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The Green Berets

The Vietnam War remains to be one of the most controversial America’s wars. There are so many Vietnam War films filmed at different times in history, and the ideologies of some of these movies are ever fascinating. The Green Berets by John Wayne, which was released in 1968, is one such movie. The movie, directed by Michael Wayne premiered amidst a fever pitch political landscape in the U.S. when anti-war movement was gaining ground by the day (Suid 143). America appeared to be losing the war; more and soldiers were returning home in coffins “wrapped in the beloved American flag” (Óskarsson 7). Many Americans had turned to maintain that their soldiers should even have fought the war. One may want to learn what had led into the sanction of the America involvement in the war, how the anti-war campaigns evolve, and what motivated the shooting of the movie green berets which is the only Vietnam War movie shot during the war. A good understanding of the movie requires that one reviews the political climate, and popular cultures in America during the period 1965-1973. This essay puts the movie in the context of the political and cultural atmosphere under which it was released. The essay reviews the purpose for which the film was intended, while looking at how it was received, and why the movie failed to make the kind of impact John Wayne intended.

The period 1965-1973 was an active period of domestic contention in America over the country’s involvement in Vietnam. The congress had just passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that formed the basis of the American involvement in Vietnam, only for an antiwar movement to coalesce the following year (McAdam and Su 698). More troops were deployed in Vietnam after the bill and there was an increase in combats deaths. This drew keener public opinion and opposition to a point where the war was viewed as the most important problem facing the country (Gallup qtd. in McAdam and Su 698). Protests movements were mainly rooted in campus and established peace groups. Protests grew rapidly and there was some ugly confrontation with the police, the most intense being on March 1967 that drew more than 20,000 Protestants (DeBenedetti qtd. in McAdam and Su 698). On this day there were repeated clashes with the police, 647 arrests were made and 47 serious injuries requiring hospitalization were sustained. Anti-war protests were growing by the day, could a pro-war film change the opinion of the Americans and relieve the escalating tensions; the Green Berets was an attempt for this.

The Green Berets details a story about a team of extremely well trained elite U.S. soldiers who are on a mission to guard, strengthen and rebuild a South Vietnamese camp which the Viet Cong were constantly trying to overtake (Óskarsson 8). This team is the green berets but in their midst there is also a journalist. The journalist wanted to assess the situation at Vietnam since he  distasted the U.S. involvement in the war. However, his experience in the battle transform him to see the need for America involvement necessity. Wayne also brings out a South Vietnamese people who are grateful for the America’s help by showing a young Vietnamese orphan running around the camps the Americans are protecting.

Since the 1965 times had been tough for President Johnson, with so much criticism for his support of the war that was only claiming more soldiers. To make matters worse for the president, he needed votes in the upcoming 1968 presidential election. Suid highlights that Wayne had won President Johnson support to shoot the movie in which he promised the president to win a more pro-war atmosphere in America (22). At that time, Americans who supported the war were almost not visible, but for only a few “good men” (Óskarsson 7). John Wayne happened to be at the epitome of American heroism through his fictional success in the World War II. He had made several highly popular films like the notably, theSands of Iwo Jima (1949) and The Longest Day (1961) which tended to glorify American efforts (Óskarsson 9). This way Wayne had become an American Icon. Similarly, the Green Berets film was a pro-war movie praising American efforts and condemning the Vietcong. The movie also has a loud message that the Vietnamese peasants needed protection and rule of law (Cawley 74). We have noted that the film had a deliberate effort to win over the American populace hearts and minds. To this end the producers needed a substantial investment of resources.

Óskarsson notes that The Green Berets production was not a cheap in way, and the producers needed the assistance and support of the U.S. military (9). The pentagon agreed to support the movie after reading the stories in the book from which the movie was adapted. The stories were written by a man who claimed to be a trained green beret. The short stories in this book however did not depict the green berets as elites as the pentagon would have wished (Óskarsson 9). The pentagon supported the producers with all the equipments they needed and allowed access to the Fort Benning military base. The pentagon assistance was revealed to have been over a million dollars by a U.S. senator (Cawley 74). The movie would be a great help to the pentagon since they were sure to win more confidence and praises from the public.

