Obama vs Bush: Spending and the National Debt

A Facebook friend of mine proposed that I read this Doug Short article and reassess my disapproval of President Obama’s being on track to doubling our national debt. I believe my friend’s argument was twofold: that Obama inherited Bush’s policies and that he had wars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. So these are the reasons why Obama had no choice but to let the national debt skyrocket.

Ehhh.

Here is why these arguments don’t hold up. Firstly, in 2009 federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Ah, but this was Bush’s fault, wasn’t it? As my friend pointed out in a recent FB post, “Every debt increase is essentially time-shifted as each president inherits the policies of the previous administration”.

Well, not so fast.

A Facebook friend of mine proposed that I read this Doug Short article and reassess my disapproval of President Obama’s being on track to doubling our national debt. I believe my friend’s argument was twofold: that Obama inherited Bush’s policies and that he had wars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. So these are the reasons why Obama had no choice but to let the national debt skyrocket.

Ehhh.

Here is why these arguments don’t hold up. Firstly, in 2009 federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Ah, but this was Bush’s fault, wasn’t it? As my friend pointed out in a recent FB post, “Every debt increase is essentially time-shifted as each president inherits the policies of the previous administration”.

Well, not so fast.

As Peter Ferrara writes in Forbes:

But for fiscal year 2009, President Bush in February, 2008 proposed a budget with just a 3% spending increase over the prior year. Fiscal year 2009 ran from October 1, 2008 until September 30, 2009. President Obama’s term began on January 20, 2009.

Recall, however, that in 2008 Congress was controlled by Democrat majorities, with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and the restless Senator Obama already running for President, just four years removed from his glorious career as a state Senator in the Illinois legislature. As Hans Bader reported on May 26 for the Washington Examiner, the budget approved and implemented by Pelosi, Obama and the rest of the Congressional Democrat majorities provided for a 17.9 percent increase in spending for fiscal 2009!

I know this might come to a surprise to some Obama supporters who believe that Obama has slowed the rate of federal spending. And it would be true if you exclude 2009 altogether. That’s what Rex Nutting argues. He pulls this sleight of hand by claiming that since 2009 was the last year of Bush’s presidency, you can’t blame Obama for that 17.9% increase. Really? According to Nutting, Obama has outspent the 2008 version of Bush by about a half trillion per year since he has been in office. Try to spin that one.

Second, there is the stimulus. $787 billion. And for what? Remember the famous graph that exposed Obama’s unemployment rate projections as completely wrong?

UEgraph

It predicted that by the summer of 2009, the stimulus would cause unemployment to decrease steadily from its peak at 8%. Further, without the stimulus Obama predicted that the unemployment rate would peak at 9% by the start of 2010 and then steadily decline. What the stimulus gave us instead was a unemployment peak at 10% in the fall of 2009 and a very rocky road after that in which it continues to be just below 8%. Obama’s projected goal for this was supposed to be 5%. You think that $787 billion was well spent? With all the waste, and fraud, and foolish speculative investments?

Finally, there is Obamacare. Clearly, we are going to be increasing federal spending for this. ask siri . Charles Blahous of George Mason University predicts that Obamacare will add as much as $530 billion to federal deficits while increasing spending by more than $1.15 trillion. And this expectation is repeated by the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the CBO. Are they all wrong?

So, if Obama were concerned about reducing the national debt, he could have done so and kept up the good fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has outspent the 2008 George Bush by about 2.5 trillion in total. He blew close to a trillion with the stimulus. And plans on blowing a whole lot more with Obamacare. The money is there. It’s just that Obama would rather spend it on failed and foolish initiatives than getting us out of hock.

As a side note, I thought the Short article was sneaky in that it showed our real national debt on a logarithmic scale. That way the increase in debt from the 1980s seems nice and gradual, which it most certainly wasn’t. Follow the red arrows below to see what I mean.

federal-debt-tax-brackets2

Further, I don’t see anything in it that indicates that Obama’s “time-shift” away from the Bush administration should last 5 years. Obama has had 5 years to reduce debt and has done just the opposite. Remember also that we have not been in Iraq since 2011. That’s 2 years of savings that could have gone to the debt but didn’t. Finally, Short tries to make Reagan look bad showing a very marked increase in national-debt-as-percentage-of-GDP during Reagan’s tenure. Yeah, well, Reagan had something to show for that: low unemployment rates and the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the most murderous and oppressive regimes in history. What does Obama have to show for all his debt, except, of course, for more debt?

