"Shut your scuzzy mouth, fat body, and listen up. I am going to give you the straight skinny, because you are the biggest shitbird on the planet… In Viet Nam nice guys do not finish at all and monsters live forever. You got to bring ass to get ass. A few weeks ago you were the hot-rod king of some hillbilly high school, stumbling around in front of all the girls and stepping on your dick, but be advised that Viet Nam will be the education you never got in school. You ain’t been born yet, sweet pea. Your job is to stand around and stop the bullet that might hit someone of importance. Before the sun comes up, prive, you could be just one more tagged and bagged pile of nonviewable remains. If you're lucky, you'll only get killed…We are teenaged Quasimodos for the bells of hell and we are as happy as pigs in shit because killing is our business and business is good. The Commandant of the Marine Corps has ordered you to Khe Sanh to get yourself some trigger time and pick up a few sea stories. But you are not even here to win the D-F-M, the Dumb Fucker’s Award. The only virtue of the stupid is that they don't live long. The Lord giveth and the M-79 taketh away. There it is. Welcome to the world of zero slack.”
--THE PHANTOM BLOOPER
The very first thing that I have learned about Vietnam as a writer is that I am no longer talking to two-thirds of you. The word "Vietnam" in the first sentence of this article triggered a negative response somewhere, and most of you are about to turn the page. To those stalwart few who remain: Welcome to the world of the disenchanted.
The second thing that I have learned after 12 years as an unreconstructed Vietnam veteran is that, while I deeply respect, and would fight to preserve, the Constitution of the United States, I am now and must remain a devoted enemy of the federal government of the United States.
--“Still Gagging on the Bitterness of Vietnam,” L.A. Times, April 1980
America invented Communism when they ran out of Indians . . . Communism is boring and does not work. But if the federal government of the United States died, I'd dance on its grave. I've joined the side of people against the side of governments. I've gone back to the land. When Americans lost touch with the land, we lost touch with reality. We became television. I don't want to be television. I'd rather kill or be killed . . .
Being young is the art of survival without weapons, but we had weapons, and we used them to burn Viet Nam alive. I'm ashamed of that. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but it was the wrong thing. In an unnecessary war, patriotism is just racism made to sound noble.
--THE PHANTOM BLOOPER
That's the popular one--how many people did you kill? I slaughtered millions of people, all helpless, innocent civilians. I threw them up and cut them down like dogs. Actually, I try to give people an honest answer. They have a conception that war is like John Wayne movies. You walk along, some Japanese soldiers walk out, you say, "hello Japs, eat lead," and shoot them down. In real war, you rarely see the enemy. It's more a question of walking along, somebody starts shooting at you. They shoot over here, you shoot over there. You can't see anything. Later you go over and there are some shot people. You don't know who shot them. Very few people in Vietnam saw someone and shot them. You're holding your rifle, firing over your head, thinking "I hope I don't get shot." You're not really going around taking score. I was under fire about 50 times, but I only saw the enemy once. At Hue, we could see for about 500 yards, and what you saw was these little teeny-tiny ants. You couldn't even tell they were people
--Interview in CIRCUIT, August 1986
Rambo has "59 confirmed kills," first tour, and scores another 90 during the film, for a total of 149, not counting blood trails, civilians, and water buffalo. My own score was perhaps more typical. In Vietnam I fired more rounds than the Stonewall Brigade fired at the Battle of Gettysburg. I was highly motivated, but my body count was a standing joke: I killed as many of them as they did of me. Looking back with flawless hindsight, I hope I hit nothing but trees, and I hope the trees lived. If I did kill a human being in Vietnam, it was a tragic accident or self-defense; I regret it, but I do not apologize.
--“Vietnam Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry,” Penthouse, 1987
Sitting on my rack, I type out my story about Hill 327, the serviceman's oasis, about how all of us fine young American boys are assured our daily ration of pogey bait and about how those of us who are lucky enough to visit the rear areas get to see Mr. John Wayne karate-chop Victor Charlie to death in a Technicolor cartoon about some other Viet Nam. The article I actually write is a masterpiece. It takes talent to convince people that war is a beautiful experience. Come one, come all to exotic Viet Nam, the jewel of Southeast Asia, meet interesting, stimulating people of an ancient culture...and kill them. Be the first kid on your block to get a confirmed kill.
From The Green Berets to Rambo, from Apocalypse Now to The Deer Hunter, Hollywood films have been manufactured like cheese to accommodate the most irrational prejudices of a civilian audience, films featuring heroes 12m high on the screen, white American godzillas trampling on wicked Orientals. No one objected that John Wayne had never heard a shot fired in anger or that Sylvester Stallone (we're the same age, Sly) dodged the draft by working in a private girls' school in Switzerland. Gracious enough not to bore us with any facts, Hollywood has been content to go on trivializing the war as recreational gore as long as it sells popcorn to UCLA co-eds.
