Hearts and Minds

The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.” — Gen. William Westmoreland

How does a person start trying to comprehend and cope with the losses of war? Were they ever necessary? Who wins when both sides can never see their children again? These are some of the questions that Hearts and Minds, an Academy Award winning documentary on the Vietnam War directed by Peter Davis, tries to answer.

The title refers to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s quote on how the ultimate result of the war will be decided by the hearts and minds of people who live there. Considered anti-war propaganda, this movie was controversial and shocking because it showed a harsh reality of what was being done in the name of freedom, and in vain. The very idea behind the Vietnam War was confusing, as it required the destruction of an entire country in order to save it.

Hearts and Minds was composed using both older and newer footage, as well as interviews. Scene after scene, this documentary contrasts the natures of the US military officials, the American public, the American soldiers, and the Vietnamese innocents. It contains gut-wrenching images of grieving families. One such scene is about a woman who has to be restrained so that she doesn’t jump into the grave of a soldier. On the other side of the spectrum, General William Westmoreland says that “the Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner”.

Getting angry yet? The movie also includes images of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, a nine year old girl running naked on a road after being severely burned by a napalm attack. Two of her cousins were killed in the same attack. In America, on the other side, a dead soldier’s parents are convinced that the death of their child was justified by duty. A duty to what, the film asks, but it does so silently, leaving the conclusion to the viewer by juxtaposing contrasting scenes and utilizing the power of their contrasts.

The amount of racism and a complete lack of empathy is mind-boggling. There’s a scene where an air force pilot tells children that the Vietnamese people are primitive, and that the country would be pretty without them.

There is some criticism about the predominantly one-sided portrayal of the atrocities of war. Watching it, it feels unreal that so much pain comes from a pointless war. The American soldiers are just boys who know that they should be fighting for something, but not what that is. Those boys will be deeply wounded by the things they witness, both physically and psychologically.

Is it really a lack of balance that makes viewers feel this way? Could it be that it’s just so difficult for us to cope with the guilt that we try to find something to criticize, something that would make these events a fantasy, a product of propaganda and clever editing, instead of cold, hard history?

Hearts and Minds dares to confront the involvement of the United States in a war that they had no place in from the start. It uses undeniable sources to show the real consequences of it, and it remains relevant as we plunge into more and more conflicts, never learning from our history.

It’s rarely those that declare war that suffer its consequences.

There’s a deep division between those who believe the Vietnam War was justified, and those who believe the price of it was just too high. Depending on where you stand, this movie could either confirm your opinion or offer you a different perspective. In both cases, we believe it’s an important movie to see, as it challenges the earlier one-dimensional portrayal of both sides.

IMDb 4.1 /5
4.1 out of 5
Rotten Tomatoes 4.4 /5
4.4 out of 5
Rogue Cinema 4.3 /5
4.3 out of 5

Combined average

4.27out of 5

4.27 out of 5
Category Documentary

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