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See handouts on Spartacus and Paths of Glory for details of SK's life and work. No direct war experience but an abiding interest in how war affects individuals.
Bleak, short and violent book (compare Hobbes' description of human life in Leviathan (1651) written during English Civil War - "nasty, brutish and short") about Marine combat reporter William "Joker" Doolittle, basis for Kubrick's FMJ (second half). GH served as combat correspondent with First Marine Division in VN. Novel divided into three parts each with an interesting title quote.
Quote which opens entire novel: Walt Whitman, "Adieu to a Soldier" from collection of Civil War poems Drum Taps (1871):
Adieu, O soldier, You of the rude campaigning, (which we shared,) The rapid march, the life of the camp, The hot contention of opposing fronts, the long manoeuvre, Red battles with their slaughter, the stimulus, the stong terrific game, Spell of all brave and manly hearts, the trains of time through you and the like of you all fill'd, With war and war's expression. Adieu, dear comrade, Your mission is fulfill'd - but I, more warlike, Myself and this contentious soul of mine, Still on our campaigning bound, Through untried roads with ambushes opponents lines, Through many a sharp defeat and many a crisis, often baffled, Here marching, ever marching on, a war fight out - aye here, To fiercer, weightier battles give expression.
Part 1 "The Spirit of the Bayonet" quote from Michael Herr, Dispatches (1977) - "I think that Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods". Deals with basic training at Parris Island. Very close to movie. Quote p. 32 on Joker talking to his rifle on graudation:
I feel cold and alone. I am not alone. All over Parris Island there are thousands and thousands of us. And, all around the world, hundreds of thousands. I try to sleep.... In my rack, I pull my rifle into my arms. She talks to me. Words come out of the wood and metal and flow into my hands. She tells me what to do. My rifle is a solid instrument of death. My rifle is black steel. Our human bodies are bags of blood, easy to puncture and quick to drain, but our hard tools of death cannot be broken. I hold my weapon at port arms, gently, as though she were a holy relic, a magic wand wrought with interlocking pieces of silver and iron, with a teak-wood stock, golden bullets, a crystal bolt, jewels to sight with. My weapon obeys me. I'll hold Vanessa, my rifle. I'll hold her. I'll just hold her for a little while. I will hide in this dark dream for as long as I can. Blood pours out of the barrel of my rifle and flows up on to my hands. The blood moves. The blood breaks into living fragments. Each fragment is a spider. Millions and millions of tiny red spiders of blood are crawling up my arms, across my face, into my mouth... Silence. In the dark, a hundred men are breathing in unison. I look at Cowboy, then at Private Barnard. They understand. Cold grins of death are frozen on their faces. They nod. The newly minted Marines in my platoon stand to attention, horizontal in their racks, their weapons at port arms. The Marines wait, a hundred young werewolves with guns in their hands. I lead: This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine...
Part 2 "Body Count" - quotes from Allen Ginsberg, Howl - "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked"; and William S. Burroughs -"A pschychotic is a guy who's just found out what's going on". Joker in VN at time of Tet 1968 as correspondent. Quote p. 70-1 singing Mickey Mouse Song after killing and burying VC rats (compare rat scene in AQWF and "King and Country"):
We bury the enemy rats with full military honors - we scoop out a shallow grave and we dump them in. We sing: So come along and sing our song And join our fam-i-ly... M.I.C..... K.E.Y.... M.O.U.S.E. Mickey Nouse, Mickey Mouse "Dear God," says Mr. Payback, looking up into the ugly sky. "These rats died like Marines. Cut them some slack. Ah-men." We all say, "Ah-men."
