Wednesday, February 29, 2012

John Pilger's 1981 Heroes

Originally from Sydney, Australia, John Pilger has become an award winning journalist and foreign correspondent. He is arguably most well-known for his work during the Vietnam War, spending much of his time in Vietnam itself, and is still working today, with his latest work including his 2010 film ‘The War You Don’t See’.
The short documentary film I have chosen to look at for my blog this week was made by Pilger in 1981 and explores “The shabby treatment of returning combat soldiers from Vietnam” six years after the war ended. The film shows footage and images from the war, as well as interviews and documentary footage from the time. However, the main content of the film is made up of interviews with Vietnam veterans, investigating their perspectives on the war along with their treatment since the war end.
After describing the conditions he witnessed, referring to them as if it were a “constant Halloween night”, and stating that a recent (1980) poll found that 62% of Americans believed that “Vietnam veterans fought in the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and were suckers.” This opinion, which implies that it was somehow the veterans themselves who should be blamed for the highly controversial Vietnam War, seems to run throughout the documentary, with many veterans stating that they were treated in an abusive way by the American public after returning from the conflicts – Pilger himself states that unlike any other war we have seen in modern times, the veterans returned home “to a purgatory of silence, shame, indifference, or in plain wooden boxes.”
On interviewing the veterans Pilger finds out their reasoning for going to war in the first place (why did they help make up the greatest volunteer army in America’s history?). Many veterans state that they wanted to serve their country and experience war in order to become a man. In many cases they also stated how they wanted to experience war based on what they’d seen on TV and in films – suggesting that war to many young Americans, young American men in particular, was glorified. However, Pilger discovers that after longing for an opportunity to go to war all of the veterans interviewed not only wanted to forget about their service in Vietnam but also that whole period in their lives. With many veterans coming away from the war addicted to alcohol and drugs, they had suffered greatly from their experiences and expressed disgust with themselves.
Many veterans also expressed anger with politicians and the government for not taking responsibility for the war – a responsibility which veterans feel has fallen upon them, finding themselves having to explain why the war was such a disaster.
Pilger’s documentary is interesting as it sheds light not on the reactions of the majority of Americans to the war (like so many others), but the reactions of the veterans who fought in the war and are equally as important as those Americans who didn’t. Pilger also draws attention to the similarities between the Vietnam War politicians and the politicians of the early 1980s, stating that they see the world “in the same arrogant, simplistic terms, speaking of dominos as if nations are mere blocks of wood, not societies riven with their own differences and animosities”. Is Pilger suggesting then that nothing has changed? That the experience of Vietnam has taught 1980s America and its politicians nothing? From my research for this week’s blog it would seem that this is a common reaction to America after its involvement in Vietnam.

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