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We Were Soldiers

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After carefully analysing the film, it becomes apparent that this statement is essentially untrue. The film opens with a disembodied narrative from the voice of Joe Galloway, an American news reporter, sent over in the midst of the conflict to show the American people how men fought and died for their country. We hear him dedicate the story to all men who fought in the Vietnam War, from both sides. Implicitly, however the story is dedicated to the American men and the way in which the film is directed plays a part in conveying the Americans as righteous and patriotic and the Vietnamese as Ruthless and barbaric.

Firstly, the way in which the camera shots are taken during American deaths compared to the way in which the Vietnamese deaths are shown makes us, as an audience feel compassionate towards the Americans. For example, when Vietnamese deaths occur, the camera will almost instantly go to another shot, in contrast, when an American death occurs the camera is slowed down and we hear melancholic music played in the background. The focus is on the death and our attention is bought to the ‘patriotic’ American.

This creates the impression that an American loss is more important than a Vietnamese one. Early on in the film, we see the main characters humanized by humour and family and domestic scenes. This happens mainly for the American soldiers. Conversely, we only see one Vietnamese soldier humanized when he is writing a diary entry and we are shown a close up of his girlfriend. This soldier is later killed and the girlfriend is notified. Despite the inclusion of this, the number of times this happens with the American soldiers is incomparable

Throughout the film, we see domestic scenes of the American soldiers wives and children. We also see the women receiving telegrams notifying them of their husband’s deaths. At this point the focus is brought on the severity of their distress and the effect that the war is having on them. However it seems almost iniquitous that we only ever see one Vietnamese women being notified. It would appear that the scene in which this happens is strategically positioned at the end of the film, maybe to try to convince the audience that the film is dedicated to both sides.

Cinematography playing a part in the favouring of one side is evident in the scene in which the American soldiers leave home for battle. The scene is set in the middle of a dark field by a road. The lighting is very low and any light that is present comes from above. The camera is filming from below. When the American soldiers step into this light, it creates the effect of making the soldiers appear strong and tall. We never see the Vietnamese in a similar setting, possibly because they are already in the country in which the war takes place.

This again makes the American soldiers seem stronger as they have to travel a vast distance from their homes. During the battle scenes we see Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) portrayed as an excellent leader, calm under pressure and a patriotic fighter, as well as having seen him shown as a good father in previous domestic scenes. However, as the battle progresses we see the Vietnamese Colonel only in a few scenes, and we learn nothing of his domestic life, this could lessen the audiences compassion for him, and his possible death may not affect us as greatly.

He does not fight and appears to panic as the Americans get the advantage, due to Hal Moore being one step ahead of his plans and strategies, thus he is portrayed as being more intelligent than the Vietnamese Colonel. There is one scene, nevertheless, in which the Vietnamese Colonel is seen raising moral in a similar way to the American Colonel. He does this by telling them that they have fought well, and that any losses of men were not in vain because they learnt the Americans’ strengths and weaknesses.

The film itself has to be fit into the space of two to three hours; therefore time is telescoped so that we can see the essential events. This gives the director the perfect opportunity to only show those parts that portray the Americans as righteous and patriotic, it also allows him to show the Vietnamese as weak. This is another key feature of the film that goes to prove that the statement at the beginning of this essay is untrue. The American soldiers have a great technological advantage over the Vietnamese during the war.

This shows that the Vietnamese were less likely to defeat the Americans in the first place. When the Vietnamese break through the American lines, Colonel Hal Moore sends the signal for a ‘Broken Arrow’. This is a military command that instructs base camp to send air support and to do whatever they have to in order to regain their lines – even if men die from friendly fire; which is what does happen. When the only American-born Vietnamese soldier (fighting for the American side) is hit, a big issue is made of the fact that he was hit by friendly fire.

However when the napalm bombs hit any Vietnamese soldiers, they do not get any comparable tribute paid to them; it is almost dismissed as being unimportant. The American-born Vietnamese soldier fighting for the Americans is paid particular attention to throughout the film, more so than many of the other soldiers, while this is not a racial issue, I feel that it reinforces the idea of the Vietnamese are the brutal enemy and suggests the fact that it may be novel for the Americans to be fighting with a Vietnamese person.

In conclusion, I feel that the statement made at the beginning of the essay is for the most part untrue; while the film does in places attempt to convey both sides in the Vietnam War, the way in which the Americans are paid tribute far outweighs the negative way in which the Vietnamese soldiers are – after all, it is the victor that writes the history.

Read next:

Franco Zeffirelli’s Film Techniques – Romeo and Juliet
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