Part 3 "Grunts" - quote from Thoreau, Civil Disobedience - "Behold a Marine, a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, buried under arms with funereal accompaniments...". Joker reassigned to combat duty at Khe Sanh. Quote p. 175-6 law of jungle is that more Marines go out than return, war is a black crab feeding in one's brain. Joker says:
Today I am a sergeant of Marines. I laugh and laugh. The squad freezes with fear because the sniper is laughing with me. The sniper and I are laughing together and we know that sooner or later the squad will be laughing, too. Sooner or later the squad will surrender to the black design of the jungle. We live by the law of the jungle, which is that more Marine go in than come out. There it is. Nobody asks us why we're smiling because nobody wants to know. The ugly that civilians choose to see in war focuses on spilled guts. To see human beings clearly, that is ugly. To carry death in your smile, that is ugly. War is ugly because the truth can be ugly and war is very sincere. Ugly is the face of Victor Charlie, the shapeless black face of death touching each of your brothers with the clean stroke of justice. Those of us who survive to be short-timers will fly the Freedom Bird back to hometown America. But home won't be there anymore and we won't be there either. Upon each of our brains the war has lodged itslef, a black crab feeding. The jungle is quiet now. The sniper has stopped laughing. The squad is silent, waiting for orders. Soon they will understand. Soon they won't be afraid. The dark side will surface and they'll be like me; they'll be Marines. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
Acclaimed journalist who wrote post-modern account, Dispatches (1978), of VN.
Title "Full Metal Jacket" refers to type of round Pyle loads into rifle when he kills Sgt Hartman and commits suicide - 7.62 mm high-velocity copper-jacketed bullet (Hasford, p. 30).
One critic described film as "a perversely fascinating movie - one that answers no questions, offers no hope, and has no meaning" (p. 61, War Movies (Cinebooks, 1989)). Interesting contrast between jungle warfare depicted in "Platoon" and the warfare of FMJ - training camp and then city fighting in Hué during Tet offensive of 1968. Screenplay written by SK, Michael Herr (of Dispatches) and Hasford (who wrote novel The Short Timers). Gustav Hasford served as a combat correspondent with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. Set reconstructed 1930s architecture of city of Hué in buildings owned by British Gas in London's East End (bombed out during WW2 and further destroyed by SK). Buildings to be demolished were dynamited and destroyed by wrecking ball to create effect of war-torn Hué. Film divided into three sections.
First section (43/116 mins) deals with basic training of marines at Parris Island, South Carolina. Transformation of raw recruits into killers/marines. Note how individuality of recruits broken down. Note "chickenshit" petty discipline described by Paul Fussell in Wartime. Concentration on drill sergeant Hartman and two privates - Joker and Pyle. Language of intimidation and abuse of H. Pyle fat and uncoordinated, picked on by H until Pyle retaliates by killing H and commits suicide.
Second part (13/116 mins) concerns Joker's experience as journalist (like Hasford) for army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, in VN but not on frontline duty. J has ambition of being a writer and requests newspaper assignment. Growing disillusionment with job of writing euphemisms and covering up truth. Only allowed to write two kinds of stories - about "winning hearts and minds" and action which gets "confirmed kills" of enemy. Eventually wants to see frontline combat, to get "trigger time." Ironic ambivalence of J - wears a peace badge but has written on helmet "Born to Kill." On the way to the front J rides in a helicopter and asks gunner who is shooting at peasants in a field "How can you kill women and children." Gunner's macabre answer- "You just don't lead them so much" (i.e. you don't aim so far ahead of them because they do not run as fast as soldiers/men). Even-handed treatment of atrocities. J sees a "burial pit" into which NVA has allegedly put shot civilians (or were they civilians killed by US bombardment?).
Part 3 (60/116 mins) concerns Joker in Hué during Tet offensive in January 1968 - the same period covered by "Platoon". Although sent to cover events for newspaper, Joker meets up with fellow recruit Cowboy and sees combat duty in streets of Hué during Tet offensive. House-to-house fighting. Platoon pinned down by sniper in building. Heavy casualties. Joker kills sniper with pistol. Initiation into profession of killing. Culmination of his training as Marine. Concludes with marines singing Walt Disney "Mickey Mouse Song" (M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E) as they march along river at sunset.
