The American Film Industry & Vietnam

Lost illusions and gung-ho patriotism have both featured prominently in Hollywood’s reaction to the Vietnam War, but not to date some of the more unpleasant aspects of the conflict.

During most of America's wars the film industry made a positive contribution to the war effort. This was achieved in a variety of ways: explaining the causes of the war, revealing the evil nature of the enemy, the sacrifice of Americans and the importance of the home front. Feature films also created a realistic image of the battlefield for non-combatants, often using actual combat footage for added reality. The industry, then, provided in explanation of America's wars for the public and acted as an unofficial government agency.

In 1917, and again in 1941, there was little need for government intervention in the film industry for its own reflection of consensus opinion would ensure whole-hearted support for national policy. The Korean War was dealt with in much the same terms as the World Wars and if that conflict was ideologically less clearly defined than the late, great, anti-fascist struggle, the House of Representatives Un-American Committee and the Hollywood witch-hunts of the period made dissent impossible. Even if films had been made which questioned American involvement, they would have found little support in the market place; traditional values and belief in the 'American Dream' were still too deeply entrenched.

However, soon after America became involved in Vietnam, new forces began to affect the film industry and prevent it from operating in its usual wartime role – justifying, explaining and encouraging the war effort. It might of course be argued that war films had lost their appeal by the mid-1960s, but even a cursory glance through the 'filmographies' reveals that over fifty major feature films on the subject were made between 1963 and 1973. The action war film was still good business, as long as the war was not Vietnam. This, however, was a lesson that the studios learned only through experience; and which led to the industry developing a variety of oblique strategies for dealing with the conflict in South-East Asia.

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