In The Year of the Pig (1968)

“The arrogance of power.”

In the Year of the Pig is best described as a collection of images and anecdotes about the Vietnam War rather than a comprehensive documentary of the conflict. So in that sense, it’s best to come to the film with a little background. You won’t come away from the film with a detailed idea of which American president sent in how many troops in any given year–although salient points covering the escalation of the war and America’s increased involvement are covered. Also the collapse of the Vietnam War, and the sensational evacuation of American troops are not covered–it’s still the 60s when the film ends (before the Tet Offensive), and the final scene is of wounded American soldiers limping off the battlefield. Nonetheless, In the Year of the Pig is a substantial, shocking documentary and its images accurately mirror a time of insanity.

The film explains the French involvement in Vietnam and covers America’s initial and escalating involvement. There’s coverage here of various American politicians expressing the idea that communism must be halted in North Vietnam or civilization as we know it will end. It’s somewhat archaic to see these politicians with their ideas long since proved wrong ranting and raving about the communist threat in S.E. Asia, but the insanity is captured here on film–along with the American sense of urgency and imminent threat.

Some of the footage is extremely graphic–the self-immolation of a Buddhist priest, for example, an execution, an elderly Vietnamese woman crawling through burning rubble, and a suspected Viet Cong prisoner being kicked repeatedly in the stomach while the voice over assures the American public that all prisoners are being treated humanely. There’s also footage of American troops torching rice paddies, as well as several American politicians lying about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. There are also clips of MacNamara, a young Green Beret who deserted, various journalists, State Department officials, LBJ, and even Nixon (who used to hold the title of America’s most despicable president).

The footage here of the planes dropping massive numbers of bombs of Vietnam is sickening. Call me crazy, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with middle-aged affluent males sending rosy-cheeked boys off to slaughter the impoverished residents of a largely agricultural 3rd world nation. In one scene, soldiers are “pumped up” with a morale speech prior to a battle, and they’re told that this is the battle they’ve all been waiting for. One interview is with a soldier who rousts villagers from their homes. When asked by a reporter how these villagers will survive now that their homes and their crops are destroyed, the officer replies with an irony that escapes him: “you’d be surprised how they can take care of themselves with a minimum of resources.”

The film’s collection of diverse images and interviews serves the viewer with a bitter, tragic taste of an ugly, unnecessary war. DVD extras include: audio commentary with director Emile de Antonio, an interview with de Antonio, and liner notes by scholar, Douglas Kellner. After watching the film and understanding the war’s tragic consequences, one cannot help but ask the question–is this the best we can do after thousands of years of civilization?

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Filed under (Anti) War, Documentary, Political/social films

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