A few weeks ago, while channel surfing, I stumbled across Mel Gibson’s 2002 Vietnam war movie, We Were Soldiers. Because I remembered enjoying the movie a couple of years ago when I saw it for the first time, I gave it another viewing. This time I enjoyed it so much that I recommended it to several friends, including my brother Kelly who told me that he would watch it because one of his favorite movies of all time was also a Vietnam war movie – Oliver Stone’s 1986 Platoon. Although I had previously seen Platoon, I couldn’t remember much about it and decided to give it another viewing.
It’s hard to believe that We Were Soldiers and Platoon came out of the same war. The Wikipedia entry for Platoon suggests that it was intended to “counter the vision of war portrayed in John Wayne’s The Green Berets.” My recollection of The Green Berets (1968) is that John Wayne played it like a cowboys & Indians movie, with the Americans being the good guys and the North Vietnamese being the bad guys. By contrast, Oliver Stone’s Platoon has the American soldiers mostly as either deeply sadistic or stupidly naïve. I prefer Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers because it is inspirational and its soldiers (both American and Vietnamese) are essentially noble professionals.
After watching Platoon, I texted brother Kelly:
- Me – I hope Vietnam wasn’t really like that.
- Kelly – Pretty realistic I think.
- Me – Although the movie is autobiographical, I think Oliver Stone’s credibility is low. But then again, Vietnam soldiers were not like those we have now.
- Kelly – Yes, the men on patrol in Vietnam had it tough.
- Me – Yeah, because morale was so horrible. But I wonder if our current troops would do better, or would they get demoralized, too.
My conversation with Kelly generated two questions that, despite further reflection, I am unable to confidently answer:
- Were the American soldiers in Vietnam as rotten as depicted? Who am I to judge Oliver Stone, although he seems to be a bitter cynic?
- Would the professional soldiers of today have performed better in Vietnam? Probably not, unless they were as rotten as Oliver Stone depicted them.