Thinking About the ’60s: Thawing the Souls on Ice

GOOD RIDDANCE, Viet­nam! — a likely sentiment for the groundpounders whose war experiences have been regurgitated on film. Enter the most recent of this set, Good Morning, Vietnam, a movie that wants to be comically thera­peutic about our dark affair there. The humor is as skittish as the war was; Rob­in Williams’s sidekick is a black named Garlick, whose role as Williams’s foil is ultimately blunted by his shuffling caricature. It’s no wonder you could sniff out the tokenism like nuoc roam (fermented fish) in the recent spate of Vietnam War mov­ies, though the colorized war story is un­der our very noses. Not only are blacks out of focus in these ‘new-wave’ films but no screenplay has yet dared to chron­icle the bizarre war stories of black troops. Not Oliver Stone’s autobiographi­cal Platoon, with its vapid treatment of blacks; not Stanley Kubrick’s touted Full Metal Jacket, which may have actually suspended belief in the fact that black heroes existed in Vietnam. So nothing’s changed — Hollywood has a history of revisionism. The other night during a hard rain I suffered a rare flashback, an image as vivid as lightning. Amid the cacophony of a midnight enemy raid near Tay Ninh, I’d realized I was the token black in my platoon. Was this sharp memory the result of Post-Vietnam Stress Syndrome, the kind that has been induced by the recent bar­rage of Vietnam War films? So what did you do in the war, Daddy? Well, it might depend on how blacks were typecast into various roles in com­mercial dramatizations of the war. I wish, at least, I’d had a line like ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.’ Instead, I was lost amid the surrealism of battle fatigue in Apocalypse Now. Shooting my­self in the foot was the only way I could avoid extensive combat in Platoon. And I overdosed on acerbic wit and trench war­fare as a medic in Hamburger Hill, so I couldn’t fully articulate my problem with Whitey. My most prideful experience, though, was in Full Metal Jacket while persuading a Vietnamese prostitute to give me a ‘short-time,’ I had to flash my genitals in the middle of the street to prove a myth. As for Rambo, come now, you know blacks ‘don’t have those neces­sities,’ according to prevalent racial gospel. But what did you do in the war, Daddy? …”

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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