What a cultural artifact! One of the Vietnam veterans in the audience said it was like a 2.5 hour long recruitment movie, and that’s a good description. Marilyn Young, author of The Vietnam Wars who lead a discussion with the audience, noted that John Wayne actually got permission from President Johnson to make the film on a military base in Georgia. They were given access to all kinds of military equipment – and that was actually the most interesting part for me, having heard many personal stories about Vietnam I was finally able to see what a claymore mine looks like (bigger than I thought) and get a better sense of helicopter travel (although much disbelief must be suspended to believe that Georgian woods are Southeast Asian jungle).
The pro-war film was a box office hit (in 1968!), which makes it even more disturbing to watch John Wayne’s iconic, macho, and irresponsible response to death: a brief drop of his eyebrows, and then he’s over it. One particularly saccharine and out-of-touch moment I noticed was a soldier wearing his green beret over the gauze wrapping a headwound he suffered during a mortar attack; a tight, sweaty wool beret over clean bandages? Suffice to say, the Communist Threat was as alive and well in John Wayne’s imagination in 1968 as it was in Joseph McCarthy’s in 1950 – and we can all feel confident that U.S. will win the war as we watch the amber sun setting beautifully over the Pacific Ocean which, by the way, is on the eastern coast of Vietnam.
The film is such an anachronism, even for 1968, I won’t even bother to go into how they depict women who put themselves at physical risk for their country.