[Marxism] Hearts and Minds

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jun 17 10:54:45 MDT 2004

NY Times, June 17, 2004
Finding Echoes of Iraq War in a Film About Vietnam

How many times has the phrase "hearts and minds" been used in the past 
year about the war in Iraq? And how many people know that the phrase 
goes back to 1974, when "Hearts and Minds," a documentary about the 
United States' involvement in Vietnam, was released? And who remembers 
that the movie title reaches back a decade further, to a speech by 
President Lyndon B. Johnson? "The ultimate victory," he said of the war, 
"will depend on the hearts and the minds of the people who live there." 
Sound familiar?

This week a newly restored print of "Hearts and Minds" was screened at 
the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International in Manhattan, as part of 
the Monday Nights With Oscar film series put on by the Academy of Motion 
Picture Arts and Sciences. Peter Davis, the film's director and 
co-producer (with Bert Schneider), was there to talk about it. The house 
was packed and, from the sound of it, pretty upset.

On screen was a parade of presidents, from Eisenhower to Nixon, talking 
about the light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam. There was J. Edgar 
Hoover doing his strange math on the growing Communist threat. There was 
Walt W. Rostow, Kennedy and Johnson's adviser, berating the interviewer 
(Mr. Davis) for asking the "sophomoric" question "Why do they need us?"

There was one veteran after another, comparing bombing to singing an 
aria or playing a game. And there were the bewildered Vietnamese 
watching their homes torched with Zippo lighters and railing 
pathetically against Nixon's bombs: "What did I do to you that you come 
here and kill my daughter? She was only a little schoolgirl."

"Hearts and Minds" won an Academy Award for best documentary feature of 
1974. Instead of an acceptance speech, Mr. Schneider, whom Mr. Davis 
called the Michael Moore of his day, read a statement from the 
provisional Vietnamese government. After Mr. Schneider spoke, Frank 
Sinatra (reading a statement written by Bob Hope) apologized for it.

Today the film has not lost any of its punch. Now the punch is packed 
with new meaning. "Quagmire," "hearts and minds" and "liberating the 
people" are all back. A little more than a year ago, Ari Fleischer, 
President Bush's press secretary, said, "Slowly but surely, the hearts 
and minds of the Iraqi people are being won."

Mr. Davis said after the screening, "We were lied to in both wars." The 
Gulf of Tonkin incident was used to justify deeper American involvement 
in Vietnam, he said, just as fears about weapons of mass destruction 
were used to justify invading Iraq. And as with Vietnam, Mr. Davis said, 
"we did not trouble ourselves to learn about Iraq," or at least the 
policy makers did not. "It is a short trip between Saigon and Baghdad," 
he said.

One of the longest discussions on Monday was about a scene from "Hearts 
and Minds" in which two G.I.'s visit a Vietnamese brothel. One of them 
twists a woman's nipples like knobs on a radio and jokes about giving 
her hickeys "where she can't hide 'em." He reaches across her naked body 
and says to his buddy, "If my chick at home could see this, she would 

Brennon Jones, who did research for the film, called the scene "the most 
important segment." The soldiers, he said, "believe they're living in a 
parallel universe where morals don't apply." And it is happening all 
over again, he observed. Just look, he said, at the soldiers giving the 
thumbs up over naked prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Richard Pearce, the film's 
photographer, who was sitting in the audience, said that when he watched 
the movie on Monday, he was amazed by how naïve those men were about 
being filmed.

The scene almost did not make the cut. Mr. Davis said the editors, Lyn 
Zee Klingman, who later married Mr. Pearce, and Susan Martin wanted to 
take it out because they were disgusted by it. They changed their minds.

Mr. Davis said the reason he wanted to keep the scene was that that was 
"the way it is" when a country becomes a battleground. It happened in 
France during World War I, he said, adding that that was what the song 
"Mademoiselle From Armentières" was all about.

Those in the crowd seemed angrier than Mr. Davis. They wanted to talk 
about the land mines left behind and the long-term effects of Agent 
Orange on the children. They wanted to know what had become of the 
bombers and pilots. And how is it, they asked, that after 30 years the 
United States finds itself in yet another quagmire?

"How could this happen again?" someone in the audience asked. "Who would 
you indict?" The answer, Mr. Davis said, is that historical memory came 
to an abrupt halt not long ago. "The Vietnam syndrome kept us from doing 
this for three decades," he said. "Then 9/11 gave us the new Communism: 
terror. That has justified everything. People used to say, `There are 
Communists everywhere.' Now they say, `There are terrorists everywhere.' "


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