How was opposition to the Vietnam War portrayed in Contemporary Literature, Film and popular Song?
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 plot entirely.
There were other films released in the 1980’s based on the Vietnam War, portraying it as a living hell. Stanley Kubrick’s prolific adaptation of Gustav Hasford’s “The Short Times” was “Full Metal Jacket” (1987). In two parts, the film present the exploits of a recruited, young marine corps soldier, played by Matthew Modine, with his realistic, dehumanising South Carolina boot-camp training experience on Parris Island (under drill instructor Lee Ermey), his work as a photojournalist for a military magazine, and his prolific soldiering during the Tet Offensive.
It again tries to show the madness of the war, however showing it in a different manner to movies such as Apocalypse Now, instead opting to paint a grim picture of the training conditions that soldiers at that time and maybe still now, were subjected to. This film climaxes later on with one of the soldiers going mad and killing the drill instructor. We are also show a scene during the Tet Offensive where almost an entire squad of soldiers are taken out, one by one by an unknown sniper, who is revealed to us as being a female peasant. The main point the film is trying to portray is that the enemy is often the one at home as opposed to away, and that they never really knew whom the enemy was until it started killing them.
In each era, each culture, each lifetime, people are able to find some identity in the music they found themselves listening to. When you’re sad and depressed, happy and reminiscent, angry and disappointed, and calm and melancholy, music is the only substance which can make you feel all of these thing s at once. Through music; current events, politics, controversies, etc can all be heard. The effects of this were a dramatic change in society forever.
Many veterans enjoyed the music that developed in that era. Artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Perry Friedman, Loretta Lynne and Joe Mc Donald, with songs such as “Eve of Destruction” and “Soldier Boy”, portrayed a very detailed and realistic view on war. A lot of songs were about war and what was happening at home, also providing a very negative outlook on war and wanting soldiers to be returned to their native country in one piece. Younger generations wanted war abolished and songs encouraged drugs and “free love”.
Many songs were about war and people felt they had to portray their feelings on the subject, good or bad, which showed how big an effect war had on the industry. Music also affected the people, preaching of peace, protest and freedom. Not everybody enjoyed the music and message being put across, but most paid attention to what was being said and took action to revolutionize the situation.
During the Vietnam War era, many people were affected by ongoing events overseas, creating an anti-war atmosphere when support was most needed many artists started to protest against war through their lyrics and music they made. As views on war began to change, sarcastic and negative lyrics began to appear more frequently. For example, in the song: “I-Feel-Like-Im-Fixin-To-Die” by Joe McDonald, he sings:
“And it’s one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
This song portrays the confusion and disorientation that soldiers underwent as they prepared for, and fought in battle. It has a very pessimistic view on war, “Be the first one on your block, to have your boy come home in a box”. Foreshadows the destiny of many in the armed forces. Music started to turn into vivid images outlining what the future held in store for them. Songs, which brought out the greatest reaction to war, were about Vietnam itself.
“Drive On” by Johnny Cash is a song which looks back on Vietnam and tells how a man is trying to move on in his life after experiences the terrible conditions of war. Both songs, by two different artists, with very different styles, criticised the war, with one of the artists depicting the true feelings towards war at the time of the war and the other at the time after the war in years gone by.
Q2. How do sources A, B and C show support for
the war in Vietnam?
In source A, president Johnson tells us of the reasons explaining why the US became involved with Vietnam. Johnson claimed that he was fighting to defend the freedom of the Vietnamese people. This showed support for the war and persuaded others to support it too. South Vietnam was biased due to Catholic farm workers and the majority of both sides supported the Ho Chi Mihn, thus inevitably supporting communism, but that was not the way Johnson was portraying the people as he was trying to get the American public to believe that the Vietnamese were against communism.
Johnson tried to sway the public by offering America as a country that is loyal to the needy and weak countries, who long for support, by making reference to Korea, WW1 and WW2. this also demonstrates America’s experience when it comes to fighting wars. Johnson failed to acknowledge that Vietnam were all for communism as he thought that they necessitated support or the country would succumb to the might of the communists. This was an extension of the Domino Theory which in turn relates to the US’ policy of Containment. The Domino Theory is that weak countries would fall to the pressure from communist s and containment was the US’ answer, as they needed to stop the spread of communism before it would make its way to western civilisation and inevitably America.
Johnson also makes use of pointing out that it was not just American soldiers duty to protect the weak, but that every able American citizen should be a part of the countries efforts to restrain communism.
In source B, we are provided with an insight into the views of war as it was seen as being acceptable due to the fact a party in honour for the soon to be departed soldiers in their quest to defend Vietnam. Also in the source we find out that “anti – war demonstrators” were vocal, but a minority. Although we heard a lot about demonstrations, it suggests that the people were mostly for war and only a few spoke out. Source B also states that an overwhelming majority of the people did not “draft-dodge”, indicating that they wanted to fulfil their duty by honouring their country in war.
