The Vietnam War In The Texts “The Things They Carried”, “Platoon”, “Apocalypse Now” & “How To Tell A True War Story
The Vietnam War was an unjustified war between South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Three million, four hundred thousand soldiers and civilians alike, died during the 20 year period of brutal war. America intervened for seemingly anemic reasons but most of the sources point to the reason being an anti-communist movement. Provoked by the Cold War occuring between Russia and America, America couldn’t afford to lose Vietnam to the communisitic government because in turn, that would lead them into the sphere of Russia’s influence. So America backed the South Vietnamese whilst Russia backed North Vietnam.
John F. Kennedy sent a team to to report on conditions in South Korea under the “Domino Theory”. The theory works by one small change creating larger and larger changes as time progresses. In this case, if Vietnam were to become a communist society, then that would eventually spread all through Asia. The Vietnam War was a televised war, the first of its kind where it allowed citizens to see what was really happening in the war. In 1967, due to the casualties of American personnel reaching 15,000+, a mass protest of roughly 35,000 demonstrators came to protest the unscrupulous reasoning of America sending military soldiers to intervene. Four texts intricately describe in detail the morality and perspective of U.S soldiers in Vietnam.
The four texts I have chosen to display this are: The Things They Carried, Platoon, Apocalypse Now & How to Tell a True War Story. All of these texts are written respectively and accurately, depicting what it was like, psychologically and physically, in a foreign country waging war on foreigners for unjustified reasoning. Four aspects, presented in all of these texts are morality, conflict, dehumanization & brutality. These are primal themes that all of humanity can relate to and understand. The use of these aspects was done brilliantly to truly display the disgusting and horrific conditions the soldiers were forced to endure. Humans are drawn to power. With power arises conflict and a judgement of morality. Personally, I think the Vietnam War had shady political agendas and the general public were misinformed. Due to this lack of clarity, it is under good reasoning why people scrutinised the U.S Government’s choice and future choices. Personally, I agree with their reasoning, although only just.
The cost that they paid with 3 million deaths and countless lives they ruined are on the other side of morality, but there is a understandable reason to why they did what they did. Although most likely fueled by mankind’s lust for power, they have their reasoning, that I agree with and can understand. Through further discussion, I may succumb to the general masses and agree that it was unjustified. Morality & ConflictThe two films, Apocalypse Now & The Things They Carried both depict great examples of the themes: morality & conflict through complex scenes or texts. Morality & conflict are all instinctively within us, we breed conflict and competition everywhere we go. It is human nature and a primitive advantage to coming out on top. As much as our society has advanced through laws and social progression in respect to other cultures and rights, still we are brutal by nature. War, even in the decline, is still prevalent and in threat of occurring even in today’s society.
Morality is consistently questioned by conflict and its ability to justify actions caused by the confliction of opposing ideologies.Morality are subjective principles that concern the distinction between right and wrong. Right or correct behaviour is determined by a ‘Golden Rule’ – treat others how you want to be treated. Right is generally the benefits of the most amount of people with as least amount of expense to other people as possible. Expense is generally determined as harm, psychological or physical, to an opposing person. For example, the 3 major categories of ‘wrong’ is: forced sexual acts, violence from the actions of one individual to another and stealing of another person’s property (theft).
These come with great expense of the victim and cause trauma to a degree, so they’re seen as morally wrong. However, giving, love, kindness, sharing, helping, etc… are seen as morally correct acts as they benefit a person or people with little to no expense of anyone else. We can see these two sides clash when the example is shifted to giving your daughter a brand new toy on Christmas, but you had to rob a store to obtain the funds. It is a kind act, but of expense to individuals or corporations, so it is seen as morally grey, where the mass of a society cannot generally agree on if what they did was wrong or right.
Psychologist spend a great majority of their practice studying empathy and morality as they are very closely linked (so I shall be referring to certain psychological principles and ideas throughout the essay). It has been humanity’s sole purpose in the animal kingdom to gain so much power and the ability to cooperate using empathy (the basis for morality), therefore eliminating competition and allowing for progression.Conflict is not solely physical aggression, it can be aggravated from simple disagreements to form a clash between two different people or ideologies.
