Viet Nam and Hollywood
(One veteran's view on how Hollywood "played the game")
Copyright May 2, 2002: John Puzzo. All rights reserved.
by John Puzzo
Viet Nam, 1970
5/16 Field Artillery: Radio Telephone Operator (Forward Observer team) attached to 2/8th Infantry (MECH)
K Company (Ranger), 75th Infantry (Airborne), 4th Infantry Division

Webmaster's Comments: As an on-call analyst and production resource for CNN, John Puzzo was asked to view two Viet Nam War genre movies (Casualties of War and Born on the 4th of July)  and go live on Crossfire and Larry King "Live"  to talk about them. After his Larry King "Live"  appearance opposite Born on the 4th of July  Ron Kovic, he needed a police escort back to his D.C. hotel room. I don't normally have much time for bleeding-heart film reviewers, but John certainly doesn't fit into that category and he wrote this article on Hollywood's look at Vietnam especially for our website. John is the creator of "The Viet Nam War Veterans Oral History Project," and served with the 4th Infantry Division in Viet Nam as a Ranger, Artilleryman, and Combat Engineer.

"The History of War is written by the Victor." This is so true it is a cliché.

Hence, it is fitting that Hollywood has produced such movies as "Platoon," "Born on the 4th of July," "Full Metal Jacket," and "Casualties of War," to name perhaps the most (in)famous of thatgenre of LA LA land film. As they meet the standard of "perspective from the victor's" point of view some of these films are favorites in Hanoi.

Hollywood deposits soldiers of my era on the screen and animates them, but they are as unreal as so many Frankenstein's. Earlier generations of war films had characters played by John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, and Robert Taylor. They portrayed soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who were real, or at least believable. Many were portrayed heroically.

We got Forrest Gump and a litany of other screwball characters the likes of which I never saw in the Army. Gump, a half-wit, at least isn't evil like the bizarre character in Full Metal Jacket, who murdered his DI, or the character played by Sean Penn, who raped and then murdered, in a scene of prolonged vicious and brutal agony, a young Vietnamese woman with a Marine issue K-BAR knife.

America also had to endure the tap dance of murders, atrocities, toxic sergeants, incompetent officers, and confused soldiers in Platoon (Best Picture Oscar 1986). This film is a sumptuous feast for haters of all things 'Viet Nam.'

Perhaps because American soldiers were portrayed as oppressors in Platoon, few people were outraged at the Nazi Battle Flag flown on an American Tank after the big battle scene. This movie so completely degrades the American soldier that a member of the Vietnamese Politboro, Bui Tinh, openly praised it. Comrade Tinh was a North Vietnamese Army General Staff officer during the war. They use it, he said, to teach young Vietnamese about the American's "Imperialist" war.

Of the Deer Hunter, 80% had nothing to do with Viet Nam. That which did was so implausible it's a wonder anyone went to see it, but America was hungry for Viet Nam War movies and almost every single movie about that subject achieved either critical acclaim (undeserved) or box office success, including Deer Hunter. The main character in Deer Hunter, played by Robert Deniro, exhibits psychotic and antisocial behavior by stripping his clothes off in public and parading naked right down Main Street - behavior that would rightly get anyone arrested and taken away for psychiatric evaluation. Deer Hunter won two Oscars, Best Picture and Best Director (1978).

In Jane Fonda's anti-veteran film, Coming Home, another psychotic episode unfolds as her Navy officer husband, just returned from Viet Nam also strips buck naked in public. We see him fully nude, babbling as he strolls nonchalantly into the waves and commits suicide in the Pacific Ocean. His part is played by actor and antiwar activist, Bruce Dern. Jane Fonda won an Oscar for her performance in Coming Home (1978), and she is as guilty of treason as OJ is of murder and everybody knows it.

Conceivably Fonda and her Hollywood friends, like Dern, Donald Sutherland, Peter Boyle, and other "celebrities" who visited Hanoi during the War wish a similar fate for all Viet Nam War veterans. Figuratively, Hollywood has done just that: The films made about the Vietnam War may as well have turned veterans and their history into a gas and released it into the stratosphere.

Fonda and Deniro came to my home state of Connecticut in 1988 to make a film about an illiterate, dysfunctional (surprise) truck-driving Viet Nam Veteran. She was met here with protests that were global in scope. But Fonda's advance team had prepared for these protests and made deals with some of the local vets (shame on them) to whom she could make her 'apology.' When I exposed this, I was physically attacked in a VFW hall in Naugatuck, Connecticut. This incident was widely covered in the press. I was not invited to the session where she 'apologized.'

This 'apology' was played sympathetically by Barbara Walters on ABC. Apart from Walters' own palsied and not very unique left sided media bias, she served up softballs to Fonda and allowed her to put a soft face on treason. It is not widely known that Walters' husband's company, 'Lorimar Productions,' produces and markets Fonda's workout tapes…cozy arrangement.

