Veterans fight for audiences' hearts, minds
By Gustav Hasford
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN, March 14, 1987


    Plato said that only the dead have seen the last of war.  Vietnam veterans are now pulling combat duty in the front lines of Hollywood.
    Platoon is only the opening shot in the coming battle between Vietnam veterans and Hollywood's legion of Jacuzzi commandos, a battle which will surely have an impact on the future of American foreign policy.  History may be written with blood and iron, but it is printed with ink, and it is made real and dangerous when it is put on to film, the co-literature of our times.
    Hollywood smart money has always exploited Vietnam veterans, who have been branded as psychovets, and who have until now remained silent while being bombarded with Technicolor counterfeits of the Vietnam war flogged off like swampland to civilian audiences who do not know Vietnam from a Chinese breakfast food.
    From The Green Berets to Rambo, from Apocalypse Now to The Deer Hunter, Hollywood films have been manufactured like cheese to accommodate the most irrational prejudices of a civilian audience, films featuring heroes 12m high on the screen, white American godzillas trampling on wicked Orientals.
    No one objected that John Wayne had never heard a shot fired in anger or that Sylvester Stallone (we're the same age, Sly) dodged the draft by working in a private girls' school in Switzerland.  Gracious enough not to bore us with any facts, Hollywood has been content to go on trivializing the war as recreational gore as long as it sells popcorn to UCLA co-eds.
    But stand by for a sweeping revision in how the world views the Vietnam war.  Oliver Stone's relentlessly unpleasant and mercilessly honest Platoon is breaking the ground for a stream of war films by Vietnam veterans due to be released this year, films which will continue to mangle frail civilian sensibilities.  Truth has no author and the truth hurts.
    Before Platoon, the Vietnam veteran had not been forgotten by history but had been left out on purpose.  Finally we exist, warts and all.  To a brother in darkness and in light, I say:  Get some, Oliver Stone.  In Vietnam we were barbarian outriders for the Skull King of San Clemente, but we're all point men now, and we're all outside the wire.
    I was asked to comment upon upcoming Vietnam films because the next vision of the war, due to be released in Perth in July, will be Stanley Kubrick's production of Full Metal Jacket, a film based upon my novel, The Short-Timers, with a screenplay written by myself--Corporal, USMC, Retired--along with Stanley Kubrick and Michael Herr.
    Full Metal Jacket tells the story of a squad of Marine grunts fighting the battle for Hue City, the climactic battle of the 1968 TET offensive, the turning point of the war.
    Later this year two other films by Vietnam veterans will be released--Hamburger Hill, written by James Carabatsos, and 84 Charlie Mopic, written and directed by Patrick Duncan.
    Three memoirs by Vietnam veterans are being developed as films.  John Carpenter has written a screenplay for Chickenhawk, Robert Mason's experiences as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.  Sally Field will star in Home Before Morning, Lynda Van Devanter's story of an army nurse.  And Michael Moriarty will portray an American POW in Hanoi Hilton.
    It is hoped that the success of Platoon will induce Hollywood to exercise the options they hold on dozens of books by veterans writing about Vietnam, a subject which up until now was considered box-office poison.
    In Vietnam it was a popular joke to say as you left your base camp to go on a patrol, "I think I'm going to hate this movie."  Now perhaps movies can help us to accept the bitter insufficient truth we have resisted with an ignorance as hard as iron.  If the pen is mightier than the sword, perhaps the electric typewriter will prove to be a match for the machine-gun.
    H.G. Wells pointed out that history is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.  The signing of a Big Millions deal for Rambo III and IV proves that Hollywood's Jacuzzi commandos are still on target and firing for effect.
    Platoon welcomes you into the world of zero slack and will be the education you never got in school.  In Vietnam we may have lacked grace under pressure, but we stuck it out, just the same.  And, as the Spanish say, there is only one man who knows and that is the man who fights the bull.
    History is not over yet, and history collects its debts.
 

    Gustav Hasford is an American novelist visiting Perth.
 
 

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