Source B provides an account of volunteers boarding a bay for military induction, again showing the acceptance the soldiers portrayed through their willingness to attend and learn. Further in this source we read that the author experienced the scenes “a dozen or more times across the country”, suggesting widespread support and acceptance of the war. We can gather that word of the events taking place in Vietnam were never broadcast or acknowledge in New York as they were never read in the New York Times.
Source C does not necessarily show support for the war but supplies evidence that it was supported in vast quantities from the people fighting in the war. In 1969 over 540,000 soldiers had fought in the war for the Americans, this is a testimony that a vast amount of people supported the war if over ½ million people were prepared to fight. However, what the source fails to show is how many of the soldiers were forced to fight and were drafted involuntarily due to conscription.
All of the above sources show public support for the US government’s involvement in Vietnam. Although it seems that this was not acknowledged as stated in source B and therefore anti-war protests grew in size.
Q3. How reliable are sources F and G as evidence of
the activities of the OS servicemen in Vietnam
Source F is an extract from the New York Herald Triune and details interrogation methods carried out by the US army. The tone that the piece in Source F is factual with remarks made by the writer and is reliable in that it provides evidence of OS servicemen, and the source is obviously supported by eyewitness accounts of the events.
However the source s reliability may be brought into question on a number of accounts. This source details only a minority’s interrogation techniques, leaving us to “ how many of the OS servicemen acted in this way”. They also fail to represent how many times this occurred and we can see by some of the language used, “sometimes” and “usually”, that the uncertain words reflect the unreliability of the source.
In the first part of the source, the writer does not focus on a particular incident even though the source is contemporary and proves that these incidents did not occur on a regular basis and that the methods were not spread throughout the army.
Because of the time in which the piece was written I believe it is meant to shock the public who at that time were all for war and change their opinions to one of an anti-war stance. We can see that the article published in the paper was opposed to the war effort and in this way we should question every newspapers reliability, as biased articles are derived from the writers articles being influenced by the owner of the newspaper.
The aeroplane incident, which is the most shocking tactic used by the army, describes two prisoners thrown out at a height of 30,000 feet even though they complied with the officer’s commands and answered the questions. Reliability of the account is affected harshly as the author does not state that he was witness to the event.
Source G is an account by an American soldier telling of his horrific experience in slaughtering an 8-year-old boy. The source is that of an interview with the soldier, which would enhance the reliability. However, a Vietnam veteran wrote the piece in 1984 and the interview is of a US soldier. Considering the time difference from the actual war to when the piece was written it would leave sufficient room for the case to be brought forward that there would have been ample time for the soldier to endure memory loss of the aforementioned event and would indeed put into question the reliability of the source.
The poor treating of the soldiers led to the veterans reminiscing in the brutalities of war and transferring to paper. The author’s views may have been reflective of the strong feeling in the US that America should never have gotten involved in the war. The author may have attempted to reinforce this view.
The background of the author is another questionable aspect of the source along with his views and motives for writing the piece he has written. We are unsure whether the author opposed war but from his interviewees we can gather he was opposed to war.
In order to provide a fully comprehensive account of the activities of the OS servicemen we would need a lot more information from both the sources.
Q4. Johnson called North Vietnam a “fourth-rate,
raggedy ass little country”. How do sources C,D
and E contradict this view?
“Fourth-rate, raggedy ass little country”. This is an extremely derogatory remark to highlight the feeble threat that Vietnam imposed on the U.S.A. It is a demeaning statement meant to outline the little threat that Vietnam held over the U.S.A. Vietnam clearly proved themselves to be anything but weak as they were the ones who seemed to be winning the war.
President Johnson, along with every other American citizen was very naïve and failed to recognize Vietnam as a country capable of standing on its own two feet. They implied that victory was “just around the corner”, neglecting the fact that Vietnam were fighting in their own back yard and knew the surroundings like the back of their hand, but instead thought that Vietnam was ill equipped to wage a war against a world superpower capable of mass destruction if need be.
Source C indicates that the war lasted for more than a decade, which is an awful long time to defeat a “fourth-rate, raggedy ass little country”. Americans would have expected to defeat the communists in Vietnam within a much shorter time span, never mind having to settle for a ceasefire and withdrawal after more than 10 years of constant fighting. Why spend so long fighting a weak country when with such a statement you should be able to defeat it in at least 3 months.
Sources C and D show the number of American troops being drafted into Vietnam escalate dramatically with each passing year from 1962 up until 1969. Why is there a need to escalate if the enemy is so weak? Surely it wouldn’t take that many well trained American soldiers to defeat such a “fourth-rate, raggedy ass little country”.
