OUR Hearts, OUR Minds
Lately I been havin' those dreams; those déjà vu, look-at-you,
they're bullshitting-us-ALL-OVER-AGAIN-and-nobody's-listening nightmares.
I blame myself. I could've stayed in 'Nam. Combat photographer. Shoot the truth-by-Nikon and let the chips fall. Fuck "the world" and the lies that keep it turning. That's what I really wanted to do. End up like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, a whack job surrounded by whack jobs. Maybe end up dead, if I'm lucky.
But no, there was a girl, and I came back, full of righteous indignation, fueled by the whole gonzo experience itself, deciding—again! (what a schmuck)—to try to work within the system.
The only thing I personally killed in Vietnam was a year of my life (and a few million brain cells), though I'd known men burned to death, and watched others die in rudimentary hospitals while the Armed Forces Vietnam Network forecast sunny highs.
I'd offered gum and candy to Vietnamese kids who'd rather sell me heroin or their sister. Paid a forty-year-old woman ten bucks a month to make my bed and spit-shine my boots. Smelled napalm drift through the midnight air like incense crafted by the insane. Suffered daily the indignity of taking orders from men who couldn't tie their own shoes without a manual.
I and millions like me may be drenched in sin and remorse, but we never killed no babies.
We didn't run, we didn't hide, we didn't go to jail and we didn't count down those hideous three hundred sixty-five days without learning a thing or two about war.
But the dreams are back, and this time—as that overpaid turkey in the movie trailers might intone, sucking on his cancer stick in a home-grown studio, pursuing gravitas—it's personal.
This time, I mean, we could lose It All.
For about a week now, it seems to me, WAR has been a word bandied about by the President (boy, do I use that term loosely), the Democratic candidates, and most egregiously by the press. Everybody's starting to position himself for the marathon run-up to Election Day, and the official colors of the race are certain to be Red, White, and Blue.
As if America could stand for anything else. Peace? Naw, not us. Education? Don't be ridiculous. Truths so self-evident that millions of people don't have to lose their lives in their pursuit? Not during this administration.
We got a WAR PRESIDENT.
Not so long ago, Criterion
, the high-quality LaserDisk and DVD distribution outfit, released a gorgeous edition of Hearts and Minds
, Peter Davis's 1974 Oscar-winning documentary on the American War of Aggression in Vietnam.
The re-release met little fanfare. I mean, Vietnam is old news, right? We've come so far from those days of conflict writ large at home, haven't we? Wouldn't we rather learn how to make money on the Internet? Don't we want Orgasms For Life? Relief from unsightly spider veins, and a pill for the morning after if we've been less than discreet?
Madonna's Botox injections are front page stuff these days, aren't they? Janet Jackson's so-called tit is what's got us all hot and bothered.
Like my esteemed colleague-in-noding, the incomparable dannye, I subscribe to Netflix, the online DVD-rental operation. It's a great way to view movies I might've missed, on a budget, or to review films that knocked me on my ass the first time around.
Hearts and Minds is definitely one of those films that will knock you on your ass.
And I think it's especially important that you give it a view before you vote this fall (if you're American; you furriners already KNOW we're fucked-up in this country, cause you get the news from organizations that have nothing to lose by telling the truth).
Hearts and Minds needs to be viewed, especially, by people who believe everything their government tells them. Yeah.
Cause this time it's personal.
Consider, in roughly chronological order as the film unspools, these FACTS about THAT war.
Consider them as you think about Iraq. Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia. The Philippines. Anywhere they worship a god that is not Money.
There is a donkey cart. Old as time, just about. Farmers till the soil. Women and children move gracefully through the frame. Gradually we become aware of the presence of soldiers
Tall. Well-armed. Intrusive. They're not shooting anything at the moment. They're not even particularly war-like, whatever that means. They are, quite simply, there.
Consider carefully, for a moment, that these soldiers are (as Pogo might put it) US.
Clark Clifford, Harry Truman's aide from 1946 through 1950 talks:
"We began to feel the sense of a world power. That possibly we could control the future of the world."
A ludicrously over-blown Hollywood production, This Is the Army; soldiers by the apparent thousands march on treadmills, singing "This time is the last time."
World War II propaganda. For the war effort. Made your grandma and grandpa's hearts surge. Conflated, in their minds, the polar concepts of WAR and PEACE.
Harry Truman, that old buck-stopper, notes that America "extends our vision of progress to all peoples of the world."
A statistic you've perhaps forgotten: 78% of the costs of the French war in Indochina was borne by the United States. We were fighting the Vietnam War by remote control in the late 40's.
