Not Your Usual Vacation

June 4, 2012
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A gloomy mist floats across the jungle floor and all you can hear is the crunch of dead leaves under your army boots and the sound of your platoon’s nervous steady pant. Look around and you’re under a humid rainforest canopy. You’re in an environment that you’ve never experienced. This isn’t a vacation. Oddly shaped shadows in the weaves of the distant jungle strikes you with fear.

I took this imagery from the movie “Platoon” which is created to show what it was like to fight in the Vietnam War. The writers of “Platoon” interviewed a substantial number of Vietnam War veterans in order to make the story as authentic as possible. We watched this movie in Social Studies to better understand what soldiers went through in Vietnam. These soldiers experiences discomforts ranging from environmental dangers to the combat tactics of the Vietcong.

You can imagine going to another country could mean different risks in wild life. I don’t mean a road trip to Canada, I mean half way across the globe. In South East Asia, dangerous bugs and animals often got in the way of soldiers travels and made them sick. The very first scene of the movie showed the main character (Charlie Sheen) being infested by army ants. I remember going to Belize over Spring break for a school trip, and how we not only learned about the dangers of Belize jungles but jungles all over the globe; such as Vietnam. One species we studied were the army ants like those in the movie. Army ants, with their large numbers, can take down small mammals. Imagine you’re taking a nap on your base and you wake up to find ants devouring your arm. But the sheer wildlife of Vietnam was the last of soldier’s problems.

Troops encountered the difficult methods by the Vietnamese to fight the war. The Vietcong used Guerrilla warfare which meant they had brutal ambushes and hit and run scenarios. This stress was dumped on average people who became soldiers. A lot of them fell prey to drugs to cope with their stress.

After watching Platoon our class discussed the moral of the movie and concluded that it was a very unorthodox portrayal of the war. It showed realistic aspects of war and its disadvantages. I would seriously put into consideration going to war because it may not be what you expect. But most people who were sent to Vietnam were drafted against their will. My great uncle was drafted for Vietnam and I was taken aback when I realized he experienced some of the same down-falls shown in the credible “Platoon”. He suffered from post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) and often had war flashbacks and hallucinations. My Great Uncle was forced to live a life he never intended. I really wish I had gotten a chance to meet him but he passed away years ago and I only get the occasional talk with my mom about him. But I still have the same pain in my heart about his misfortunes as if I had known him all my life. As I learned about Vietnam I discovered thousands of people had the same terrible reactions as my uncle when they arrived from war.

During the Vietnam War citizens began to grow bothersome with the bad effects war had on society worldwide. The public questioned the government’s intentions; asking why we were still involved with Vietnam even though the spread of communism in the country seemed unstoppable. People got false answers about the war until a man named Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to the public. I had the honor of seeing Daniel Ellsberg at my high school; he spoke about his past and the Pentagon Papers. The papers comprised a 7,000 page document leaked to the press. They included evidence that there was no plan to end the war, and that many officials believed it was “unwinnable”. They also revealed evidence that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was misrepresented to the public and to Congress. The incident started when two American destroyers were off the coast of South East Asia when the Vietcong supposedly shot a missile and hit one of the destroyers. In response the U.S hammered North Vietnam with bomb raids. The Pentagon Papers and reporters of high end newspapers revealed that no missile marks were on the destroyers, which means the bombs we dropped were simply a military tactic to send a message to North Vietnam. Being published in 1971 these Pentagon Papers contributed to the public’s sense of the credibility gap, and the idea that the government was not telling the public the truth.

Since the late 1960’s to the present day, people have finally realized that war not only generates mistrust between government officials and the citizens of that country, but they also start to understand that the national budget can be spent on other societal aspects besides militarized ones.

If I were to be asked to join the military I would seriously do a substantial amount of research and put into consideration the disadvantages war can have on the world and me. For those who are unsure about the subject of war, I hope you take my findings into consideration to do your own research. Then ask yourself to imagine… “A gloomy mist floats across the jungle floor and all you can hear is the crunch of dead leaves and the sound of your platoon’s nervous breathing.”

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