Against Kubrick 10

This is part 10 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post being the second to focus on…

Full Metal Jacket.

In the beginning of the Vietnam chapter of Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick states his intentions quite clearly by focusing on the backside of a sauntering Vietnamese prostitute just before she haggles with two American GIs over sex. In broad daylight. This isn’t a film about the military anymore. And it’s not a film about war, either. It’s a film about vice. Warfare, the military, Vietnam, all of it, are just umbrella’d in beneath this repulsive yet fascinating thing.

hooker

Where Kubrick essentially gave us a protracted and rude introduction to military life in part one, in part two, he endeavors to show how jaded, cynical, psychotic, or sex-obsessed American soldiers were in Vietnam. And in the end he almost doesn’t do this.

This is part 10 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post being the second to focus on… Full Metal Jacket. In the beginning of the Vietnam chapter of Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick states his intentions quite clearly by focusing on the backside of a sauntering Vietnamese prostitute just before she haggles with two American GIs over sex. In broad daylight. This isn’t a film about the military anymore. And it’s not a film about war, either. It’s a film about vice. Warfare, the military, Vietnam, all of it, are just umbrella’d in beneath this repulsive yet fascinating thing. hooker Where Kubrick essentially gave us a protracted and rude introduction to military life in part one, in part two, he endeavors to show how jaded, cynical, psychotic, or sex-obsessed American soldiers were in Vietnam. And in the end he almost doesn’t do this. Quite ironically, the second chapter of Full Metal Jacket, while not particularly memorable from a cinematic standpoint, offers a glimpse of the man’s humanist side. Death becomes tragedy in Vietnam. The pain is real. It has real consequences, and these consequences are not always dashed by non-sequiturial pop songs like they were in part one. Further, the characters churn quite naturally under pressure, revealing unexpected strengths and hidden powers. Because, you know, they are human

beings, and that’s what human beings do. When since Paths of Glory in 1957 have we seen this in a Kubrick film? I don’t count Spartacus since Kubrick disowned it. 2001 shows mere hints of such humanism but not nearly enough. Of course, so does The Shining, but that’s more due to the expectations of the horror genre at the time (some 25 years before the advent of torture porn) and the fact that the two characters in danger at the end were a mother and child. Now let me make one thing clear: when I say Stanley Kubrick is not a humanist, I am only talking about him as an artist, not as a man. As a man, by all accounts, he was decent and honest and left many behind who loved him, and not just for his genius. Had he enticed us to dance on the grave of young Danny Torrance however, like he did with Sergeant Hartman and Private Pyle, I would certainly reverse this opinion. Judging Humanity harshly in art is not the same as treating human beings harshly in real life. And Kubrick never did that. We don’t get these humanist glimpses until the end however. Up until then, Kubrick sticks with the formula he used in the Parris Island chapter, that is, using outrageous and memorable dialogue to offset a shortage (for him) of visionary cinematic ideas. Consider:

“Me so horny! Me love you long time!” “Soul brother too beaucoup! Too beaucoup!” “Thank God for the sickle cell.” “This baby looks like she can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch.” “I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture…and kill them.”

