Hearts and Minds (1974, Peter Davis)

An early blast against the Vietnam war. Well, not TOO early – made at a time when the war had dragged on and people were already enraged about it, but when the mass media hadn’t yet jumped on the anti-war bandwagon. Uses all the stock footage we’ve been seeing for years – guy shot in the head, napalm-burned children running down the street, aerial footage of beautifully-colored bombs destroying the lives of people below – and adds incriminating interviews with soldiers (inside a brothel!), politicians (a general is quoted as saying that “orientals” value human life less than we do) and disillusioned veterans, many of whom are gradually revealed to be amputees.

My favorite bit is when a government source (I can’t remember who, actually) speaks about the origin of the war. North Vietnam was being occupied by France, and shortly after WWII, Ho Chi Minh wrote letters to the U.S. asking for its support in his fight against the evil colonialist French, little guessing that we’d replace the French as his country’s main oppressor twenty years later. Not that I’m taking his side – he sounds like a really crappy guy. Movie won the oscar for best documentary, but the golden globe went to the far safer choice Animals Are Beautiful People.

RK Brigham:

When the film first appeared in 1974, its sympathetic and complicated treatment of average Vietnamese created a sensation. For years, the news media and policymakers had given Americans their only view into the lives of Vietnamese peasants, and that presentation was crude. … Few stories of the war had included such moral statements about the impact of high altitude bombing on civilians. Fewer still had shown that U.S. aerial assaults targeted both North and South Vietnam, that all Vietnamese citizens lived in fear of attacks.

The energy crisis, inflation, rising unemployment, and Watergate led to an almost narcissistic obsession with what the war had done to us. Hearts and Minds challenged that predilection by forcing viewers to consider what the war had done to the Vietnamese. As uncomfortable as it may have been for many Americans, it now seems clear that Hearts and Minds was the first step in coming to terms with a conflict that threatened to destroy the social fabric of the country.

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