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December 02, 1979 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1979-12-02

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Page 4-Sunday, December 2, 1979-The Michigan Daily
Vietnam films in the 1970s distort the real truth

By Rose Mary Sheldon


It amazes me that a movie such as
"Apocalypse Now" which presents us
with very little new about the American
experience in Vietnam can generate
such excitement including a triple
headed review in one issue of last mon-
th's Daily. The movie does us a vast
disservice not only to feeding us the
same old Hollywood view of Asians but
by failing to make any substantial
criticism of the system which per-
petrated the immoral war.
Contrary to what review Harvey
says, this movie can and unfortunately
should be compared with such films as
"The Deer Hunter." Both films share
as their theme a focusing on the ex-
periences of individual American
soldiers. Although the personal accoun-
ts of people who were there is an impor-
tant input of information on the war, it
by no means gives us a broad perspec-
tive. Crawling through the swamps of
Vietnam will not give anyone the
ultimate understanding of the war any
more than my father, watching his best
friend being blown away in a foxhole in
Germany, makes him the authoritative
interpreter of World War II. Personal
pain and horror can often be as blinding
as it is revealing. By making these
Americans sympathetic characters,
one sets up an ideological framework
from which the audience cannot
escape: we are forced into seeing the
Vietnamese as the enemy. I am not
saying that Coppola shouldn't make a
film sympathetic to Americans but on
the other hand, he can't claim to be
showing us anything new. All he has
done is reinforce the time-worn
stereotype of Asian communists that no
American film maker has yet been able
to escape.
AS AN EXAMPLE of this, consider
that both films base their inter-
pretations of the war on historical fic-
tions, centering on a fabricated act of
Vietnames terror and elevating it to a
central metaphor of war. "The Deer
Hunter" portrays the Vietnamese as
depraved sadists who delight in tor-
turing captured prisoners and
Apocalypse" describes them as baby
killers. That is not to say torture was
not used by both sides but let us please
not degenerate into that argument "We
did it, so they must have done it too" or
even worse "They did it, so we were
justified in doing it." If this is the
argument, then 'both films share the
cynical point of view that mankind is
basically corrupt-an opinion which I
do not share. I see no reason to believe
that the incident described by Colonel

Kurtz-the Vietnamese cutting off the
arms of children recently innoculated
by the Americans-ever happened.
Anywhere in Vietnam that the
Americans went, the press was not far
behind. Look at Coppola's own cameo
role as a T.V. journalist covering a
beachhaed landing. If any North Viet-
namese army had ever committed'such
an atrocity, it would have received ten
times the press coverage of My Lai.
The U.S. Army public relations ap-
paratus in Saign would have seen that
posters portraying the event were hung
in every recruiting station from San
Diego to Biloxi. Yes, the North Viet-
namese assassinated village chiefs
they considered traitors. Yes, the North
Vietnamese left booby traps that
maimed American soldiers. But what
would the useless amputation of
children's arms have gained them?
Nothing. The film's portrayal of this in-
cident, however, shows that Hollywood
still believes the Vietnamese controlled
the countryside through terrorism, and
thus still understands very little about
the nature of a people's war.
Kurtz's monologue accurately sums
up the film's basic misconceptions
about the Vietnamese people. "And
then I realized that they were stronger
than we because they could stand it."
They won because they are uncivilized
enough to kill and torture without
restraint, and the Americans lost
because we lacked the strategic sense
to kill with that same ruthless
precision. The Vietnamese beat us on
the battlegroutid, but their source of
strength was not terrorism or a
diabolical propensity for murder.
that so awed Col. Kurtz was shown in
many ways more undane than torture
or mutilation. The general cooperation
of the people behind the regular forces
helped them to move about at will and
set up their positions swiftly. Peasants
moved heavy pieces of artillery and
other equipment without roads or
trucks bydisassembling them and
moving the pieces by foot or bicycle to
new locations than painstakingly
reassembling them. Local people came
to the aid of gunners with food, am-
munition and even took over their
places if they were wounded. Anyone
interested in a detailed description of
these activities can read Nguyen Khac
Vien's book "The, Impotence of
American Techniques in the Face of the
People's War" (Hanoi, 1966). There is
nothing superhuman about the Viet-
namese. They were, fighting a, war to

