Mel Gibson's Vietnam 

While studying the other night, as I don't have much time for anything else, I came across the movie We Were Soldiers. I half-watched it while I was really engaged in reading my textbook. Mel Gibson plays an army colonel fighting the war in Vietnam, a portrayal that I find is not too much unlike the "crazy" cop he plays in the Lethal Weapon series. If you're watching a Mel Gibson movie, the story is likely one about a hero pushed to the limits of sanity and breakdown, righteously fighting against all odds, and who, by the way, is somehow being tragically involved a bloodbath (The Patriot, Braveheart, Mad Max--and, of course--the archetype: Hamlet). The blood is how you know it's a Mel Gibson movie. And while I'm not against the tragic portrayal of blood when appropriate a story about some kind of trauma--after all, there are some legitimate realistic, symbolic, and folkloric uses for it--I'm beginning to have the sense that Gibson exploits blood to sell his product and support the theme of insanity.

Yet, even though the American war in Vietnam has been popularized in movies, stories, memoirs, and, yes, college classes--I'm beginning to feel that: a) those of us who were not alive when it happened will never know what it was really like, what kind of changes it forced on our parents generation, or what it really means now. And b), the way people have of currently describing the war is based more on the fictional portrayals and the necessarily biased accounts of it by the people involved, rather than being rooted in the real experience of it.

Within the last year, as I have encountered more of these types of portrayals of the war in Vietnam, I find I am asking myself about the nature of war in general and the impact that it has on the larger society, a generation, and how the effects of it is transmitted to other generations through time. I don't much care about the politics as I do on the personal experiences. The closest thing I can come to what war is like is through the current portrayals of the war on terrorism and in Iraq. And as far as that goes, I follow Kevin Sites blog fairly often. I know that his site is only a small segment of the whole thing; but maybe through the accumulation of segments like this one combined with my own experience of historical events, I maybe better able to understand the experience (and trauma) of my parents generation. And as the reporter character in Gibson's Vietnam movie says, I hope to be able to better "understand" war. But only, insofar, as anyone ever can

01 February 2004
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