We Were Soldiers - History and Film Guide
In teaching history at the university level, I have found it useful to use historically based films in upper level (junior / senior) courses. Over the years I have experienced substantial disapproval and resistance from some of my colleagues.
The typical assumption is that showing a feature film in class is a waste of valuable class time and will only result in "dumbing down" the course content.
I strongly disagree. Each film I use is preceded by a lecture addressing the society, location, time period, events, culture, and politics covered in the film.
Students are instructed about the “differences” between written history and historically based or connected film, as well as the meaning of bias, agenda, propaganda, motivation, and many other important terms which can be used to evaluate film, public events, political speeches and so forth.
The day before I screen the film, student’s are given a study guide and expected to read it carefully in preparation for the film. Based on the study guide question, they are expected to take notes during the film.
When the film is over we have a class discussion largely directed by student comments and questions. Then…then, they must write a five page essay about the film based on the questions provided.
So, to my mind the “lost” two hours of course time are more than made up for by the 2-4 hours they will spend crafting a grammatically correct, logically sound, well-written essay about historical events and how they are portrayed in modern cinema.
Using films builds and maintains student interest, requiring the essays strengthens their analytical, composition, and grammar skills, as well as their understanding of historical events and periods.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Writers - Harold G, Moore and Joseph L. Galloway (book)
Stars - Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear
The 2002 film dramatized the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965, the first major engagement of United States military forces in Vietnam. It is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.
The Battle of Ia Drang was one of the first major battles between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) during the Vietnam War. The two-part battle took place between November 14 and November 18, 1965, at two landing zones (LZ's) northwest of Plei Me in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Representing the American forces were elements of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, and the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry of the United States Army. Both sides suffered heavy losses and both claimed victory. The U.S. lost 234 dead, 242 wounded.
Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) comander of US forces going into Ia Drang; Sergeant Major Plummley; Joseph Galloway- reporter; Major. Bruce "Snakeshit" Crandall - helicopter pilot; Captain Ed W. "Too Tall" Freeman – helicopter pilots
1) What does the story/film reveal about the state of race relations in America in the mid-sixties? Does it matter if a person is among civilians or the military? If so, why?
2) What level of support is the American government giving the US military? Why does it matter whether President Johnson officially declares a state of emergency?
3) What does LTC Moore emphasize in his speech just before their departure? Does his speech reflect American ideals or historical or political development?
4) What disadvantages did the Gis face in battle against the Communist Vietnamese? What advabtages did the Vietnamese soldiers have?
5) What does the argument back at headquarters reveal about the military’s objectives, values, choices? (they discuss and attempt, twice, to pull Moore out of the battle)
6) What is the significance of the discussion between LTC Moore and Galloway, the reporter? What does it suggest about what the administration had planned and what the American people knew or were committed to? Will this difference impact the war?
7) What political, military, or moral points are being made in the scene when the battle is finally over and the reporters decend on the battle weary men with all their questions?
Epigraph: “We who have seen war, will never stop seeing….we will always hear the sound of screaming. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young.”
The War in Vietnam
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