“Peace is Tough,” Jamie Reid
While perusing the YouTube channel of the fine and friendly folks at Troma Entertainment (the geniuses behind such subversive classics as The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die and Class of Nuke ‘Em High), I came across a very different kind of B movie, the John Wayne-hosted “docu-drama,” No Substitute for Victory, and believe me, it’s way more disturbing than anything Troma ever put out. The structure is a pathos-rich tapestry of on-the-ground footage, interviews with soldiers, talking heads and military uppers, newsreels for “political context” (to show the impending threat of communism), and emphatic rallying from The Duke, himself. It opens with gunfire from a helicopter, then Wayne’s absurd drawl, setting the mood for the film in no uncertain terms:
“Ladies and gentleman, a long time ago, Abraham Lincoln made a statement; ‘To sin by silence when you should speak out, makes cowards of men.’ It’s time we spoke out about Vietnam, and the most obvious, yet the most ignored threat ever faced by free people in the history of the world. The street demonstrators demand that we get out of Southeast Asia so that there will be peace. Where do they get the idea that there’ll be peace just because we quit?
We can’t stop the war by givin’ up, and we sure can’t settle anything by tryin’ to bargain with a winning enemy at the peace table.This was a war that was going on a long time before Vietnam, and will go on whether we pull out or not. We can’t stop the war by giving up, and the way it is now, we’re not programmed to win, because of the politicians and civilians that we’ve let stick their nose in it.”
It then cuts to a soldier who was stationed in Vietnam, but now flies helicopters commercially. He opines that he “was there to fight the communists, and try to win. But our politicians wouldn’t let us.”
Then back to Wayne, who asks, incredulously, “What kind of a war is this that we’re not supposed to win?”
It’s a mesmerizingly vulgar little piece of work, with no more subtly or insight than a chain email forwarded from a Fox News-watching senior citizen. Director Robert F. Slatzer was also a B movie director, though with none of the wit or acuity one might see in a Troma film—his 1968 biker girl film, The Hellcats, is most famous for being skewered in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. To give you an idea of how contrived his direction is, there’s a brief speech by Sergeant Barry Sadler himself, while his hit, “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” plays in the background. It’s the sort of corny nationalist twaddle that you could laugh at a lot more easily if there weren’t a body count.
John Wayne with Marines in Vietnam, 1966
Of course, it’s fairly predictable that John Wayne, the archetypal all-American “man’s man” cowboy do a little bit of right-wing agitprop, but it’s worth noting that Wayne famously “deferred for [family] dependency reasons” during World War II. He said he’d enlist after a couple more movies, but he never seemed to get around to it. He did, however, manage to make thirteen films while the war raged on, many of which dealt with the subject of war—that’s kind of the same thing, right? (It’s also worth noting that at the time of this film’s release, 1970, public support for the war was rapidly waning, even among the white working class “hard-hat” types who were arguably Wayne’s audience.)
But John Wayne’s “performance” in No Substitute for Victory feels very little like a rote recitation of bellicose talking points. His colloquial disgust with “the reds” is downright overwrought, even histrionic at times, despite his characteristic folksy anecdotes and turns of phrase. I believe his faith in the righteousness of the war was genuine. Then again, he was an actor, and chickenhawks always crow the loudest.
Anyway, I was always more of a Lee Marvin girl
Via Troma Movies