Are War Movies Appropriate For Memorial Day?

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image of The Green Berets (1968) posterSince today is Memorial Day, you can be sure that one of the billions of cable channels will be showing war movies either all day or most of the day. One I saw a day or two ago is The Green Berets (1968) which was John Wayne’s love letter to the Vietnam War. While the action in the film is entertaining, Wayne’s attempt to include his political ideas misses the mark for me. That got me thinking about war films and if they are appropriate to show on a holiday meant to honor those who served and/or died for the country. I think it depends.

In The Green Berets (1968), starring and directed by John Wayne, makes the whole Vietnam conflict too black and white – The US = good, the Communists = bad. Of course in reality it wasn’t that simple. The consensus has become that the conflict was something the US shouldn’t have gotten involved in and wasn’t winnable. Wayne’s version is the US was only there to help the people and if it weren’t for those murderous Viet Cong everything would be hunky-dory.

I do get a small giggle as Wayne is commanding the troops with his classic “Move out” as he throws his hand in a swiping motion.

I own many classic war movies on DVD like Force 10 from Navarone (1978), A Bridge Too Far (1977) and The Great Escape (1963) among others. The thing about the World War II movies is that Hitler and the Japanese were very bad guys and those fighting them were the good guys so you could gloss over or ignore any bad action by the “good guys”.

But if your war movies are set during controversial conflicts like Vietnam or Grenada (Heartbreak Ridge (1986)) then you need to include the controversy.

That’s why I liked Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Hamburger Hill (1987) those films dealt with Vietnam in a real and honest way. They didn’t sugar coat the war or the men fighting it.

Another good realistic war film is The Beast of War (1988) which is the story of a Soviet tank crew in Afghanistan during the USSR’s invasion of that country.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) was an authentic World War II film – warts and all. As epic in scope as it was there weren’t any million bullet battle scenes where none of the leads get hurt. I thought it was interesting that some of the men in the company do die through the course of the film. Some of the deaths, especially the one by Pvt. Stanley Mellish, are ugly and violent. In fact when the movie plays on TV, I have to not watch his death scene – it is too disturbing.

Do you have to wait for a military related holiday to view war movies? No. But if you do, try to watch the films that don’t gloss over or attempt to glorify war.

That would be the best way to honor people who serve the country.


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