Conflict is very prevalent in mankind’s past 3,400 years, as humans have been entirely at peace for only 268 of those years. Humans are drawn to conflict as it is one of our primary evolutionary advantages. We could have the smartest brains and the strongest bodies but without conflict, there was no will to act or progress. Look at a film for example, can you think of a film where conflict, of a psychological or physical nature, was not needed to advance the plot? Conflict is often seen as a primitive remnant of our past that used to help us in survival, but in the modern era it is just seen as a detrimental effect, especially when in consideration of morality dictating that you should not maim or kill another living being without justification. Conflict can be internal, external, against fate, inanimate objects and of course against another human being. Without conflict, there is no story, there is no driving force for progression as everyone is comfortable with where they are. But alas, humans are conflicting by nature to allow progression of one means to another.
Morality & ConflictApocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola is an ambitious film with daring camerawork, editing, acting and ambiguous plot points within the film that allows the audience to truly immerse themselves in the Vietnam War. It covers multiple themes and ideas such as the degradation of morality, the internal and external conflict of individuals, the negative view on American agenda’s and the way America operated during the Vietnam War.
A short summary of Apocalypse Now is that Captain Benjamin L. Willard is traveling up the Nong River where the majority of the film is spent. Captain Willard has been assigned by shady American officers to assassinate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz because Kurtz, as we’re told, has gone insane by surrounding himself with troops and ignoring military disciplinary action. Taking a psychoanalytic view of this movie allows us to see the descent of madness a soldier’s troubled mind goes through, a mind degraded by the conflict of war. Captain Willard possesses traces of war addiction, a lack of good morals and a degree of insanity but none of these traits directly control him but merely guide him to his fate. Kurtz and Willard are two sides of one coin in the essence that they have both fully experienced the horrific conflict of war and how their morality have been tormented by such. Because of this they hold the same evil and ideologies. They are the only two characters that have experienced the conflict of the enemy, the innocence and themselves. The only conflict between them is of who holds the harsher, darker heart.
There are three stops on their journey along the river, each implementing a new type of theme shown through an act of morality or conflict for our characters to endure. Our first stop is the dehumanization of the enemy through the love of war. The second stop is the loss of morality through the conflict of innocence. Lastly is the third stop which displays the theme of madness through the internal conflict of one’s self. For this essay I shall be focusing on our characters second stop and analyse the conflict and how it interacts with our characters sense of morality.
At the second stop our characters visit a military station in the middle of an entertainment set up for the troops. Here we see a very clear example of the lack of morality and respect for others as the conflict throughout the movie is starting to possess them. The scene opens up with the characters attending the entertainment whilst some attractive showgirls dance erotically for the soldiers. The showgirls have been shown in other scenes in posters possessed by the soldiers which display how they idolise them. However as the show progresses a fight breaks out in the crowd of soldiers as they all climb over each other to get to the playboy girls. It’s at this point we see their lack of empathy / morality as they fight internally with each other and lose respect for comradery.
This shows their lack of morality for the innocence as everyone in the show symbolises a general genre of people. Resembling the general public back home is the spokesmen in which is highlighted by the phrase, “We want to let you know that we’re thankful for what you’re doing for this country.” The showgirls are affiliated with the civilians back home and people that the soldiers are fighting for. Meaning that this analogy shows the soldiers putting the innocence and themselves in danger for stupendous reasoning due to their lack of clarity. So far it has been set up so far that these soldiers were brothers in arms who cared for each other and had decent morals. Here we start to see the tipping of the iceberg as we begin to see their selfish nature and lack of respect or attention to their fellow soldiers or disciplinary commands. We’re seeing as the soldier progresses deeper into the story, metaphorically they are burrowing deeper into themselves to explore their own evils.
One more scene to analytically dissect is with Captain Willard on the boat as they have just captured some civilians on their journey. This scene truly highlights Captain Willards progressively degrading morality as he proceeds to murder a civilian, simply because she wouldn’t stop crying. Every other soldier stands still with silence as they come to bare with what has just occurred and what, as a unit, they have become. “Your conscience is measured of the honesty of your selfishness.
”The Things They Carried – Morality & ConflictThey Things They Carried is an exceptionally well written novel developed by Tim O’Brien, depicting a gritty, realistic retelling of the journey soldiers in Vietnam took whilst having a fictitious twist to invest the reader deeper into the story. Several themes such as escapism, acceptance, morality, dehumanization and conflict are all explored with layers upon layers of complexity. The degradation of morals are explored through the characters as they find themselves within the grey area of morality. It is a common occurrence within the novel that the characters say to each other “What is the moral?” as even they are not sure of themselves. In the scene after Ted Lavender’s death, Mitchell Sanders reminisce in the memory of when they found a young Vietnamese boy, “…badly burned, flies in his mouth and eyes… He put his hand on the dead boy’s wrist. He was quiet for a time, as if counting a pulse, then he patted the stomach, almost affectionately, and used Kiowa’s hunting hatchet to remove the thumb.”
This scene perfectly highlights the degraded morality of the soldiers. Here Mitchell Sanders was with the detached thumb of a young Vietnamese child passing it around the group as if it were a souvenir. A clear disrespect for his fellow man and a clear violation of his own morality. It is almost as if the soldiers play with the idea of morality, taunting it. This could be evident by them almost mocking the idea of a story always needing a moral. Tim O’Brien utilises this technique to advocate the idea of a story not needing a moral compass. Throughout his stories he does one very simple but yet intricate concept; simply state it. As hollywood has saturated the market and minds of viewers with a status quo of storytelling, Tim O’Brien disregards this as he simply tells the reader what the war is like. Ted Lavender’s death highlights this in a dexterous manner, “right then Ted Lavender was shot in the head on his way back from peeing… Oh shit, Rat Kiley said, the guy’s dead.” The use of suddenly killing a character accompanied by a character simply responding with “Oh shit he’s dead” is a superb way to subvert a reader’s expectations whilst also immersing themselves within the story. By subverting the genre of generic war stories, Tim O’Brien inadvertently displays the raw reality of war.
External conflict of the war has warped their perceptions of reality to a child-like view, unable to comprehend the severity of what has just occured – the end of a human life. Conclusively, The Things They Carried suggest that the distinction between good and evil from a civilised society can not be implemented here. The constant brutality of war causes the concept of morality to elude them as nothing but a distant ideology. If anything, Tim O’Brien forces the reader to question if morality is real or simply an ideology humans use to stay civil. An objective truth that Tim O’Brien highlights is that morality is malleable to the scenario and thereby not a universal truth. Thematically, The Things They Carried embellishes in the idea of external conflict reflecting the internal struggle the soldiers contain within. To accomplish this idea of internal conflict, Tim O’Brien cleverly lists the items each soldier carried throughout the war to act as a physical symbol for their pain but also as a gateway to see into the soldiers mindset. We see the physical toll it takes, but emotional as well. Initially the text may be seen as a classic example of escapism, however I think there is an even deeper meaning within the conflict of the story.
The Things They Carried depicts two scenarios of man vs man and man vs self conflict. The most evident example of man vs self conflict in this story is how Lieutenant Jimmy Cross blames himself for Ted Lavender’s death. “He blamed himself… and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her.” J. Cross feels that had he not been so self centred with his thoughts, he may of been able to prevent Ted Lavender’s death. Because of this internal conflict J. Cross proceeds to burn any relic of Martha’s. A death that may or may not of been his fault has caused him to disconnect himself from his love interest and take external actions that otherwise would be unthinkable.
An exceptional example of the internal conflict of man overwhelming himself. Man vs man external conflict did also arise within the text in the scene where Lee Strunk steals Dave Jensen’s knife in which they get into a hand to hand fight over it. Dave ends up breaking Lee’s nose causing him to receive medical attention, however when Lee returns, Jensen fears for his own mortal safety and so breaks his own nose to even the playing field. What this scene shows is a clear example of external conflict causing the internal conflict of comrades. When the focus should be on working together as a unit, yet they fight amongst themselves, it is truly the greatest example of war corrupting the perception of morality. Placing it within a new field of play and changing the rules. A primary idea that Tim O’Brien seems to be captivated by is the idea of perspective. NarrativeFirst puts this idea perfectly, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
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