The Vietnam Syndrome: America’s Gut Feeling
The reason the Vietnam Syndrome infected so much of the American population so deeply is due to the film industry. Filmmakers were able to tackle their issues with the war by making films that expressed or demonstrated the flaws that they saw in the way the United States participated in the war, such as a toxic division of support and a flawed military culture that produced insanity. The most popular and critically acclaimed Vietnam movies were anti-war. There were combat films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. Films about the war keep the Vietnam Syndrome alive by keeping in to the forefront of the American public’s collective mind. The question is whether pushing to keep the syndrome active is a good thing. Being reminded of the failures of Vietnam keeps the United States more wary to repeat these mistakes and lose support of the public. The public is also more wary to support a war and requires the government to really prove that involvement is necessary. This awareness that arises from the Vietnam syndrome possesses the power to make America make smarter decisions and be better in general. The lesson from Oliver Stone’s Platoon was that America was unsuccessful in Vietnam because the troops were not unified. This is demonstrated through the split between the platoon with drama and fighting between the two groups. At the end of the film, as the main character is being air-lifted to a hospital he looks down and reflects, “We didn’t fight the enemy in Vietnam, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was in us.” This central idea of Stone’s film became a large portion of the syndrome. Many scholars argue that these Vietnam War genre films have addressed the problems of Vietnam such as lack of unity, corrupt military culture, and savage military behavior. In his article on Vietnam films, Thomas Doherty says that the genre was created, “to ease the division and reconcile conflict through myth.” Films such as Full Metal Jacket brought a level of reconciliation through demonstrating how the lack of unity and cruel military culture led to American demise by forcing the American public to admit that all of this happened. Directly following the war, Vietnam films catalyzed America’s process towards healing. The films were never enough to be a complete cure. Today, they keep the Vietnam War relevant. Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is not only on the canon of Vietnam films, but of must-see films for any film connoisseur. This popularity keeps the failures of Vietnam in the forefront of American consciousness and the syndrome alive. Contrary to the belief that the Vietnam syndrome is incurable, in his article on oral narratives and the Vietnam War, Patrick Hagopian says, “In an attempt to come to terms with these fraught issues, the public has been compulsively feeding on media treatments of the war since the mid-1980s.” There is a kernel of truth in that statement in that the public turned to media in the beginning to find a source of fulfillment. Since the war ended in a loss, movies allowed for some positive feeling to exist even if it was only the idea that since issues like military practices are having attention brought to them as a result of the movies that things will change for the better in the future. It is important to recognize that while the syndrome may never disappear completely and that films keep it alive, these same films also eased a great deal of pain directly following the war. Hagopian also argues that Vietnam movies, “function analogously for the wider society, providing the focus for a process of reconciliation described as person and social healing.” The high levels of fictionalization in the films allowed for the country to see happier endings and lessons more clearly than merely looking at the facts and news reports of the war. With such a strong interest in reliving Vietnam through film, the list of films about the war is extensive. Doherty points out how...
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