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Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Hollywood Portrays Our Veterans

“Make no mistake: the anti-war voices long for us to lose any war they cannot prevent.” — Col. Ralph Peters

Over the years Hollywood has portrayed our fighting men and women in differing lights ranging from boldly patriotic to downright disgraceful.

As a child growing up during World War Two I saw many movies glorifying our fighting men and women. Studios like Republic, RKO and Paramount turned out these films on almost a monthly basis. Republic Studios was no doubt the most prolific. They could turn out a film in two or three weeks, from treatment to distribution prints.

Our military was shown in a heroic vein in films like; “The Sands of Iwo Jima”, “Flying Tigers”, “Back to Battan”, “Destination Tokyo” and “Objective Burma.” From 1941 to 1950 hundreds of films were produced portraying our servicemen and women in a positive light. After the war Hollywood began producing more serious films, like “The Best Years of Our Lives” addressing the plights of the returning veterans.

During The Korean War, a war not as popular as WWII, the movie-makers began making films, like “Pork Chop Hill”, “The Enemy Below” and “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” with a more anti-war message. While our military were still shown in a positive vein the message of the film was the futility of war.

By the time the Vietnam War rolled around Hollywood’s take was a definite anti-war point of view. Films such as “Platoon”, “Full Metal Jacket” and “Apocalypse Now” not only showed war as horrendous and futile they also depicted the American soldier as brutal, racist and as drug addicts.

These films were made during a period when most of the liberal elite had disdain for the American Military. Who can forget the disrespect shown soldiers and Marines returning from Vietnam? They were greeted by jeering and screaming crowds. They were spat on and called baby killers by the draft dodgers who had avoided military service by a college deferment or fleeing to Canada.

My friend Jimmy, a veteran Navy corpsman and winner of a Navy Cross during the Korean War, related this story to me. While working as a deputy sheriff at the airport when wounded Vietnam veterans were returning he witnessed the following incident. There were reporters surrounding the wounded veterans trying to get them say something. This one particular young reporter approached a veteran being wheeled down the jet way. When he could not get the wounded soldier to say something to he spat in his face. The reporter was immediately escorted from the scene by two airport policemen. Jimmy later learned that the reporter had suffered a fall as he was being escorted out of the area, a fall that caused him a broken nose. Jimmy told me that when the two policemen returned they smiled and gave him the thumbs up sign. This was no doubt an egregious example of police brutality, but to Jimmy’s knowledge no reports were ever filled.

In the past fifteen years film makers have produced epic films and TV series, such as “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”, glorifying the soldiers and Marines of the “Greatest Generation.”  Documentaries covering WWII have been aired on Public Television and cable channels doing the same. Our love affair with the “Greatest Generation” seems to be unending.

The same cannot be said for the Vietnam Veteran. With the exception of the excellent film “We Were Soldiers” no films or TV series have been produced showing the true story and heroism of the Vietnam veteran. All they have is a 75 meter black wall with 58,195 engraved names in Washington, D.C. If there were such a wall in Hanoi it would be 1,417 meters (4,648 feet) long with 1.1 million engraved names.

With our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan creating thousands of returning veteran, many of them crippled for life, how will they be honored by Hollywood. Will they be depicted in a positive light, such as in the film “Hurt Locker” or will they suffer the Oliver Stone treatment as he portrayed the American soldier in “Platoon”?

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