Tet and Basra, Hearts and Minds
In “Hearts and Minds, Again” —his Wonder Land column in today’s The Wall Street Journal—Daniel Henninger raises some provocative points.
Mr. Henninger writes about the importance —and the importance of watching— the 1974 Oscar winner Hearts and Minds:
The Democratic left never apologized for its antiwar politics. It abhorred Clintonian centrism. The newest generation of “progressives,” unabashedly descended from the San Francisco Democrats, wants the party rooted in the worldview and attitudes that came to prominence during Vietnam.
One can rediscover that worldview by watching the Academy Award winning 1974 documentary about Vietnam, “Hearts & Minds.” This film, by director Peter Davis and producer Bert Schneider, stands as a useful, explicit demarcation for an American political culture that broke in half during the 1960s and ’70s.
Toward the film’s end, Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, casts off the preceding generation when he tells the camera that Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all “lied.” He adds: “We weren’t on the wrong side” in Vietnam. “We are the wrong side.” By this, the movie makes clear, is meant in part that America had become dangerously enamored with a culture rooted in martial values. The problem isn’t the military, which is inevitable. The problem is militarism.
While accepting his Oscar, the film’s co-producer Bert Schneider said: “It’s ironic that we’re here at a time just before Vietnam is about to be liberated.” He read a “Greetings of Friendship to all American People” from the North Vietnamese government. Frank Sinatra, the show’s host that year, came back and read a letter from Bob Hope on behalf of the Motion Picture Academy stating that: “We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry that they had to take place this evening.” Oddly enough, I saw Hearts and Minds about four months ago. It had slowly worked its way up my Netflix queue and arrived in my mailbox one day. It is every bit as tendentious as it is passionate, and I have to confess that I may have watched the last fifteen or twenty minutes at frame speed x8. But I think that Mr. Henninger has it exactly right: it should be viewed as an instructional video for anyone who wants to understand the reasons that Vietnam and its aftermath have still not worked their painful ways through America’s body politic.