Friendly Fire: American Images of the Vietnam War

Friendly Fire: American Images of the Vietnam War

Friendly Fire: American Images of the Vietnam War

Friendly Fire: American Images of the Vietnam War

Synopsis

Hundreds of memoirs, novels, plays, and movies have been devoted to the American war in Vietnam. In spite of the great variety of mediums, political perspectives and the degrees of seriousness with which the war has been treated, Katherine Kinney argues that the vast majority of these works share a single story: that of Americans killing Americans in Vietnam. Friendly Fire, in this instance, refers not merely to a tragic error of war, it also refers to America's war with itself during the Vietnam years. Starting from this point, this book considers the concept of "friendly fire" from multiple vantage points, and portrays the Vietnam age as a crucible where America's cohesive image of itself is shattered--pitting soldiers against superiors, doves against hawks, feminism against patriarchy, racial fear against racial tolerance. Through the use of extensive evidence from the film and popular fiction of Vietnam (i.e. Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July, Didion's Democracy, O'Brien's Going After Cacciato, Rabe's Sticks and Bones and Streamers), Kinney draws a powerful picture of a nation politically, culturally, and socially divided, and a war that has been memorialized as a contested site of art, media, politics, and ideology.

Excerpt

At the end of Oliver Stone's 1986 film, Platoon , the protagonist, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), offers the quintessential statement of what I call the trope of friendly fire. In a voiceover Taylor tells us, “I think now looking back that we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves and the enemy was within us. ” In Platoon , this story of Americans killing Americans in Vietnam is both literal and allegorical. At the heart of the film is the epic struggle between the evil sergeant Barnes, the figure of the war's self-consuming violence, and the regenerative promise of Elias, the Christ-like figure of goodness sacrificed on the battlefields of Vietnam. The plot demands that Barnes kill Elias and that Chris Taylor, in turn, kill Barnes. Platoon is quite simply the story of the Manichaean struggle for a young man's soul. Despite this overtly symbolic structure, the film has been often praised for its realistic depiction of the war. Tellingly, not only is Platoon's allegorical structure defined by this trope of friendly fire, but its most realistic gesture is shaped by it as well.

Framing the final deadly struggle between Taylor and Barnes is an apocalyptic battle at the height of the Tet Offensive. When the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) overruns the American encampment, the unit captain calls in an air strike on his own position. “Be advised, ” he tells the bomber pilot over the radio, “we have zips in the wire. ” When the pilot responds that they have struck as close as they dare to the American position, the captain makes a terrible decision: “For the record, it's my call. Dump everything you've got left on my pos[ition]. I say again. Expend all remaining within my perimeter. It's a lovely fucking war. Bravo 6 out. ”The captain then hangs up, puts on his helmet, and waits for the devastating power of American bombs to fall. The captain's intentional use of friendly fire figures the real-

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