Vietnam Veterans, Hollywood, and the Persian Gulf War
Harvey, K, Vietnam Veterans, Hollywood, and the Persian Gulf War, When the Soldiers Return: November 2007 Conference Proceedings, Brisbane, pp. 105-113. ISBN 9781864999273 (2009) [Refereed Conference Paper]
In the decades following the lengthy American involvement in the Vietnam War, the treatment of returned American soldiers from that conflict has been the subject of a wide ranging and controversial public discourse. In critical, fictional, and popular terms, the 'image' of the Vietnam veteran came to symbolise public sentiment about the failures of the war, and the legacies it imposed on American politics, society, and culture. Hollywood cinema had responded in kind to the changing public mood over the conflict; its portrayal of Vietnam veterans in the late 1970s, and throughout the 1980s, reflects a society that was, in various ways, attempting to deal with defeat in Vietnam. By the time of the impending crisis in the Persian Gulf in 1990, public debate over American involvement in that looming conflict often centered on a particularly striking image of the Vietnam veteran. In stark contrast to images of the 'rehabilitated' veteran popularised in certain popular films, public discussion of Vietnam veterans in 1990 focused on a particularly negative scenario that had been developed in some popular and critical discourses since the mid-1970s. This scenario implied that Vietnam veterans were treated poorly, and inexcusably, upon their return home from the war. Essentially, this scenario of poor treatment was raised in 1990 to provide moral significance to pro- or anti-war agendas, yet it has deeper implications. If Americans argued that they would not repeat the mistakes of the previous generation in failing to support its soldiers, collective responsibility for the supposed mistreatment of Vietnam veterans is evaded. This paper ties together the development of popular images of veterans in Hollywood films, with the way such representations were played out at social and political levels in 1990 and 1991.