AP Photo
Two American soldiers are shown running past burning homes as fighting between allied and Viet Cong forces continued on the southern edge of Saigon

in 1968.
liberate their own country. For us, the
fall of Saigon may have been a tragedy
but to them it was the liberation of Ho
Chi Minh City.
To reiterate, in making these
stereotypes the key to the understan-
ding of North Vietnamese success,
Coppola is doing in a sense what the
Pentagon tried unsuccessfully to do for
years-dehumanize the Vietnamese.
Has any American film yet shown us a
Vietnamese person with a name? A
speaking role? Do we ever see themm
portrayed as anything other than the
enemy or cannon fodder? The terrible
carnage reinforces those terribly deep
seated racist ideas that it doesn't mat-
ter how many of them you kill, because
there are so many Asian anyway. Life
is cheaper there and so somehow it
means less when you kill one of them.
Willard expresses this himself when he
says that being sent to assassinate Col.
Kurtz was different, because Kurtz was
one of ours. Looking at the genocidal
American policy as a whole you can't
help but wonder whether we would have
attempted such atrocities if these
people were white. -
Coppola's depiction of the trip' up
river into enemy territory is truly a
masterful piece of cinematography but

~ _ -'

the suggestion of leaving "civilization"
for the "Heart of Darkness" only tends
to reinforce the idea of Vietnamese as a
savage, primevil force. Kurtz says that
civilization loses to the primordial
because the primordial is stronger. The
portrayal of the bisarrely painted mon-
tagnard tribesmen leaves one with the
feeling of the "primitiveness" of the
enemy, but this too is a distortion. Viet-
nam may be an under-developed coun-
try but its culture is no more primitive
than China's. The Vietnamese are a
twentieth century people who cannot,
even with the help of the State Depar-
tment, be bombed back into the Stone
Age. By turning them into spear-
bearing savages in the film, Coppola
has done the Vietnamese another
macho heroes makes him an unfor-
tunate choice as director of
Hollywood's most powerful artistic
statement on the war. His character,
Kurtz, like the Godfather before him, is
a lone, powerful figure, oppressed by
the weight of that power. Coppola is
much more sympathetic to these anti-
heroes than to the people who must live
under the tyranny of such men. Coppola
shows scorn for the high ranking of-

ficials who were being pampered while
they issued orders that got others
killed. He properly criticizes the in-
competent officers who ran the war.
But there is where his criticism stops.
People in this country still repeat the
truism "If only we hadn't had our hands
tied, if only we had gone all out to
win. . ."' But the Pentagon statistics
speak for themselves.
From 1965 through 1969 we dropped
4.5 million tons of bombs-nine times
the total tonnage expended in the
Pacific theater in World War II. And
that is only half the tonnage or ordnan-
ce we dropped on all of Indochina,
much of it on civilian targets. Over,
seventy tons of bombs. About five hun-
dred pounds of bombs for every man,
woman and child in Vietnam. Not to
mention the chemical defoliants and
poison gas. If this is "holding back",I
can't imagine what "going all out"
would have meant. This is not a distor-
tion of save-the-world ideals as
Christopher Potter calls it. This was at-
tempted genocide pure and simple. The
Pentagon was not out to save anybody.
It was out to force its will on Southeast
Asia at the cost of however many Asian
lives it took. There is no moral am-
biguity here. The war was wrong.

I am not disagreeing with the
reviewers about this film being the
ultimate power trip, the ultimate acid
experience complete with rock music
and quintophonic sound. It cert.4inly
does reach new highs in decking out
atrocities in lovely color schemes. What
I do object to is that these trips from
reality give us an escape from. a
responsibility we must ultimately face.
It is certainly difficult for us to come
to grips with the idea that we lost a war.
But it is equally important that we
place the blame firmly on the system
which is responsible and that is
something that no journalists, film
makers or critics have done. That very
system will continue such policies in
Asia, the Philippines and South America
if we give it a free hand. The first step
in preventing such tragedies from
reoccurring is not escape, but con-
sciousness. Conscibusness of how non-
well intentioned our government's
polices are and a willingess to be
critical instead of passive.
Rose Mary Sheldon is a graduate
student in ancient history at the



