Sound of Silence

Well, there’s only one thing I can say about the war in Viet Nam.
Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.

– Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) at speaker podium. (Forrest Gump, the movie — used here under US Copyright Fair Use law)

In the 1994 box office smash and critically acclaimed movie “Forrest Gump” there is a re-enactment of the massive May, 1970 Anti-War Rally, at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting pond, on the Mall in Washington, DC. In the movie, the eponymously named lead character is inserted into the speakers’ program, and he gives a short speech. 

Most of the speech was not heard by the crowd.  Movie viewers didn’t hear it either.  That’s because – per script – the sound system was disrupted by an anti-anti-war protestor, disguised as a part of the security detail, just before Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, stepped up to the microphone. [Forrest Gump’s unheard speech before the Reflecting Pond anti-war rally, in DC, with the whole scene. — early link was taken down, I suppose for copyright issues.]

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything important to say. The words above are what Tom Hanks claims to have said into the dead mike.

I recently came across some old essay notes that reminded me what happened when Wes Studi – a Viet Nam war Veteran, accomplished actor, and full Cherokee Indian – spoke at the 2018 Academy Awards.  The reaction of “the Academy” was if he hadn’t spoken at all.  Hardly louder than crickets.  He was only asking for recognition for films that honor those who fought for freedom around the world – especially when it wasn’t at home.

Much of the US population dealt with Viet Nam war veterans rather disrespectfully, especially from 1968 until about 1980.  Instead of treating them as youthful wide-eyed 18 to 20 year olds, sent off to do their country’s dirty work in a proxy war of the Cold War era, they were spat upon and derided as “baby killers.”  This was most unfair.

Hollywood and the media treated them rather shabbily and ungraciously as well, usually depicting them as damaged goods and misfits.  This is well-documented, and doesn’t even touch upon the disturbing “Full Metal Jacket” and “Coming Home.”  From last year’s Oscars … it seem the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still feels that way.  [I stopped watching awards shows a while ago].

I touched on this in an earlier essay, but it was longer and the treatment of Viet Nam vets, particularly with regard to Hollywood, was part of a broader context.

I don’t have much more to add. But: Now that we have learned that the Pentagon has been lying about progress in Afghanistan for 18 years, we can justifiably cite the refrain of the 1970 protest at the Lincoln Reflecting pond: it’s time to bring our boys home.  Dying in Afghanistan it appears is as worthless as dying in Viet Nam. 

Staying in a war 6,000 miles away for 18 years? “You break it, you bought it” is not an intelligent foreign policy. Stupid is as stupid does. [H/T to Rep Barbara Lee (CA), the only person in either House to vote against the Afghanistan War Resolutions (2001), which she did on the basis that it was too broad, and had no “end game.” Even Ron Paul voted “Yea.” Astonishing.]

By the way, Hanks’ co-star in Forrest Gump, Gary Sinese, is doing wonderful things for veterans and first responders through his actions, words and foundation. Bravo, sir.

That’s all I have to say about that. 

Joe Girard © 2019

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[1] Screen Play for “Forrest Gump.”

7 thoughts on “Sound of Silence”

  1. Steve Rolfe

    Politics and war are inseparable. Clausewitz “War is the continuation of politics”.

    But, in both Afghanistan and Vietnam the politics was far more about what was going on inside the United States than whatever was going on at the sites of conflict. Our leaders in both parties served us badly. Watching Ken Burns “Vietnam” is a frightening statement about how almost every major decision was really about the needs of the person making the decision and not about the execution of the war.

    But, we should be careful not to criticize only our leaders and not accept responsibility ourselves for the confusing mandates and misguided loyalties. Why did most Americans support these wars and glorify the warriors when there actually been a lot of information the neither war was actually moving toward any measure of success.

    I recently read a book called “Supreme Command” by Eliot A. Cohen. His politics are far more conservative than mine, but his logic of how to wage war makes complete sense. His theory is war is too important to leave to the generals. That only a completely committed president or prime minister can make the most significant judgments for what, how and when to wage the most important aspects of a war. He supports his theory through telling the stories of Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben Gurion about how they were intimate in fighting the war and understood that politics was completely intertwined with the fighting. Cohen criticizes how America waged war in Vietnam, Iraq (both times) and Afghanistan through divorcing executive leadership from the execution of the wars. All ended up achieving none of the hoped for results leaving the same problems festering that were there before the wars started.

    Today we have contracted out our military to a small group of people with little connection to the majority of American society. For most of us the direct cost in treasure and lives is nearly invisible. It is a recipe for failed wars and worse the inability of our leaders to take the tough steps at bringing the troops home when a few (too many) Americans criticize our leaders for being weak for doing the right thing.

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