To reflect back on my aforementioned point, by 1968 the Americans saw themselves committing more than 500,000 troops and 13% of the governments total spending in an attempt to achieve victory in Vietnam. Why the need for so much time and effort to be pumped and concentrated into an operation that on paper looked like an easy thing to achieve; stopping communism spreading in a poor, industrialized country with no leaders to speak of.
America was obviously very cocky of itself, thinking they could storm into Vietnam and take control with ease. They obviously never thought that Vietnam would put up any sort of a fight but were very wrong indeed. In source E it shows us cartoon pictures of 5 American presidents, all in power at different stages during the troubles with Vietnam. Its an absolute travesty that it took 5 presidents to stop the war and troubles which followed in Vietnam seeing as it was only meant to be a simple operation to remove communist threat, “victory just around the corner”. This proves that America’s view to an easy victory was inaccurate, false and wishful thinking on their behalf.
Q5. Study Source K. Use the sources to explain
whether or not you agree with this assessment of
the role of the media in influencing American
attitudes to the war.
Upon studying the 10 sources it became evident that sources H, I and J refer specifically to media involvement and I will make a detailed analysis on media and its influence on the American’s attitudes to war.
Source H is from a historian’s viewpoint and dates 1972, which was when the war was nearing its end, and the outcome of the war was in sight and fairly obvious. The author seemed to be in favour of Vietnamisation and the good it would do, also favouring a withdrawal as opposed to Johnson’s policy of full-scale war and an escalation in the number of troops being drafted week in-week out to fight in Vietnam.
Images were broadcast to 50,000,000 people, a much wider audience than that which would have been received by a U.S Senator. Cameras are able to broadcast live, powerful images that would help give citizens a clearer picture of what is going on in Vietnam. A picture can also have the advantage of being perceived by people as saying 1,000 words whereas it takes senate months to change a bill, but a broadcast was able to change many people’s opinions in a matter of hours.
This source puts forward the idea that television helped to expose president Johnson and his administration’s policy on Vietnam, indicating it paved a way and helped cause his downfall. T.V also helped to show American people that war was not going to the U.S. government’s plans, thereby portraying the government as being weak in administering action towards Vietnam, albeit the wrong actions.
The source helps to tell us that America was divided over war and didn’t know which way to turn. They lost confidence in their leaders ability’s and so called on citizens to protest that soldiers should return to their native land. Johnson had been stripped naked and his credibility along with that of the Administration had been destroyed.
Source I is after the ending of the war and has the benefit of hindsight in that it is able to look back on the war and events that took place and recollect thoughts and feelings. T.V was a great influence on people as it gave them a version of events, other than a biased broadcast by the government telling you what they think you want to hear. However though on the other hand a cameraman and his crew could be selective and choose to show events they think are important in winning over the public in case the film crew are anti-war, and want others o join them in their thoughts and feelings.
Author also makes a very valid and valuable point that T.V had the ability to dramatise isolated incidents and make them out to be worse than they really are, or do the opposite an bring attention to events that are considered unimportant. There is an implication being that the audience were not given the full picture and that television could control and manipulate people’s feelings towards war and the events taking place.
Such a film, as the one broadcast in 1965 prepared Americans to question the government’s credibility and actions taken towards Vietnam, something that had never been done before. Television was now playing the role of government opposition, a void that was usually occupied by the U.S Senators.
The film portrays America in a very bad light as it tells us that American troops were willingly firing at anything, so bad that they ended up hitting each other with ammunition. This showed tense times in American camps and enraged troops that they could not penetrate the Vietnamese resistance, so much so that they set about setting fire to villagers thatched huts.
There is a slight contrast between sources J and I as in I, it is not representing every reporter, whereas in J it is not just any old news correspondent in any situation but that it was a news correspondent in the right place at the right time.
Source J is from an American T.V news report. It dates back to 1968, post Tet Offensive, whenever America began to realise that they were not going to win the war. This source shows us that a soldiers work is never done as he is constantly reloading and empting his gun. It also shows the extreme pressure that soldiers are under and the strenuous conditions as it took them a whole week, non-stop, to force the Vietcong, a supposedly a weak and lacklustre army out of Saigon. Television also does a great job in portraying the seriousness of the situation if it takes 11,000 soldiers to force an untrained and spontaneous outfit out of Saigon.
I feel that the media did a great deal in influencing American viewpoints towards the situation in Vietnam. Everybody started off very pro-war and backed the government’s decisions 100%. Gradually opinion began to change as media began to portray war as a very inhumane act of violence on a defenceless country unable to stand up to the might of a world superpower, with never-ending military assistance and a well-drilled army. Suddenly everybody was pro-war as they became aware of situations in Vietnam of houses being bunt to a crisp and innocent women and children being savagely murdered by merciless soldiers capable of doing anything to protect its country’s name. The American government along with the president lost all credibility and inevitably, the backing of the American people.