The powerful image of the heroic US soldier created by Wayne was influential in shaping the thinking of young US troops in Vietnam, who had been brought up with John Wayne movies on TV. As one soldier observed to Mark Baker - "I was seduced by World War II and John Wayne movies." (Baker, NAM, p. 12). Many imagined themeselves to be Wayne-like heroes and the tragically inappropriate attempt by 19 year old soldiers to mimic John Wayne no doubt led to too many unncecessary deaths. The confusion of identity created by these myths of heroism is expressed by the character Cowboy in Gustav Hasford's novel The Short-Timers but which which was made by Joker in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket: "Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?" (Hasford, p. 4; Screenplay, p. 4). Hasford coined the expression "to do a John Wayne" in The Short-Timers (1979), p. 107. The American journalist Michael Herr reflects on the impact of movie-made heroism in the minds of the young soldiers he observed in Vietnam in 1968:
I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by seventeen years of war movies before coming to Vietnam to get wiped out for good. You don't know what a media freak is until you've seen the way a few of those grunts would run around during a fight when they knew there was a television crew nearby; they were actually making war movies in their heads, doing little guts-and-glory Leatherneck tap dances under fire, getting their pimples shot off for the networks. (Herr, Dispatches, p. 169.)
The journalists as well interpreted what they saw in Vietnam through the lens of the cinema or TV camera. Michael Herr (who also wrote the screenplay for Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket) noted in the style of the "New Journalism":
"...Wow I love it in the movies when they say like,"Okay Jim, where do you want it?"'
'Right! Right! Yeah, beautiful, I don't want it at all! haw, shit... where do you fucking want it?'
Mythopathic moment; Fort Apache, where Henry Fonda as the new colonel says to John Wayne, the old hand, 'We saw some Apache as we neared the Fort,' and John Wayne says, 'If you saw them, sir, they weren't Apache.' But this colonel is obsessed, brave like a maniac, not very bright, a West Point aristo wounded in his career and his pride, posted out to some Arizona shithole with only marginal consolation: he is a professional and this is a war, the only war we've got. So he gives the John Wayne information a pass and he and half his command get wiped out. More a war movie than a Western, Nam paradigm, Vietnam, not a movie, no jive cartoon either where the characters get smacked around and electrocuted and dropped from heights, flattened out and frizzed black and broken like a dish, then up again and whole and back in the game, "Nobody dies,' as someone said in another war movie. (Herr, Dispatches, p. 44.)
For Herr, the Vietnam war was a movie (Dispatches, p. 153). Not The Green Berets ("That really wasn't about Vietnam, it was about Santa Monica") but The Quiet American or better still Catch-22. For those brought up on the powerful images of John Wayne's mythic heroism there was much that had to be unlearned if one was to understand what the war was about and thus stay alive:
A lot of things had to be unlearned before you could learn anything at all, and even after you knew better you couldn't avoid the ways things got mixed, the war itself with those parts of the war that were just like the movies, just like The Quiet American or Catch-22 (a Nam standard because it said that in a war everybody thinks that everybody else is crazy), just like all that combat footage from television ... , your vision blurring, images jumping and falling as though they were being received by a dropped camera... (Herr, Dispatches, pp. 169-70.)
Gustav Hasford, The Short-Timers (New York: Bantam, 1979, 1987). Extracts, pp. 92-101.
Full Metal Jacket. The Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford (London: Secker and Warburg, 1987).
Michael Herr, Dispatches (London: Picador, 1978).
Mark Baker, Nam: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There (London: Abacus, 1982)
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true?. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: My rifle and myself are defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviours of my life. So be it... until there is no enemy... but peace. Amen (Screenplay, pp. 13-18).
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes... I look inside myself and see my heart is black... Maybe I'll fade away and not have to face the facts It's not easy when your whole world is black... Paint it black!...Paint it black!...Paint it black!