r i


Ninety Years of Editorial Freedom

to the aily

Vol. LXXXX, No. 72

News Phone: 764-0552

Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan
The real Islamc hero

THE IRONY of Islam.
While one follower continues
to use the world arena to stage a
mockery of his cherished heritage,
another believer acts out a more
humane drama, dominated by courage
and sacrifice. The two are on opposite
ends of the morality scale while the
rest of the world hangs nervously in the
The first actor trying to follow the
principles of the legendary Moham-
med is, or course, the beloved
Ayatollah Khomeini. The other
disciple has once again demonstrated
courage and moral integrity, rare
qualities in today's breed of diplomatic
ringleaders. As ruler of Egypt since
1970, President Anwar Sadat has
repeatedly established an image other
world leaders should only hope to
emulate. Beside making unpreceden-
ted sacrifices for the cause of
peace-the Egyptian-Israeli peace
treaty-the head of 41 million
Moslems, the largest collection of
them in one country, showed the world
again Friday why the ayatollah strays
far from the ideals of Islam. And it
illustrated why Sadat keeps the
credibility of that sacred religion
above the surface of hell.
His latest act of pure generosity and
kindness was his decision two days ago
to offer the deposed Shah of Iran san-

serve the nation's interest." The
government obviously did not want a
hostage crisis of its own.- ,
There's no doubt that if the Shah ac-
cepts Sadat's offer, Egypt will be put-
ting itself in a very tense situation. The
power and mystique of the ayatollah is
awesome these days in the Moslem
world, and the Egyptian hero cannot
hope to evade it. There are bound to be
some reprucussions.
But Sadat is not worried,pr if he is,
he is not showing it. In repeating his of-
fer to the Shah, Sadat said "we are
ready to meet the consequences,
whatever they are.".
There are, of course, more pragmatic
reasons for Sadat's bold move. Taking
the Shah from US. territory would
greatly enhance Egypt's prestige and
help its efforts to acquire funds from a
frugal . Congress. But, as Sadat
reiterated, the acceptance is more
humane than anything else because it
takes a huge burden from the Carter
administration, and perhaps increases
the chance the hostages will be
Once again, though, Sadat risks
alienating the Islamic world even fur-
ther from his country, the former
leader of the United Arab League un-
der General Nassar's tutelage. And, as
he showed in his incredible peace
niigrimmnag to Israel two years ago.

To the Daily:
Thursday, 25 October, I
had the opportunity to attend the
James Galway-Marisa
Robles-Milton Thomas concert
at Hill Auditorium, a rare treat
for wich I would like to extend my
heartfelt thanks to both the
University Musical Society and
Mr. Galway for making possible.
As could be expected from artists
of the caliber of Miss Robles and
Mssrs. Galway and Thomas, the
performance was nothing short of
Unfortunately, the same can-
not be said of the audience, many
members of which obviously had
no idea of how to comport them-
selves and whose behavior can*
only be descried as disgraceful.
Throughout the concert; loud and
prolonged coughs, sneezes, and
throat-clearings were heard
every four or five seconds from
all over the Auditorium; there
was also at least one extended
belch and one embarrassingly
loud flatultion. The same
acoustics that allow the most
delicate tones created by the ar-
tists on stage to be heard
throughout the hall also carry
these disruptive noises every bit
as well. Thus, the music created
during each disturbance was
forever lost. Despite occasional
icy stares from Mr-. Calway at of-
fenders and a gentle reminder
from Miss Robles in the form of
"shh-ing" the audience before
one .of her solos, the noises con-
tinued unabated. If people cannot
control their bodily functions,
they have no business ruining an
evening of brilliant performances
for the rest of us. And if some of
those people were unable to sup-
press their coughs due to colds or
other illnesses, their tran-
sgressions were compounded:
Who wants to have to inhale their
germs while being made
miserable by their noises?
To make matters worse, many
in the audience literally added
great insult to injury. As soon as
the final note of the final piece
was struck, people literally