But stand by for a sweeping revision in how the world views the Vietnam war. Oliver Stone's relentlessly unpleasant and mercilessly honest Platoon is breaking the ground for a stream of war films by Vietnam veterans due to be released this year, films which will continue to mangle frail civilian sensibilities. Truth has no author and the truth hurts.
Before Platoon, the Vietnam veteran had not been forgotten by history but had been left out on purpose. Finally we exist, warts and all. To a brother in darkness and in light, I say: Get some, Oliver Stone. In Vietnam we were barbarian outriders for the Skull King of San Clemente, but we're all point men now, and we're all outside the wire.
--“Veterans fight for audiences’ hearts, minds,” The West Australian, March 1987
Stanley (Kubrick) and I, after about a dozen long talks, are lobbing frags. I told Stanley he didn’t know shit from Shinola about Viet Nam. And he’s so sensitive, he got mad… Stanley thinks I’m an asshole because I am a vocal and adamant supporter of the National Liberation Front, or at least of the Vietnamese people in it…
Stanley and I still do not agree on several points, particularly on how to portray the Viet Cong. I think they are heroic and humane people and I’m glad they won. Stanley sees them as buck-toothed Japs left over from old John Wayne movies, who were out to spread the red blob of monolithic Communism across the face of the earth, in the name of Marx & Lenin. Not exactly a situation that results in a satisfying compromise. Meanwhile, Stanley has hired Michael Herr to help him, temporarily, which is pretty dumb, I think. Michael Herr hung out with the Marines, but hanging out with an organization and being part of it are far from the same thing. I have “hung out” with Zulus, but that hardly qualifies me to explain them to others. Anyway, we’ll see. And yes, I’ve already been advised, many, many times, that I should just shut up and do anything Stanley wants and make as much money as I can. In fact, everybody I know says that. With good intentions. But when you think about it, it’s a very insulting idea. I wonder exactly what it was that I did that gave people the idea I’m just some kind of silly Hollywood slut & opportunist. I just keep remembering all of the previous Viet Nam films and what incredible bullshit they were—Marlon Brando as a fat Hari Krisna quoting T.S. Eliot. Give me a break. And the great scene in The Deer Hunter when the NVA drops a grenade in on some women and children, on purpose. What racist bullshit. I’m sick of films that depict Viet Nam veterans as “Viet Nam violence freaks” (a phrase they tried to use as a blurb on SHORTY, before I politely suggested that the use of a such a phrase could possibly result in the instantaneous rotation of somebody’s fucking kneecaps) and I’m sick of us trying to pretend against all existing evidence, that the Vietnamese were not simply trying to free themselves from dominance by the United States and its appointed flunkies and collaborators. The key point of view to all of these films is that the viewer, a white liberal, can sit and watch, smug, pure, uninvolved, while those bad boys who didn’t find some way to weasel out of the war wipe out those evil Communist people (I suppose if you happen to live in a Communist country and are attacked by the United States your only honorable option is to allow yourself to be wiped off the face of the earth). Well, movie makers can stroke the whitebread fucking liberals and make them feel superior and above it all, but they’ll do it without me.
--Excerpts from private letters, January 1983-February 1984
I spent a year in London writing the screenplay for the upcoming Stanley Kubrick film, FULL METAL JACKET (see article attached) and I needed this ton of books and papers (600 pounds?) so that I might steal my ideas from the widest possible range of sources, the secret of good writing.
--Letter to U.S. Customs Office, January 1987
Of course there are stories of how the "name" author finds a young writer with talent, takes him under his literary wing, and guides him to fame and publication. There are no such literary giants in this neck of the woods. Maybe one will turn up. Until then I struggle on, with even a victory now and then. Though I enter the jungle alone, at the mercy of publishers and farsighted critics with broken glasses, I am confident of great reward. The writer's world is a challenge, and hard at times, but it attracts the finest people on this earth. These are the people that really live, and the only people that are really alive. Artists, writers, publishers, I love them all.
--Letter to Writer’s Digest, 1963, when Gus was 15 years old
Lao-Tze pointed out that nothing worth saying can be said with words. Words are crude and clumsy things, objects of ink, ultimately imprecise. And writing is as much fun as giving birth to a Howard Johnson’s. Writers learn to live with that fact the way a soldier learns to live with fear or the way a doctor learns to live with death. When the battle is lost, the soldier attacks. When the case is hopeless, the doctor operates. So writers write. And whereas soldiers and doctors are allowed to bury their mistakes a writer is expected to publish his.
Being a writer was not my first choice for a profession. I would much prefer to be an archaeologist, a sculptor, or a country-western singer. But then I had all these ideas for books which came to me in a vision. Since then, I have been convinced that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I say. Yet my work remains a personal statement--I speak for no groups or social factions. I have no goals beyond the completion of my next story. The praise I seek from my readers is that they finish my books. After being alternately damned and praised for equally invalid reasons, I am content to trade fame for accuracy of interpretation. Fame, for a writer, is like being a dancing bear with a little hat on your head.
--Contemporary Authors, 1987