Now, I didn’t see Full Metal Jacket until a few years after its release in 1987, but I was already aware of these lines just from being tuned into popular culture. And this is to say nothing of the film’s use of racial epithets such as “gook” and the N word, which, thanks to pervasive political correctness, would have been toxic in any polite conversations even as far back as 1987. But for Kubrick, it was shocking (in a good way) since I don’t think anyone doubts that those words were used quite a lot by American GIs of all races back then. There are a couple instances in which Kubrick really delivers cinematically in the Vietnam chapter of Full Metal Jacket. One in particular stands out, not only as a homage to earlier Kubrick movies, but also as a tacit admission to the fact that the North Vietnamese may have committed their share of war crimes as well. When Joker finds a platoon commander, he says, “We heard some scuttlebutt, sir, about the NVA executing a lot of gook civilians.” “That’s affirmative,” the man replies. “I saw some bodies about a half a click this side of Phu Cam Canal!” This little dialogue leads to this iconic image from Full Metal Jacket: Joker1 From which Kubrick tracks back to this. Joker2 Coincidentally, this is also one of Kubrick’s humanistic moments in Full Metal Jacket. The look of resigned horror on Joker’s face says it all. This was a ghastly mass murder of innocent civilians which Kubrick treats with respect and aplomb. Aside from this, however, Kubrick treats many of the American soldiers in Vietnam with contempt. He starts with the machine gunner who murders innocent Vietnamese from the safety of his helicopter while laughing and shouting “Get some! Get some!” gunner

“I’ve done got me one hundred and fifty seven dead gooks killed!” he exults. “And fifty water buffalos too! Them are all certified!” “Any women and children?” Joker asks. “Sometimes!” “How can you shoot women and children?” Joker asks, pretending to be amused. “Easy! You just don’t lead ’em so much! Hahaha! Ain’t war hell?”

From such a barbaric and nihilistic character Kubrick takes Joker and a Stars and Stripes photographer named Rafterman to the mass burial scene shown above. This is where a colonel makes the following ridiculous and contradictory announcement:

“Son, all I have ever asked of my marines is for them to obey my orders as if they would the word of God. We are here to help the Vietnamese because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out. It’s a hardball world, son. We’ve gotta try to keep our heads until this peace craze blows over!”

From here, Joker and Rafterman head to a platoon in the field where Joker reunites with Cowboy, a friend from Parris Island. Within minutes he meets the brutish and hulking Animal Mother, who nearly picks a fight with him, and then discovers that the platoon (self-dubbed the “Lusthog Squad”) finds it amusing that they have propped a dead NVA soldier onto a lawn chair. deadnva “These are great days we’re living, bros!” gloats one oddly reflective grunt. “We’re jolly green giants walking the Earth…with guns! These people we wasted here today…are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world we’re gonna miss not having anyone around who’s worth shooting.” After a victory at Hue City (where two soldiers are killed) Kubrick inappropriately blasts “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen, another exuberant, albeit somewhat whacky, mid-1960s pop hit. He treats us to nearly the entire song. And the eulogy for the dead soldiers? After a few kind words, Animal Mother says, “Better you than me” to the dead men and rebukes Rafterman thusly:

“You think we waste gooks for freedom? This is a slaughter. If I’m gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poontang.”

