I love war films. I grew up on WW2 classics and Vietnam related films such as First Blood, Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. I get a thrill from watching them … my girlfriend calls it war porn. I think she is right. There is a certain objectification going on that allows me to vicariously play out conflicts I carry with me by projecting that energy into the Grunts and Gooks on the screen. And always the question in my mind: how would I have acted in that situation?
This film is a documentary with no commentary … just archive film. The big theme for me was ‘duty’. Doing your duty is about doing what you believe to be right … even though there is a personal risk. Some of the men in this film are ex-servicemen from Vietnam. They talk of their very thought through and honourable reasons for fighting and taking this risk; the excitement and satisfaction of combat … and the consequences of their injuries (physical and mental). Some of the most honest accounts I’ve ever heard.
The documentary juxtaposes the war in Vietnam with a ‘big game’ American football match. The coach gives an inspirational speech about how the act of competing makes men. And how important it is to god (or, put another way, the future of the world) that men are made. Is this not the value of war? The ability for men to find their deepest selves by facing death? Of course the cost is immense.
I did not watch this as porn. This is real people doing their best – politicians, businessmen and soldiers. Some of their motives are pure, some shallow, many polluted by the cultural fears of the day. It really helped me to connect with their courage: to fight for what you believe and, equally, to face the consequences of deserting from the Army on conscientious grounds.
The arc of the documentary has a few interviews where people talk of how their perspectives have changed. Gung-Ho soldiers reflect on the impacts of their actions and repent for them deeply and honestly. Politicians admit that, on reflection, they were wrong. They do this with feeling and understanding rather than self-blame. To me this makes them very good men.