Eisenhower, that "soldier's soldier," author of over ten thousand Allied casualties on the beach at Normandy, warns us: if the domino that is Vietnam falls, Communism (that cold war bogeyman) will soon darken all of Indochina.
President John F.Kennedy talks about the "light at the end of the tunnel," but it is left to Lyndon Johnson, mass-murderer, to intone the importance of winning the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people (who are engaged, you'll recall, in a war with the Chinese that goes back a thousand years).
President Richard Nixon, a lying piece of shit on a good day, intones that America, in Vietnam, is exercising a "degree of restrainment unprecedented in the annals of war."
This phrase, uttered with such smarmy salesmanship that some people actually believed him, belongs in the same Orwellian lexicon as "surgical strike," the "humane" bullet that we've come to know as the Full Metal Jacket, "peace with honor," and—say it loud—"shock and awe."
Lieutenant George Coker, a Prisoner of War from 1966 to 1973 is greeted as a hero in his home town of Linden, New Jersey. Eight years in a Vietnamese prison camp makes him an expert, of course, on American foreign affairs, so the town fathers have no problem with his visiting their fifth grade classrooms, pronouncing "the people over there are very primitive, very backward, and just make a mess out of everything."
Indeed. History views the situation differently, wouldn't you say?
Walt Rostow, aide to both Kennedy and Johnson, goes ballistic when the film's director asks him WHY we were in Vietnam:
Are you really asking me this goddamned silly question? You really want me to go into this, Mr. Davis? This is pretty pedestrian stuff, I must say, at this late stage of the game. I didn't really expect to have to go back to this kind of sophomoric stuff. But I'll do it.
I know of no Communist analysis or non-Communist analysis that would assert that a majority of people in that country would want to be Communist.
"Why do they need us then?" asks Davis simply.
Begins a particularly distasteful part of the film in which American GI's, guys younger than your little brother, carry on explicitly, at length, with Vietnamese prostitutes as villages are burned and the "majority" of the Vietnamese look on, resigned.
It's about at this point I begin to realize I've seen these faces before. They are in my dreams, of course, but they're also on your evening news, what "news" the administration wants to show us, that is, and their villages have names like Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basrah, and Halabjah.
The people are so familiar to me, somehow. I ate with them, gave them gifts, laughed with their children, patrolled the dirt roads connecting their towns to "protect" them against…what?"
An American deserter testifies before Congress:
"I am here today to draw attention to the true facts."
General William Westmoreland (accent on the surname, thank you very much), Supreme American Commander in Vietnam for four years:
"Vietnam reminded me of a child."
It was all about "the laws of nature…"
A Vietnamese Country Club. The room is filled with the wealthy, the powerful, the Vietnamese recipients of American largess. It's all a write-off.
Ford. Westinghouse. Coca Cola.
"We greatly believe in the future of this country," says Nguyen Ngoc Linh, Chairman of the Mekong Conglomerate and a former cabinet minister.
Bank of America. Esso. Dow Chemical.
"I'm a Johnny-come-lately as far as war profiteering is concerned. I saw that peace was coming whether we liked it or not."
Amputees, American, trying on their new limbs.
A high school football coach goes berserk at halftime, urging his boys on to victory.
LBJ: "We're going to win!"
The Tet Offensive in 1968. The North Vietnamese stage simultaneous raids on Americans all over the combat zone. Imagine 9/11 times a hundred. The Americans are totally unprepared but—eventually—they prevail.
Westmoreland: "If we follow that up through the use of maximum military force, the enemy would have no choice but to come to some accommodation."
Clark Clifford is clueless: "Finally I must say that my thinking had undergone a very substantial revolution."
The Peace March on Washington in '69.
"All we are saying, is give peace a chance."
I.F. Stone, liberal gadfly, speaks, prophetically:
"As long as the American President is Chief of the biggest war machine in history…our enemy is the growing militarization of American Life."
"The enemy was on the ropes," insists Westmoreland.
William Marshall, a cool black footsoldier with a no-bullshit attitude, lost an arm and a leg but not his courage, talks and talks loud:
"It's here and it's for real and it's gonna happen again."
Bobby Kennedy: "For 20 years we have been wrong."
Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Pentagon Papers, the scathing and total indictment of the American presence in Vietnam, breaks down on camera as he recalls RFK's assassination.
Body Bags. Graves Registration at work. Many, many body bags.
Clark Clifford: "We'd been going down this road for many years. It was difficult to change. I know now that the domino theory was a false theory. I could not have been more wrong in my attitude toward Vietnam."