notice, it had to be discouraging
to the artists to see half their
audience fighting to get to the
exits. To turn one's back and rush
out of a concert hall i§, without
question, the most insulting thing
a member of the audience can do
to show displeasure. Rather, ex-
tended and intense applause
should have been the universal
response. Those interested in
simply "beating the rush"
exhibited boorish and absolutely
appalling manners !
Somehow, despite all this, the
artists found it in their hearts to
bestow a pair of delightful en-
cores upon those who remained.
However, quickly after the
second piece, all applause
mysteriously died completely,
and the performance was over.
Surely the efforts of Galway,
Robles, and Thomas merited
more curtain calls than that!
Exhibitions of this type of
behaviour, alas, were not unique
to this concert. Last spring, An-
dre Segovia was the recipient of
the same sort of barbaric
behavior, if not worse. My wife
was fortunate enough to obtain a
pair of front-row seats to that
concert, almost direcly at Mr.
Segovia's feet. The seat next to
mine remained empty for the fir-
st few pieces. Some clown sitting
in the next row bick seized this
opportunity to dangle his mud-
covered feet over the back of the
empty seat, practically in my
face, while carrying on a non-stop
conversation with other mem-
bers of his group. Repeated
requests from several people
finally quieted him (more or
less), but the feet remained there
until the seat's occupant mer-
cifully arrived., All this went on
directly in front of Mr. Segovia,
and one can be sure that he could
not help but notice it and under-
stand the unappreciativeness of
the audience. Thus, although Mr.
Segovia's tour in general was
critically acclaimed all over the
country before and after this ap-
pearance, in Ann Arbor, he sim-
ply went through the motions.

occasions (though even one or
two is too many!).
It has become painfuilly ob-
vious that many concert-goers
are there solely for the status of
being able to say that they saw
Galway, Segovia, or whomever in.
person, and couldn't care less
about the actual performance.
These are the same sorts of
people who would come to see O.
J. Simpson or Howard Cosell play
the harmonica and cymbals at
the same time just to say that
they were in the same room as a
celebrity. While this sort of
behavior is strictly infantile, still,
that would be fine if these people
could learn how to behave at
serious events. But the
disquieting, boorish, and back-
woods-yahoo behavior of Univer-
sity of Michigan audiences, in-
cluding both the student and non-
student members, so often
displayed in an embarrassment
to both the artists and the serious
listeners, and will only serve to
discourage notable performers
from returning to Ann Arbor for
future engagements.
- My advice to these people thus
boils down to this: If you can't or
don't know how to behave, do
everone (including yourself) a
favor-STAY HOME!
--Peter G. Heytler, Jr.
Department of Economics
Michigan State University
To the Daily:
There is at least one lesson that
H. Scott Prostermann, "frequent
contributor to the Daily editorial
page" on Middle East concerns,
evidently failed to absorb in his
graduate studies. That lesson is
to sound even-handed, even if you
are not. In his most recent
statement, onsNovember 21,
Prostermann discussed the cam-
pus visits of four representative
voices in the Arab-Israeli con-
flict, and did a poor job of hiding
what serious readers of his
previous statements knew
already, that he has trouble
stomaching the mainstream
Israeli view of the dispute, nor
can he see its spokespeople as
much more than arrogant liars.

the last-to come to campus, and
there is not the slighest hint of
questioning. Words of a leftist
Israeli who represents almost
nobody in Israeli society (mainly
because he does not know what to
saya when and to whom) are con-
sidered "realistic" and represen-
tative of a "strong sense of
Zionist ideals." For the fourth
speaker, Israeli U.N. Am-
bassador Yehuda Blum, are
reserved these comments:
* "In interviewin -Blum, after
hearing him speak, one finds it
difficult to leave him, not feeling
insulted, if not angry'
" "As many of his responses
contain a curious mix of arrogan-
ce and paranoia, one might sense
some of the outright lies that he
tells, and the weak position that
he is defending.
" "Blum's forensic tactics
clearly revealed his personal
paranoia, and further weakened
his stance..."
h "Perhaps the -most arguable
point that Blum made was
Now, I will remind the readers
that no other speaker's facts or
points were questioned (though I
can assure them that the pro-
Palestinian speakers set new
N.C.A.A. records for half-truths
per minute). No other speaker
was characterized in even
slightly hostile terms. No other
speaker was accused of
"paranoia," which, in a part of
the world populated by the likes
of the Ayatollah Khomeini and
crazed mobs of Muslims in
Tehran and Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia, might well be judged
healthy skepticism. The only
strong defender of Israeli policies
gets treatment like no other
speaker. While Prostermann's
attack is unnecessary and
reprehensible, it does serve to let
us know clearly where he is at,
how he reacts to one major
viewpoint on a subject about
which he professes to be
somewhat or an authority. There
is ample evidence, I might add, of

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