From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Platoon More Than A Movie

By Robert Anderson

—Robert Anderson
Pittsburgh, PA

My friends are asking me what I think of Oliver Stone's new movie "Platoon," since they know I was a demolitions tech in the war. Most of them say the movie seems very realistic, giving them an understanding they didn't have before. I tell them there is more to the movie.

I was in the Air Force, but Military Assistance Command-Vietnam ( MAC-V) needed more support so they used people like me to back up the grunts on the ground. This wasn't what I signed up for but it was my duty, the fighting was getting heavy. This new job put me in close to the action, but luckily, not so close I couldn't get in and out fast. As a demo tech I set up and cleared explosive ordinance, in addition to being on a recovery team for downed aircraft. I was in the same general area, at the same time as the movie "Platoon" is framed.

Any man who went through such intense, chaotic situations as we did will always have an emotional reaction to simple things like a helicopter flying overhead. It brings back a rush of vivid memories of things we'd like to forget. Like my friend Ralph who, while in a bunker, took a 122mm rocket motor in the head, or Joe who took my seat on a chopper and got a round through the floor on the next flight out to a crash site.

We learned to tell the difference in our sleep from a plane or chopper going out or limping back, patrols in trouble or just popping off rounds at shadows. There is an eerie beauty in the jungle at night as flares on parachutes drift with the wind. One night on a flight over North Vietnam we got zeroed-in on by ground fire. I looked down to see huge red tracer rounds—they seemed the size of basketballs-so close, streaking past my C-130 groaning to pull some altitude. We called in an air strike and the countryside lit up like the 4th of July as the F-4's, F-105's, and A-26's dove through the clouds. We often flew as bait, I found out later, to identify targets.

You never forget, or forgive things like that. Bomb craters were everywhere. In the dark, filled with water, you would drown in you feel in one. In "Platoon," the morning after the heavy firefight, enemy bodies are just bulldozed in. Mass graves and death everywhere were burned into our young minds. Friends and families of Vietnam vets should consider these things when vets say they are troubled.

In the theatre the night I went I saw several other vets knee-jerking to the action of the movie, unaware they were reacting. My wife Terry, nurse at a VA hospital, says the movie will be hard for many of the vets to see when it shows in the wards. I don't care to see it again myself.

But I told the mother of a vet friend of mine to see the movie so she would understand a little of what her son went through. He was in a platoon; I don't know how he will handle the movie.

Some conservative critics, like martial artist Chuck Norris, have said "Platoon" unfavorably portrays our troops. True, not everyone had the same experience in the war, but enough men had such similar experiences to that of "Platoon" that the army basically ceased to function. I remember sitting on my bunk late one night listening to Armed Forces Radio tell me that we would all be home by next Christmas. Bob Hope even came with Racquel Welsh to make it true. I got to the show early and sat in the front row, too. A couple of weeks later, after the surprise Tet offensive, I concluded, like many of my friends, that we were not winning this war—something was wrong. Now, Armed Forces Radio was saying we beat back the offensive, but most of us didn't really believe it by then. Besides, Bob hope wasn't there to clean up the bodies.

Like many vets I have stood before the Black Wall in Washington, DC with over 50,000 names finding friends. It came to me there, what size wall it will take to list the names of the one to two million Indochinese killed in the war. I four national trauma is so deep, I think now, how much greater must be theirs? I agree with liberal critics who have pointed out that neither Stone nor any over moviemaker has come close to showing the suffering of the war on both sides.

"Platoon" is excellent in capturing how we Americans saw the people of Indochina. I did my share of passing out candy to kids, digging wells in the dry season and visiting church missions but out troops dehumanized them among ourselves with racist remarks like gooks, dinks, slopes. We kept telling ourselves, the need us! As in the film, we mainly saw the dying and suffering of Americans.

For a long time I was in torment: why did we lost the war? Like many returning vets I threw away all my uniforms. I kept the medals because my father kept his from World War II. I went to a state university on the GI Bill, looking for answers. I came to the conclusion that Stone recounts in "Platoon." We went to war with a mythical theory of containing Communism at the DMZ. Being from the south, the DMZ was the Mason-Dixon line for me. This theory kept us from seeing the Vietnamese were actually fighting their own war of independence. It was 1776 for them. we fought hard, but they fought harder. We Johnson and Nixon, but they had their George Washington in ho Chi Minh. We had become the British redcoats while the National Liberation Front was their Green Mountain boys and the NVA was their Continentally Army. In world history, our two countries really have more in common than we realized.

Today, our Administration continues to see the world as an ideological crusade of West against East, causing them to justify support for things like apartheid, contras and cutting support for our workers and poor here without jobs. In the war, I saw our aid supplies given to the local military who lorded it over their own poor. My candy diplomacy was no match for the military who were taking over the farmers' land. I have noticed the countries where we fought communism or fascism and other local tyrants in the cause of democracy, are the same places our corporations rapidly move for cheap labor. There are no U.S. factories in Vietnam but I think there would be if we had won the war.

At the end of "Platoon" I think Stone says well why America's patriotic young men came back from this murky war throwing away our uniforms and dropping out of society, and why some have never made it back. The narrative says, in effect: we couldn't win; we fought among ourselves because we were the enemy. "Platoon" helps make clear that war is hell, especially if you're fighting for the wrong cause.

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