A Vietnam Veteran Against the War throws his medal at the Capitol.
"What hurts the most," says a paralyzed soldier, "I actually started to cry because I was so proud to be an American and a Marine in uniform standing at attention. That represented so much to me. That hurts. That's what I'm bitter about."
A Search and Destroy mission. Villages burn as "Over There" plays on the sound track. Vietnamese crawl through the bush. Are led as prisoners.
Flame throwers. Tanks. Bullshit Hollywood movie footage intercut with the ugly interrogation of prisoners. Kicking. Drowning. Butt-stroking.
Facts from Ellsberg:
The American public was lied to month by month by each of these five administrations.
- Truman lied from 1950 on, on the nature and purposes of French Colonialism.
- Eisenhower lied on relations with Diem.
- Kennedy lied about the type of involvement we were doing there, and about the recommendation made to him.
- Johnson of course lied and lied and lied. Provocation. The Gulf of Tonkin. Plans for bombing North Vietnam and the nature of the buildup.
- Nixon lied to the American public. Cambodia. Laos. And the prospects of mining Hyphong.
An idiotic American colonel discusses "Vietnamization" with some South Vietnamese officers, dressed like dandies.
"I read about it in Stars and Stripes."
GI's handing weapons to South Vietnamese.
We didn't realize it was our war. Every casualty on both sides was caused by OUR policy!
We weren't on the wrong side. We ARE the wrong side!
By the late 60's we were sending South Vietnam over two billion dollars in aid per year.
A series of photos of Vietnamese imprisoned because they loved their country and ONLY because they loved their country and spoke out about it. They are enemies of the corrupt puppet government of general Nguyen Van Thieu.
Walt Rostow: "On balance I came to the judgment that it's a vital interest to the United States. Therefore I do believe that what we've done is fairly right, though I would've preferred to see a more decisive military strategy."
Nixon salutes "the brave men who took those B-52s in and did the job."
an horrendous aerial bombardment. The NVA return fire.
A Vietnamese father laments, heart-breakingly:
Nixon murdered civilians. What have I done to Nixon that he comes here to bomb my country?
My daughter died right here. She was feeding the pigs. She was so sweet.
She is dead. The pigs are alive.
No targets here. Only rice fields and houses.
She was only a little school girl.
A South Vietnamese soldier's funeral. There is much wailing, much distress.
A mother tries to crawl into the open grave.
The gravediggers laugh and take water. A child mourns his father.
And then comes perhaps the most infamous, the most villainous quotation by a major figure in the history of man: General William C. Westmoreland, the comic book-handsome Commander of American Forces in Vietnam intones:
The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does the Westerner.
Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.
And as the philosophy of the Orient expresses it,
LIFE IS NOT IMPORTANT.
An enormous napalm strike, igniting left-to-right. Somehow the road we're on looks familiar.
Children are running, screaming. We recognize it finally: this is movie footage of the little naked girl, Kim Phouc, from the village of Trang Bang, burned horribly on June 8, 1972, whose photo appeared all over the world and sickened all who saw it.
GI's pour water on her.
And here, at last, is where the film shows its age, where it reveals, in a sense, the naiveté of its intended audience. A man we've come to love throughout the piece, a Navy pilot, Captain Randy Floyd of Norman, Oklahoma, bearded and contrite, disconsolate over his actions during the war, yet conflicted, proud of his professionalism in spite of every thing else, summarizes:
We Americans have never experienced that. We've never experienced any kind of devastation.
But I look at my children now, and I don't know what would happen, what I would think about, if someone napalmed them.
He's asked "do you think we've learned anything for all this?" and—through his tears, he responds:
I think we're trying not to. I think Americans have all tried very hard to escape what we've learned in Vietnam.
I think Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their policy-makers have exhibited.
Graves and voices wailing.
Credits roll over a PARADE
Children march, obese firemen prance, Vietnam Vets Against the War are flipped-off by citizens. A riot ensues. Arrests are made.
And a Veteran asks, bewildered:
"What is this? We were the ones that got shot."
I'm having déjà vu all over again, ladies and gentlemen.
Once again we meet the enemy.
And once again, he is US.
Hearts and Minds
Henry Lange ... producer
Georges Bidault ... Himself
George Coker ... Himself
Kay Dvorshock ... Herself (also archive footage)
Randy Floyd ... Himself
Robert Muller ... Himself
Khanh Nguyen ... Himself
William C. Westmoreland
Tom Cohen ... sound recordist
Clara Noto ... dialogue editor
Criterion Collection (DVD)
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers