in a foreign country with very little effort to help bring them back to safety. Americans lobbied for the right treatment and return of the American troops who were either prisoners of warfare or missing in action.

“It’s kind of hard to hang in there, day after day, in my case, 2110 days, you’ve just got to have absolute belief that some day your country’s going to come get you. When I went to Vietnam, I was prepared to be killed, to be wounded, even to be captured. But I was not prepared to be abandoned by the country that sent me there” – former American POW.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Created in 1985, Rambo: First Blood Part II , the sequel to First Blood (1982) follows Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) on a mission where he will infiltrate Vietnam to search for American POWs that are still rumoured to be held by the Vietnamese. 

 Although quite clearly an unrealistic action film, the notion that the American government may have left men behind was difficult for U.S citizens to understand, which is one of the reasons why characters such as Rambo were created, they needed someone to look up to and that would be a standout hero that would rescue troops from behind enemy lines.

Denise has the flu and has lost her voice, so I will take the class Thursday. Please make your posts in good time.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

'Uncommon Valor' - The Vietnam War in the 80s

The Vietnam War, which ended in 1975, gained new interest in popular culture during the early 1980s.
The film I will be discussing in relation to the Vietnam War in the 1980s is Uncommon Valor (1983). The title of this movie refers the inscription on the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D,C. It states "Where uncommon valor was a common virtue". 
In this film, a retired U.S Marine recruits other war veterans to put together a private rescue team, in the hopes of rescuing his son, a soldier that went missing in action 10 years ago, in Vietnam. 

The film is a great representation of a common issue regarding missing soldiers during the Vietnam War. During the war, there was about 2646 officially missing soldiers, and according to, 1626 are still missing today. The missing soldiers were said to have been shot down over North Vietnam or Laos, or just disappeared into the jungles. 
Many believe, and investigations into the subject have suggested that a significant number of the missing soldiers were captured and kept as prisoners or war. 

Investigations into determining what happened to these men went on for years after the war ended, but the progression in doing so was fairly slow, however during the mid 80s, there were improvements, thanks to relation improvements between the U.S and Vietnam. Thanks to this, policies and technical meetings increased, with the aim to help resolve the issues of the MIA soldiers, with Vietnam eventually returning some American soldiers remains, which had been previously collected and stored, back to America. This led to the identification of many missing American soldiers.

In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was established, in Washington, DC. It was built to honour the soldiers who fought in the war, soldiers that died in Vietnam and South East Asia, and the soldiers that had gone missing during the war. 

Uncommon Valor represents the pain that countless numbers of families felt during and after the war, not knowing where their sons/brothers/husbands/fathers had disappeared to, not knowing whether they were alive or not, leaving them no chance to properly grieve for their loved ones. 

Trailer for Uncommon Valor:


Less Than Zero

Less Than Zero

 ‘Blank fiction’ is a term that describes the writing of a generation of contemporary US writers whose influence started in the 1980’s and is still present today; this sort of fiction deals with contemporary urban life, violence sex, drugs and consumerism. Less Than Zero is most definitely a novel that falls under the category of blank fiction. The main protagonist, Clay, is a college student who is coming home for Christmas vacation, he quickly falls back into old habits with friends and into a spiral of parties, drugs, sex and violence. Emotions dulled and fuelled by drugs and boredom Clay and his friends are drawn to excesses to jolt them out of their expensively-maintained ruts: to prostitution and snuff films, to dead bodies in the street and, ultimately, to sadistic child abuse.

This website offers commentary on the novel and notes “as a work of fictional documentary, it is a shocking portrayal of dissolute youth in the Reagan era, and certainly deserves to be catalogued in the canon of drugs literature”. The depiction of a disconnected youth is striking within the book, most obviously with Clay, although surrounded by people he appears to be alone; his parents are separated and are unable to communicate with him in a meaningful way, he has no relationship with his sisters whom he cannot tell apart and who think he is much younger than he is, a girlfriend who he doesn’t love, psychotic friends and a psychiatrist who is too self-absorbed to help him.

This article offers insight into the lives of the youth generation depicted in Less Than Zero, “attractive adolescents are the victims [in the horrors of the world]; in Less Than Zero, they're the monsters” this shows us that first appearances (designer clothes, makeup and money) mean little when their lives are so meaningless and lonely that they resort to drugs just to feel anything.