platoon

I am a pacifist. I'm going to level with you all and confess that I didn't quite know which direction to take with this review, as pacifism isn't exactly a philosophy that is appreciated and understood by most, especially in a time of war.

Let me just say that while I love and appreciate the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardsmen who protect my freedom to believe in peace above all, I have a big problem with governments who choose to put those folks in harm's way when there may be other, more effective options available. War is costly (both fiscally and socially), it's ugly, it's the birthplace of a whole host of evils, and in this blogger's opinion, it's morally wrong.

OK, I'm putting my soapbox away, and getting to the movie now. I just figured you would get more out of my thoughts on Platoon if I first let you know where I was coming from.

Oliver Stone, the writer and director of Platoon, based this movie on his own experiences serving in the Vietnam War. I believe this movie is a success because it shows, on a few different levels, some of the distinct evils that war begets.

Platoon is the story of Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), a soldier who dropped out of college and actually volunteered to serve in Vietnam. His idealism is quickly brought down to earth as he witnesses, and experiences, the soul-changing nature of war.

After a member of Taylor's platoon goes missing and is subsequently found mutilated and tied to a post, the humanity of many of the soldiers starts to fray. The platoon comes upon a village; the soldiers suspect the villagers of conspiring with the North Vietnamese Army, and they take that excuse to terrorize the petrified civilians. Taylor finds himself screaming at a disabled boy and shooting at his feet, forcing him to dance; another soldier eventually bludgeons the boy to death and laughs at how his head falls apart.

As some of the prominent villagers are being interrogated, one woman bravely confronts the intruders, and is summarily executed by the villain of the film, Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger). He then takes a screaming child, presumably the murdered woman's daughter, and threatens to kill her too if the villagers do not give up information about the NVA (which they may or may not have). Sgt. Elias, played by Willem Dafoe, confronts Barnes and saves the little girl, but this is only the beginning of the war between the two sergeants, which becomes a "civil war" (in Taylor's words) within the platoon.

Americans like to believe that when we go to war, we're doing it for a just cause. We want to think that our soldiers are out there being noble, helping the locals, making things right. That's just not always the case, and Platoon lays that out quite clearly. The men were supposed to be fighting a specific enemy, the North Vietnamese, but they ended up fighting and killing civilians, each other, and sometimes themselves.

I don't know why we were in Vietnam. I've taken plenty of history classes and read plenty of books, but I still haven't heard a justification that makes sense to me. It was a mistake which cost millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, and American lives, displaced even more innocents, and poisoned an entire country's landscape, with effects still being felt today.

So yeah, I'm anti-war. But can I say I'm pro-war-movie? At least when it comes to movies like Platoon which unabashedly show the horrors of war; I'm probably kidding myself here, but if enough artists show truth as effectively as Oliver Stone did here, maybe we'll think carefully before getting ourselves into more scrapes like Vietnam... or Iraq... or Afghanistan...
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2 Response to "platoon"

  1. valis says:
    November 22, 2010 at 6:39 PM

    Great review. I watched this movie a long time ago and I think I better rewatch it soon.

    Two movies I watched recently have changed my view of the events encapsulated in the term Viet Nam.

    First is the Fog of War - ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/ ) a doc by Errol Morris about Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations). He was there helping advise Presidents about Viet Nam from the beginning. The most interesting part (whole movie is great) is a conference he set up between North Viet Namese forces and American generals and politicians in the late 1990s. Apparently he almost got into a fist fight with some Viet Namese bloke who insisted that the conflict was a war for their independence from all western colonial powers while McNamara gave the US line of stopping the spread of Communism and the whole China was secretly spreading Maoism to its neighbors.

    The second is Sir! No Sir! ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0469589/ ) another documentary. This is about the antiwar demonstrations and subversion done by soldiers back from and in Viet Nam. History was rewritten to have the antiwar movement versus the troops in and back from SE Asia, rather than the more accurate account that nobody knew how bad it was in Nam until the soldiers came back and told the world. The big revelation to me was that whole story about returning GIs being spit on and called baby-killer was just government propaganda. Not a single instance of this happening can be found. It never happened, and it was the soldiers themselves who revealed to the world the atrocious atrocities that they were involved in and how they were pushed into it by the military and US foreign policy.

  2. Nayana Anthony says:
    November 23, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    Thanks for the recommendations! I need to add those two to my Netflix.

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