However, the film achieved little success of any. It failed to make its intended impacts and critics were far too many and seemed to be in consensus that the film was an offence to all parties involved (Óskarsson 8). The Vietnam War had been largely televised conflict further worsened the situation, and it would be almost impossible for the movie to be embraced at that time. The public had been allowed a glimpse of real horrific accounts of the war (Óskarsson 5). The queasy live coverage of the war and the disastrous war efforts by the United States would only lead to a widespread unpopularity of the war. Adler of The New York Times described the movie as stupid, rotten, and false in every detail. She further said that the movie only served as an invitation to grieve both to the American soldiers and to the Vietnam (Adler). Another critic in History Today described the film as the most blatant propagandist contemporaneous Vietnam War film with American feature (Taylor). The premiere of the movie further came only six months after the notorious TET-Offensive (Óskarsson 10). The TET-Offensive only served to deepen the domestic crisis; the public lost confidence in the government intervention in the war and its assurance that the war was winnable (McAdam and Su 698). Suid records that the Washington Post and other major U.S. newspapers cited the statistics of American casualties- 232 dead and 929 wounded as well as President Johnson pronouncement of continued bombing (143). TET was marked with coordinated assaults that threatened Vietnam’s major cities which increased the negative public opinion further. Tension grew so much so that President Johnson was forced to announce the stoppage of the bombings and sending of more troops; he was also forced to withdraw from the presidential race. With this kind of political environment, John Wayne’s movie was bent on failing.

The critic savaged movie was even met with protests and demonstrations on its premier in Los Angeles, Paris, New York, and London (Doyle). Most people viewed it as simply as what it was, propaganda, and an oversimplification of the factual events in the Vietnam War. The political environment and the rising antiwar movements was largely shaped by the media who largely covered the ugly war incidents in the Vietnam War. Pigler, the war journalist described his reaction to the film in a speech he gave in 2007 criticizing the media for covering the Vietnam War (Pigler). He said that he laughed when he learnt how absurd the movie was; his laughter was met by such a cold reaction that he and his companion had to run (Pigler).

The Green Berets was without doubt an attempt to support the necessary pro-war culture that had been building in America just a few years before its release. It would be interesting to note that just two years before the movie was released, the song The Ballad of the Green Berets, which commemorated the Special Forces fighting the battle in Vietnam had been a monster hit topping the billboard pop music chart for a month (Doyle). This serves to indicate the effect the media had caused by covering the war. The antiwar campaigns that the public had developed by the late 1960s and early 1970s meant that filming a Vietnam War movie would be a futile attempt. Many Vietnam War film blossomed in the late 1970s and in the 80s after the pro-American culture had been achieved and powerhouses such as Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris rose to huge fame. Whereas the movie was understood as propaganda with no realism in it at the time of release, Green Berets would be understood to have the content just like how the Americans would love to be depicted. For anyone who did not view the offensive images of the televised conflict, the movie does a good job in praising the American elite soldiers.









Works Cited

            Adler, Renata. “Movie review - The Green Berets - Screen: " The New York Times. Web. 15th Nov. 2013

            Cawley, Leo. The War about the War: Vietnam Films and American Myth. From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film. Ed. Linda Dittmar and Gene Michaud. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990. Print

Doyle, Jack. “The Green Berets, 1965-1968,”PopHistoryDig.com, 2011. Web. 15th Nov 2013

            Óskarsson, Daði. “This is the End.”Realism, Myth and Propaganda in the Vietnam War Films Apocalypse Now, Platoon and The Green Berets.Hugvísindasvið. Skemman, 2010. Web. 15th Nov. 2013

            Pilger, John. "Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire”. Speech. Democracy Now.Web. 15th Nov 2013

            Suid, Lawrence H. Guts and Glory: Great American War Movies. London: Addison-Wesley, 1978. Print

            Taylor, Philip. “The Green Berets. (Film in Context).” History Today. History Today Ltd, 1995. Web. 15th Nov. 2013



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