As I often do on the 4th I reflect on our history and, more specifically on those who have fallen in its honor. Some who think they know me may be surprised but most of the others know of my deep respect for true patriots and true honor, however earned.
Since the Vietnam War was the war of my time, I focus on that conflict and try to understand the things I can’t. Perhaps the burning flames of that conflagration concentrate my thoughts in a way nothing else might.
Let me start (and end) by saying: “All War is a Crime”, by now this must be obvious to everyone yet we go about our daily lives acting as if this was not the case… I have no answer to this, it baffles me.
I was intimately aware of the Vietnam War insofar as I was eligible for drafting to serve (having exhausted my student exemption)… I was reprieved by a high draft number and escaped.
I did have to consider my options:
I could have claimed conscientious objector status, except that I would not have – I thought that fighting Hitler was justified, for example.
I could have gone to Canada, except that I couldn’t justify that to my parents.
I knew that if I went to Vietnam, I would die… very hard to reconcile with abject cowardice.
So I was ecstatic and grateful for the draft number that spared me from that decision.
As a natural consequence I have been troubled by the omnipresent moral monitor who always demands an answer: did you really do the right thing? I usually buy her a drink and try to forget…
Literature abounds with books on war which constantly smack me upside the head, sometimes they make movies…
In modern times there have been two movies, no, three, that bring things to a crux for me.
Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ of course, which posits they conflict of Good and Evil sergeants to limn the way before us.
The masterful Terence Malick (James Jones) movie The Thin Red Line that was buried by the usual sloppy, soppy Saving Private Ryan of schlockmeister Steven Spielberg.
But there has also been another movie made more recently of “We Were Soldiers Once and Young”. Taken from the book (memoir) of the first real battle between the North Vietnam regulars and the US regular forces.
I need to stop here and say a few things:
I think Mel Gibson is a decent actor, not great, not horrible but pretty good within his limited range. I don’t begrudge him the money he has made Hollywood and good looks being what they are. But I do take exception to his truly awful personal beliefs. I don’t mind that he’s some kind of weird Christian fanatic but I do mind his faith-based opinions of others – I’m sure you’ve heard them many times over. And actually I don’t even mind that he has those beliefs: just shut the fuck up about them, please? Then we can all get along quite nicely.
I generally like war movies and action movies in a desultory way. They while away the time and display manly men doing manly things in a manly way… they go well with popcorn. But I do get annoyed by the laziness of directors I guess. Almost always the battle scenes are just two groups of soldiers screaming and running at each other, seemingly with no battle plan thought out, no tactics or strategy. I realize that the 10,000 ft view can’t be detailed and that no plan survives contact with the enemy but it annoys me that there’s only chaos in view.
Rants over, thank you for listening.
We Were Soldiers… is a memoir by retired Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway (the journalist at the battle). It is a remarkable retelling of that battle at La Drang that went on for three days in November of 1965.
The movie is also remarkable, showing the tactics of both LtColonel Moore and North Vietnamese commander Nguyen Huu An. Attack and counterattack, backup plans and swift response to unexpected situations. And also showing the gritty reality of the battle itself.
Technically speaking the Americans were outnumbered 4 to 1 but they had far superior cavalry and aircover and were able to beat back NVA assaults. There is of course the irony of the ending when, having driven the NVA out of La Drang valley, they leave only to have the NVA forces immediately return.
As good a performance by Gibson as he could manage and Sam Elliot’s turn as the crusty Sgt Major is epic.
In its own way it is an anti-war movie in that it shows the senselessness and futility that all wars exhibit but it is also a showing of respect and honor for those who fought and those who fell.
Well done and a credit to all involved especially Moore and Galloway, it’s one of those things we can invoke on fourths of July.