Thursday, October 09, 2014


It must have been 1987 when I saw Hamburger Hill - as a student in Aalst, in one of those two cinemas there, not far from the centre. Have forgotten its name. The Palace? Whatever.

Anyway, this was three years after Platoon, and at the time the latter struck me as by far the most authentic.

Over the years I have changed my opinion.

The following exerpt shows a squad of Screaming Eagle paras descending the slopes of said 'Hamburger Hill' after the umpteenth fruitless attempt to take the summit:

HH's director was John Irvin. Looking back now, it is clear Irvin's sympathies were far more with the US military than Stone's. No phoney baloney bromides about 'the enemy is inside us'. I recall Irvin saying in a TV interview shortly after the release something to the extent of "The enemy was the VC, the NVA, period", and I guess if you had asked any trooper back then, he would have agreed - with the exception of John F*cking Kerry, of course.

That said, I do have my issues with regards to the battle of Dong Ap Bia, which is how the Vietnamese know Hamburger Hill (FYI, in straight army parlance it was Hill 937, a dominating feature in the A Shau valley). The heroism of the units involved is without question. The wisdom of the troop deployment is not. Wars are about winning, but military commanders have a moral obligation to find out the cheapest way to achieve that aim. Which is why, say, a Montgomery, is more sympathetic to me than a Patton. Patton was a far more flamboyant character than Monty was, and therefore more likely to be perceived as a jolly good chap. By contrast, Monty was someone who seemed to possess a natural talent for inducing chagrin.

But Patton was someone who was prepared to send troopers to certain death to make a show, as the story of Captain Baum proves. Check that out for yourself, it's about a US Army captain who in the last weeks of the war penetrated the German lines in order to fetch Patton's son-in-law, a certain John Waters if memory serves, from a POW camp 100 or so kloms behind the frontline. The attempt 'scheitered', Baum's entire task force was destroyed and the surviving members sent to the POW camp themselves, and all of that to set a guy free who would have been liberated in a matter of weeks anyway.

That's playing with soldier's lives in my book, and I have no good word for that. Monty would never have done that.

Anyway, the above fragment for some reason has continued to capture my imagination, if anything for it shows that back then already, Ted Kennedy was a defeatist ass. Good performance of Dylan McDermott as Sgt Adam Frantz too. Strange how this guy's movie career seems to have faltered after that.


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