During this century the United States has fought four major wars--World Wars I and II, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War, by far the longest and most divisive of these actions, forced Americans to confront a series of national moral and political dilemmas. It challenged the role of the United States in the world and raised grave questions about how wars should be conducted. The issue of a citizen's obligation to his country during wartime became an acute moral problem for many Americans.
The decade long Vietnam War(1964 – 75) was called by some observers „Johnson’s War“, but President Kennedy had significantly deepened U.S. involvement in Vietnam, where the North assisted the Vietcong in the South to advance the reunification of the country under a Communist government. It was Lyndon B. Johnson who Americanized the war.
For the U.S. proved to be the most damaging one they had ever fought. Washington threw its young men and national wealth into a war it could not and did not win in a country it did not understand. More than 58 000 Americans and some 1, 5 million Vietnamese died; civilian deaths in Cambodia and Laos numbered in millions; it cost the U.S. at least $170 billion and billions more would be paid out in veterans’ benefits. The nation suffered inflation, retreat from reform, political schism, violations of civil liberties, abuse of executive power. The post-traumatic stress disorder befell thousands of the 2, 8 million Vietnam veterans, making their lives a living hell (* Norton: 2001).And all this for what? The “arrogance of power” made Americans like Johnson believe they could run the world.
Growing numbers of people were troubled by the Americanization of the war, especially as television coverage brought it into their homes every night. Veterans publicized their deteriorating health. Feature films on the subject became very popular. Movies like Coming Home(1978), The Deer Hunter(1978), Apocalypse Now(1979), Platoon(1986) and Born on the 4th of July(1989) showed the soldiers’ Vietnam, but did they show also the real war as it was, or did they only present the “convenient” side of the conflict? People tend to close their eyes when things are not as they would like them to be; in the film industry this is especially true.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now, celebrated as maybe the best Vietnam War movie ever made, doesn’t come at all near to reality. It is not even a film about war, much more so an observation of human madness. The conflict was merely used as a background for the story and the way it is presented is outrageous. All the time you see soldiers doing everything else but fighting a war. They drink and play cards, have fun with the Playboy girls, and from time to time go to blow up some villages on the coast, so they could surf undisturbed. You can easily get the feeling they’re thinking of war as a peculiar sport that lifts the spirit, never taking it seriously. It is like a joke, and even more so when a triumphant melody accompanies the helicopters shooting down at both, civilians and Vietcong on the ground alike, never bothering about the innocent. The peak of this madness when the whole scene explodes and a Colonel, with a broad smile on his face, says: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”