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Page 24
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There Was No Music Soundtrack in Vietnam

By Paul Cox (Reviewer)

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We Were Soldiers
Directed by Randall Wallace
Written by Joseph L. Galloway and Harold G. Moore (book)
Starring Mel Gibson, Madeline Stowe, Greg Kinnear, and Sam Elliot


Mel Gibson's new flick, "We Were Soldiers," completely rewrites the historical record in order to fit in with the "new patriotism" that Hollywood thinks grips America. Many reviewers call it a heroic film about heroic men, and it is that. Mick Lasalle (SF Chronicle) called it one of the best war films of the last twenty years, and he may be right - of course, that's not saying much. But why did producer/director/screenwriter Randal Wallace ("Braveheart," "Pearl Harbor") think it necessary to lie about the actual battle? Only one reviewer, Ken Turan of the LA Times, panned it, pointing out that the film is simple-minded and devoid of historical context. But why play up the lie about the actual battle?

The book on which this stinker of a movie was based, "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young," was written by the battalion commander (Lt. Col. Hal Moore) and a journalist (Joe Galloway) who was on hand for most of the LZ X-Ray portion of the battle. While the book itself is simpleminded and devoid of historical context, it is, at least, brutally clear on what went down. Why did Moore and Galloway tolerate and even celebrate the lie about the actual battle?

What was the lie? The movie completely changes the end of the story. In the movie, after Colonel Moore (Mel Gibson) and his men of the 1st Battalion/7th Cavalry (1/7) kill all the North Vietnamese in the neighborhood, they depart the field of battle as battered but victorious heroes, leaving nothing behind but a pile of dead North Vietnamese. In reality, 1/7 was relieved by a column of troops from the 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry (2/7) that two days later was ambushed while moving to LZ Albany. The official count of American casualties from 1/7 was 49 dead and 124 wounded, and the count from 2/7 was 155 dead and 123 wounded. Thus the movie has the temerity to end on a victorious note after only a quarter of the American fatalities had been inflicted.

Why did they do this? Wallace could easily have ended the movie as he began it. The movie begins with a short segment of a deadly ambush on a French column in a nearby valley ten years earlier; it could and should have ended with at least a passing reference to the dying that happened after Mel Gibson's character left the battlefield. The audience might have left the theater with a very different impression, and a more accurate understanding of the historical truth. But apparently Mr. Wallace was more interested in a little flag-waving and wanted to send the audience home with a patriotic buzz. But many veterans of the Vietnam War have well-developed bullshit detectors. Our detectors tell us this film is a real pasture pastry. As insulting as it is to Vietnam veterans, the fundamental disservice of a movie like this is to our children. It pushes the fantasy that war is a proper endeavor for young men, and that military force is an effective and inevitable instrument of projecting America's power. This movie psychologically prepares boys and young men (and, increasingly, young women) for any war the old men next decide they must fight.

Between ultra-violent video games, shoot-'em-up movies, and a media that varnishes the news and sprays cologne on the rotting carnage of war, our children don't have a chance. The techniques of propaganda disguised as entertainment are perhaps more mature than during, say, World War II, but they are still lies.

Tell Paramount films that their bullshit stinks. E-mail them at <info@pde.paramount.com> or write them at Paramount Pictures Corporation, Los Angeles, California. You could suggest that they rename this movie. How about: "We Were Bait Once ... and Young"? Or maybe: "Big Fat Liar"? That name may be taken, however.


Paul Cox served as a Marine in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and is a member of VVAW.

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