How was opposition to the Vietnam War portrayed in Contemporary Literature, Film and popular Song?

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Q1. How was opposition to the Vietnam War portrayed in

   Contemporary Literature, Film and popular Song?

In 1962, 9000 American troops were first drafted in to Vietnam. By 1969 the number had risen to 542,000 showing the military and financial attention Vietnam was receiving from America, in the hope communism would be overcome, inevitably proving catalyst for the Domino Theory had been set in action. The public’s views and opinions were constantly changing in America while their soldiers performed a horrific devotion of duty in an undermined and underprivileged country, constantly under threat from the contamination of communism.


As war escalated in 1965, the public opinion in America was pro war and the wonderful and significant outcomes it would bring. Narrow and simple-minded Americans thought that because America was a superpower, they would be able to storm into Vietnam and take control of the situation with ease. If only it was always that simple. America underestimated Vietnamese intelligence and neglected the fact that Vietnam had the advantage of being on home soil, therefore paying the price through thousands of deaths, 300,000 injuries and the loss of huge financial assistance injected into the war in the hope of overthrowing the communists.


America believed Vietnam was an industrialised country and would collapse under pressure from a superpower with the ammunition and technology to completely annihilate and cause mass destruction to a country in such a state. Vietnam knew the territory in which they were fighting and were able to build tunnels to hide from Americans and ambush them with their “Guerrilla” tactics, which are hit and run methods, always on the move so their opponents cannot pinpoint positions. This proves that even if you have all the money in the world and the artillery to match you are never guaranteed victory. The term used was the “Elephant Vs Grasshopper”, referring to America as the elephant because of its vast size and strength, and the grasshopper being Vietnam with its ability to blend into its surroundings and outwit its predator.

“Flower Power”, peace, love and happiness were all the rage back in the 70’s and people totally opposed fighting and violence of any means. Public opinion began to change dramatically and by the end of 1975 as the American public considered America’s tactics to be that of a callous nature. Interrogation was a big issue, as soldiers would launch members of the Vietcong out of aeroplanes, sometimes 3000 feet up in the air, by means of retrieving information and breaking down Vietnamese resistance. They also cut of body parts to get them to talk. Also students held mass protests and demanded to be heard, as they too didn’t agree with America’s actions in the war with Vietnam. The most famous example of these demonstrations would have been that of the Kent State University.


Scenes of war disturbed the American public as they found images and tactics horrific and unbearable to read and watch. Initially it is essential to analyse the contemporary literature available. This comes in the form of newspapers, student magazines, songs, poems and leaflets. Columnists who wrote pieces about the war expressed very strong views on the subject as they were very anti–war and wanted their opinions to be known to the reader, obviously resulting in the article being completely biased. The same applies if an editor of a newspaper is also anti-war then they too are going to try and make the articles one sided for they have the power to do so. Magazines were another source of information for the public to read up on current events in Vietnam, but would mainly target students who wanted to rebel and make their voices heard. Images of war had the biggest impact on the public, as it was visual and very hard-hitting. They regarded them as absolutely atrocious and disturbing, thinking it an utter disgrace that the American army could contemplate doing such tasks, and to then actually carry out such tasks as burning down homes that people had built with their hands and wiping out immense amounts of forestry in order to entice the Vietcong from their hiding places was considered a total disgrace.

Film is better at explaining things than newspapers as it is all about visual context rather than words. If you read about a villager having both arms blown off by a bomb, then it is bad, but if you actually see that person and his severed arms on a television then it hits home quicker than words as it is graphic, for all to see and you always get the full desired effect from horrific images. When you read about something you can interpret it in a number of different ways, but if you see that image then there is only one thing being portrayed, and that is the appalling and gruesome realities of war.

The Vietnam war produced only one film during the actual conflict, and that was one of the worst films, visually, ever made about Vietnam: “The Green Berets” (1969). It was a patriotic, heavy-handed, action film starring the late John Wayne. The film industry soon released films of greater substance, and violence based on war, while also trying to examine disturbing effects war had on the soldiers returning from Vietnam. Michael Cimino’s classic but controversial Vietnam film, compelling best-picture winning, “The Deer Hunter” was written in 1978. The story told us how 3 young patriotic steel workers, originating from a Pennsylvanian town, who found only horror and death in Vietnam. One of the men dies, one is injured and the other returns home mentally disturbed. This is one of the first Hollywood movies to look at the effects war had on the minds of the survivors, and was excellent at highlighting the way in which some of the soldiers returned home and why.

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Francis Ford Coppola’s epic version of the madness of war, “Apocalypse Now” (1979), was an exceptionally spectacular piece of screen writing based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s 1911 novel, “heart of Darkness”. An American military assassin, Willard, played by Martin Sheen, was commissioned to journey up river into Cambodia to “terminate with extreme prejudice” an insane, renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The film is about how Sheen’s character changes as he treks up river. The further he advances up the river the more madness he is witness to, which inevitably drove a very talented and able soldier to lose the ...

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