On the screen battlefield, American soldiers in Viet Nam are habitually portrayed by Hollywood filmmakers as making war on civilians (Platoon, Casualties of War, Full Metal Jacket, Born on the 4th of July) and running from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

In "We were Soldiers ," a departure from thirty or more years of humiliation by Hollyweird, the Viet Nam Soldier is finally, and too late, portrayed as a soldier, standing up in battle, and meeting an armed enemy that has shown himself quite capable of making war on civilians and living by 'atrocity.' Of course, I am referring to the communists, who first and foremost make war on their own civilian populations to advance 'the revolution,' as they did in Viet Nam long before any American soldier jumped out of a helicopter there.

In Apocalypse Now, another surrealistic and bizarre film about Viet Nam, a shaved bald and very fat Marlon Brando (Marlon Brambo?) portrays a Special Forces Colonel. Martin Sheen, the Anti-war diplomat himself, is the hero who emerges from a murky jungle river, knife in his teeth, to cut Brando's throat. What was the point of Apocalypse Now? Except that one American soldier kills another, I never did see the point of it.

In Born on the 4th of July, viewers are subject to the usual hype of war crimes and atrocities, this time committed by American Marines who cut and run from the VC in a battle - Marines running away? Later in the film, the spectacle of wheelchair-bound veterans spitting all over each other is another twisted, uniquely Hollywood metaphor on the American soldier: "We spit on you..."

Even in films which were not overtly about Vietnam, this disgraceful treatment persists to the point of being nearly universal. The promotional press release for a 1969 movie by legendary Hollywood filmmaker, Sam Peckinpaugh,The Wild Bunch, states:

"The 'Bunch' also represents contemporary American soldiers in the late 60's, out of place in the jungles of Vietnam. Unchanged men in a changing land, out of step, out of place in the jungles of Vietnam, unchanged men in a changing land, out of step, out of place and desperately out of time. Suddenly it was sundown... suddenly their day was over... The 'Bunch' is a gang of desperadoes, criminals assaulted in the film's opening ambush and then brutally destroyed in the film's conclusion.." Another colorful series of Hollyowood metaphors, this time overt.

Oscar Wilde, a literary figure of the 19th Century, said that when art develops a purpose it becomes propaganda. This is as good an observation as can be made for the Vietnam War genre in American film.

PBS' Vietnam: A Television History is a masterpiece of propaganda, carefully edited and with sounds like gunshots and flies buzzing around corpses added for effect. Watching this tedious 13 hour 'documentary' will convince anyone that Viet Nam was a hopeless and ill conceived venture criminal in its execution. I would agree with that, but for very different reasons as those alluded in this 'documentary.'

The best and most complete criticism of PBS' Vietnam: A Television History was done by Reed Irvine's Accuracy In Media (AIM), a Washington based think tank dedicated to exposing the major media shortcomings. AIM has also done a great deal of reporting on the film industry's portrayal of the Vietnam War and they have good archives.

Nearly contemporaneous with PBS' "Television History," PBS also produced and released, Frank, A Vietnam Veteran. Frank is an alcoholic drug addicted crying slob who 'became' a homosexual because he 'could not find love' after Vietnam.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

Hanoi Hilton, a film by Lionel Chetwynd, was released in 1987 (same year as Platoon). It is set in Hoa Lo prison, Hanoi, from 1964-73. Chetwynd stated that his purpose in making the film was "to pay tribute to their [POWs] sacrifice:" The loneliness of isolated confinement, lack of food and the torture with ropes, electric shock and whips, and psychological torture.

In Hanoi Hilton, the Vietnamese commander of the prison camp remarks, "The real war is in Berkeley, California, Washington, D.C., and in the cities of America, and what we do not win on the battlefield, your journalists will win for us on your very own doorstep."

One scene in this film exposes Cora Weiss, another true life American traitor who was an agent of the North Vietnamese Army in their use of psychological warfare against the POW's, their families, and against America. The segment ends by her hugging the Vietnamese commander and thanking him for his efforts.

Weiss openly declared herself not a pacifist, led a group in the 60's that tried to force American POW families to make pro communist propaganda in exchange for contact with their family members being held in Hanoi. Though desperate for contact with their loved ones, not one family accepted Cora Weiss' tainted offers.

Largely assailed by the nation's movie critics, Hanoi Hilton was well received by the men and women of the American armed forces and the prisoners whose story he told. Chetwynd wrote and directed the film as a personal statement. It took him ten years to make the film in the U. S. because Hollywood had other notions of how it wanted to portray the Vietnam War and the soldiers who fought in it. (The Left engages in blacklisting, too....)

The impact Hollywood has had on shaping American opinion of the Vietnam War and the veteran cannot be downplayed. It is significant, corrosive, beyond truth, hallucinatory, anti-war, anti-veteran, anti-American, shameful, insulting, and not accidental.

Copyright 2002, John Puzzo. All rights reserved.