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Film on Johnson would offer insight ...

August 20, 2009 - Lee Smith
"Mad Men" is back for a new season on AMC. That's a treat. It and fellow network hit "Breaking Bad" make for interesting television.

AMC offered something else interesting this week: A documentary called "Hollywood Vietnam," about Vietnam war films, with commentary by their producers, directors, writers and actors. As I noted, this was interesting, but also disappointing.

An overarching theme seemed to be that movies like "Green Berets," which portray heroic Americans in a noble cause, are just silly propaganda, while movies like Oliver Stone's "Platoon" are the real deal. This analysis, however, came with a contradiction. It started with the premise that American soldiers in Vietnam were drugged-up goons who regularly killed women and children. Yet as the documentary moved on, we are told that it was wrong for Vietnam vets to be spat upon and treated as "baby killers" when they returned home. And movies that portrayed Vietnam vets as psychos and killers set loose on their land also were over the top.

Well, which is it? If the "real" Vietnam was all about killing babies, why shouldn't coming-home films suggest that? And I'll answer. Probably because the producers, writers, etc., know that abuses by troops were more rare than they suggest originally. They can't have it both ways, but they want to. They want to "stick to their guns" on anti-war propaganda, yet they don't want the Vietnam vet to feel bad.

Mel Gibson's fairly recent "We Were Soldiers" offers a (true-story based) look at noble and courageous American troops, in their first confrontation with the North Vietnamese in 1965. It and other movies point out the horror of war but also present soldiers as heroes, as in "Hamburger Hill," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Casualties of War."

If someone wanted to cut to the heart of the Vietnam experience, they should make a movie about Lyndon Johnson's decision-making in the White House. His failures allowed North Vietnam to supply itself with food and munitions, infiltrate troops and supplies into South Vietnam and forced the American soldier to slowly be bled to death. Perhaps Oliver Stone, who has taken on Presidents Nixon and George W. Bush will offer us his insight into LBJ. But I doubt it, given the director and president's political persuasion.


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