Friday, July 16, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 16)

Vietnam: A Television History - Part 6 (1968)
This 'chapter' was about the Tet offensive of 1968 (Tet being the Vietnamese new year celebration). Typically, the US had been attacked in the winter months, but also that there was a ceasefire around the time of Tet. The Tet Offensive was the first time the NLF/VC/North Vietnamese had taken the battles to the cities and it was a large scale, simultaneous attack on numerous cities.
Before this new year LBJ thought something would be coming and so did Westmoreland, and although it was a military victory for the US as they killed many more than they lost and were able to hold most of their positions, it was a political victory for the Vietnamese as the American public couldn't handle seeing so many US losses and brutality. When a US backed general executed a prisoner in handcuffs most people thought this isn't how we should be doing things.
The internal memos and cables indicated success, but the viewers at home reversed that. It was almost cables vs. cable. American public lead to believe Tet couldn’t have happened, so they were shocked and if there was no end date, they should just get out.
One GI talked about the smell of death and how it was so pervasive that you couldn't escape it, even when eating.
Additionally, the battles in South Vietnam were fought more by the Northern armies and in a more conventional way after Tet.
-The new secretary of defence, Clifford, came to realize that they shouldn’t be in the war (unknowns, war of attrition, no sign of VC giving up so...), and there was an internal group to change LBJ’s mind.
-Congress increased pressure to win or get out. They forced Johnson to decrease domestic programs (war was too expensive), and Johnson didn't go all in because he was concerned about greater Russian or Chinese involvement if the war escalated.
There was also domestic dissent at a high level as Senator Eugene McCarthy (the peace candidate) challenged Johnson in the primary (running against the war) and it was close. Although winning that challenge, Johnson decides not to run again (perhaps thinking Bobby Kennedy would win... but that obviously didn't work out).
Finally, after Tet the VC were still attacking but now there were also some peace talks in Paris.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Ermey
(Non-detailed spoiler alert)
A classic war movie that has provided our culture with several references, but it isn’t really enjoyable to watch. The movie is basically split into two parts: basic training and then Vietnam deployment.
The basic training is a lesson in brainwashing and abuse from a extremist drill sergeant (Ermey). There are some very funny insults (these are the classics and what I used to joke around with in undergrad) but it is mixed with such brutality that the humour doesn’t last long. It has many disturbing parts, primarily surrounding a wannabe marine that doesn’t seem to have what it takes. Eventually the abuse becomes too much and he loses.
Then an abrupt shift to almost an entirely different movie (despite still following a main character).
Now they are in Vietnam (“me so horny”), in the cities and eventually fighting in the cities (during the Tet offensive). Giving Kubrick the benefit of the doubt, the movie didn’t have much a point because the war didn’t have much of a point. The troops didn’t seem to know why they were doing what they were doing and there is no decent explanation offered.
I remembered why I didn’t like it that much the first time (but was worth seeing again because of my current project).
Nearly all of the movie seemed so absurd to me because I know more context now, but regardless war seems so resource intensive and inefficient (because so many innocents die). Having these men with guns wander around trying to kill other men/women with guns just seems like such a bad idea and a waste of resources. Of course, this is how things have to be sometimes, but Vietnam was not one of those.
Once again, I realized that I would not do well in the military. I’d be resistant and asking “why?” so much that I’d be kicked out or court marshalled within days.
It was also reaffirmed was that the true enemy of war is war itself.
Addendum: I just learned this interesting fact from the wiki entry: R. Lee Ermey actually served as a U.S. Marine Drill Instructor during the Vietnam War. Based on this experience he ad-libbed much of his dialog in the movie. Also that Michael Herr, who wrote Dispatches, co-wrote the movie.


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