Fields of Fire may be the greatest novel ever written about the Vietnam War. However, because it is pro-American, pro-military, and pro-Marine, Hollywood won’t touch it.
I haven’t yet seen The Hurt Locker. My military friends who have seen the movie tell me it’s a decent, albeit unrealistic and over-the-top depiction of a military Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit.
“The main guy’s a cowboy, who wouldn’t last one day in Iraq, assuming he ever got there,” said one Army friend, a senior non-commissioned officer. However, he told me, at least we’re the good guys.
Showing American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines as good guys is no small accomplishment in Hollywood these days, given the industry’s longstanding propensity to depict the United States as a malicious international villain. Still, it is asking too much of Hollywood to produce at least one great movie about today’s Iraq and Afghan wars?
Sadly, it probably is asking too much. Just ask Senator James Webb, Democrat from Virginia. The highly decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War published, in 1978, what is widely recognized as perhaps that war’s greatest novel, Fields of Fire.
Yet, Webb never succeeded in getting his novel made into a movie. But plenty of far less captivating stories — and certainly plenty more negative depictions of the Vietnam War and Vietnam vets — have made it to the silver screen.
What accounts for this discrepancy? Simple. Hollywood is highly politicized and can’t fathom supporting any of “the Bushs’ wars” — i.e., the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the Afghan War — nor the dreaded Vietnam War.
Hell, we might as well throw Harry Truman’s Korean War into the mix, too, since I can’t recall the last time Hollywood ever celebrated our Korean War vets.
You have to go back to World War II, in fact, to find an American war that Hollywood supports. Thus you have movies like Saving Private Ryan being made even in contemporary times. (Yes, 1998 is part and parcel of our contemporary culture — though at 12 years old, Saving Private Ryan is fast becoming part of our cultural past.)
Even World War II veterans get the full Hollywood treatment nowadays. Flags of Our Fathers, for instance, depicts our military veterans as the victims of a crass and shallow commercialized American culture.
But most American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines don’t think of themselves as victims. Nor do most of our veterans. They think of themselves as good and decent people who have answered a higher calling: a calling to service, and a calling to honor.
Hollywood doesn’t have to like our servicemen and women; but can it not see the honor of their calling, the glory of their service, and the heroism of their sacrifice? Their stories deserve to be told. America’s stories deserve to be told.
Just ask Senator Webb, which shouldn’t be difficult. Webb’s a Democrat, after all, and he’s worked in Hollywood. Ask Webb whether the Marines who served with him in Vietnam have stories worth telling. But ask him after you’ve read his searing and unforgettable novel, Fields of Fire.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter.