An Analysis of Conflict in Vietnam in the Book Dispatches and Documentary Hearts and Minds

Categories: Dispatches

To far too many people, Vietnam and the conflict there remains a mystery. To some, it was the only war America has ever lost. To others, a senseless venture into a land we did not know, politics we did not understand, and an enemy far better able to fight in jungle terrain than American soldiers. Vietnam is history and not very pleasant or comforting history. Hearts and Minds- the title comes from a Lyndon Johnson speech, depicts not merely the cruelty and callousness of both Americans and Viet Cong- but is far more politically against our involvement.

Dispatches is an objective, but just as frightening series of reports from Esquire’s war correspondent, Michael Herr.

It is interesting to compare the documentary Hearts and Minds with the book, Dispatches. It is one thing to read about events by a correspondent, and quite something else to actually witness the horrors of war, and the comments both by politicians from Eisenhower to Nixon defending involvement in Vietnam, and then interviews with some who opposed Vietnam.

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The documentary even showed some veterans who felt some sort of regrets. And yet, one scene that stands out is a navy officer lecturing a classroom of children, and when one girl asked what Vietnam was like the answer was: “It’s a beautiful country, if it weren’t for the people”. Hearts and Minds shows us brutality. And here one has to blame some of the Americans- not merely, as in one scene, shooting a young Viet while the camera continues to focus, but also Gis soliciting prostitutes.

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We see many scenes of crying children, citizens with missing limbs, burial of the dead, wounded moaning soldiers who had no idea really why they were even in this land of jungles thousands of miles from home. This is not Matt Damon, movie star, with grimy make-pup, as Private Ryan, or John Wayne storming beaches in the South Pacific. This is not make-believe. This is real. But, the movie, it is easy to establish right from the outside, takes sides. As a war correspondent, Herr is just an eyewitness. He defined his job when a helicopter group commander walked by: “Don’t you men salute officers?’ ‘We’re not men…. we’re correspondents’.”

For Herr, the reality lay in what some of the soldiers told him: “Some young soldier speaking in all bloody innocence, saying ‘All that’s just a load, man. We’re here to kill gooks. Period’.” In some ways, his quotes of soldiers, whether there for the first time, or on repeat tours, also summed up some of the problems the U.S. faced in a strange land, unprepared for what they had no idea was facing them: “My last tour was better though, not so much mickeymouse (sic). Command getting’ in your way so you can’t even do your job…I mean if you can’t shoot these people, what the fuck are we doing here’.”

As different in attitude as the film and the book are, neither spares the viewer or reader the horrors of war. Hannah Ahrendt coined the phrase: “The banality of evil”. Both book and movie make this a fact. The soldiers that Herr talks about, sleeps next to, and watches be sad, bitter, and on occasion joyful at some successful battle won, were ordinary Americans, pushed into a confrontation they neither understood nor necessarily desired. But, here they were. In Hearts and Minds, a veteran proclaims the old clich: “My country, right or wrong”.

Both book and movie remind us that Vietnam may well have been a mistake, a means of showing that America was a world power (as Clark Clifford explains in the documentary) and that Communism was too serious a threat not to take some sort of opposing action. What Hearts and Minds reveals, a generation later, is that the U.S. even supported France as early as 1954, and one French diplomat claims that an American offered France two A-bombs to use in Indo-China.

Did these two works make us more aware of what Vietnam was really all about? Both pointed out that those who fought and died or were wounded- on both sides were political pawns. The movie also reveals the antagonism of white (and even black) American soldiers against the brown-skinned Orientals who they considered to be inferior in almost every way. Good for sex, but for little else.

Herr sums up Vietnam in two words: “Hell Sucks.” This “counter-revolution (as a talking head in the movie called it) still remains a divisive period in our history.

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An Analysis of Conflict in Vietnam in the Book Dispatches and Documentary Hearts and Minds. (2022, Apr 08). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/an-analysis-of-conflict-in-vietnam-in-the-book-dispatches-and-documentary-hearts-and-minds-essay

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