After this, the soldiers discussed how one of the dead soldiers, appropriately named “Handjob” would masturbate ten times day in order to secure his section 8. Then comes the film’s second (!) scene in which American soldiers haggle with Vietnamese prostitutes over sex. As if one weren’t enough. prostitute2 Now, at this point in film is there anything redeeming about the US military? Well, it was nice that Joker seemed to realize that it is wrong to kill women and children, even if he was being detached and ironic about it. He also reacted with appropriate horror to the mass grave. But is that all? I’d have to say yes because in almost every other instance Kubrick goes out of his way to make American servicemen look bad. Did that dead American really have to be a chronic masturbator? Did we really have to see that lunatic helicopter gunner mow down civilians and then brag about it? Did we really have to sit through two very similar scenes with Vietnamese prostitutes? Did they really have to prop a dead NVA on a lawn chair just to laugh at him? What plot are we advancing here? What character are we developing? What narrative theme are we building upon? Was any of this necessary other than to shock and entertain Kubrick’s sophisticated, college educated public (very few of whom supported the war to begin with)? After all, people love it when you affirm what they already believe to be true. And if you do that by slandering the nearly 2.6 million men who fought in Vietnam and not slandering their despicable enemies (who set up a Stalinist police state after the war and murdered or enslaved millions), then I guess that’s just dandy. I mean, it’s not like the millions of lives wasted and ruined by the North Vietnamese, like, matter, or anything. Right? You see, this is why I question Stanley Kubrick’s artistic humanism. He gleefully slanders the lesser of two evils with regards to the Vietnam War while remaining mostly quiet about the greater of the two evils. And if you believe the numbers quoted in Part 1 of my Full Metal Jacket essay, the differences between these two evils are pretty freaking big. And then something must have happened. Maybe Kubrick was just following the script, or maybe he just got tired of sacrificing human beings on the altar of his movies, or maybe he was touched by the Hand of God for the first time in 30 years, or maybe he just slipped, but whatever it was, Stanley Kubrick finally woke up and realized that his characters were human beings. Starting at about 85 minutes in, Kubrick gives us straight-up, un-ironic, non-satirical, suspenseful filmmaking in which we feel what the characters feel and we hurt when the characters hurt. We feel the tragedy when they die. Basically, soldiers start getting killed one by one as Joker, Cowboy, and the rest of the squad are out on patrol. At one point a sniper hidden in a building picks off two soldiers. As they lie writhing on the ground, Cowboy is faced with a difficult dilemma. Does he charge to their rescue, not knowing if the buildings are infested with the enemy, or does he pull back and leave the two stricken men to their fates? He opts shrewdly (and perhaps not incorrectly) for the latter option, only to be repudiated by Animal Mother. The man who had heretofore been the film’s villain (or, at the very least, the Big Bad American Bully) now leads a heroic charge to save his fallen comrades. His actions are perfectly selfless, and, even better, he pulls it off. In lesser scripts, such a guy would have a comeuppance or would reveal himself a coward in battle (because, of course, all bullies are cowards). But no. Here, Kubrick bestows upon this man a sense of humanity that is frankly uncharacteristic for Kubrick films. And to do it with such an unlikable character, the kind of person the film is designed to slander, really is something. AnimalMother This is almost enough to forgive Kubrick for having Rafterman laugh and dance like an imbecile after shooting the little girl sniper in the end. But you see, this was a moment of clarity from which Kubrick promptly wakes up. He ends his film in baffling fashion as the soldiers all march on…singing the Mickey Mouse theme. I really don’t know what Kubrick was thinking in those final few moments, but whatever it was, it undid whatever good he accomplished when he went out of his mind treating his characters like real people for a change. Remember that characters are rarely anything more than pawns in Kubrick’s big game. In the Vietnam chapter of this film he may not play them as masterfully as he does in the Parris Island Chapter, but at least here he takes his hands off the pieces for a little while. He lets them serve their own agendas, not his. Why did Animal Mother lead that charge? It wasn’t to serve the anti-military aims of Kubrick’s, that’s for sure. He did it for the same reasons why real-life soldiers have done the same thing – because he has love for his comrades and a sense of duty to his country. When interviewed by a TV crew at Hue City, Animal Mother is asked what he thinks of America’s involvement in the war. He response is simple and straightforward. He says, “I think we should win.” While contemporary audiences might shudder at such unapologetic jingoism, history will show that, with such clarity of thought, Animal Mother is the most sympathetic and three dimensional character in the film. It’s just too bad that Kubrick didn’t see it that way. This concludes my polemic against Full Metal Jacket. Next up, the conclusion of this series: Paths of Glory, and what a humanist really looks like.

Against Kubrick 9

This is part 9 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post focusing on…

Full Metal Jacket.

To begin, I believe that Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s most overrated post-Strangelove work. He never figures out how to overcome the central shortcoming of the script, which is that, chopped in half, Full Metal Jacket is really two stories that don’t cohere very well. In the first, tensions build during boot camp in 1967 as the apocalyptically abusive Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey) bullies the hapless Private Gomer Pyle (played by an overweight Vincent Dinofrio) past the point of reason. Eventually Pyle turns into a time bomb. That’s basically it.

In the second, Private Joker (played by a wisecracking Matthew Modine), who had witnessed Pyle’s self-destruction at the hands of Hartman, has become a military journalist in Vietnam. He then joins American soldiers in the field where they take on and defeat a North Vietnamese sniper, who is also a little girl. That’s basically it as well.

In my opinion, Kubrick had fewer cinematic ideas for Full Metal Jacket than in his previous films, and instead found himself relying on memorable and shocking dialogue to make up the difference. Think about it…what memorable images do we have here? A few, to be sure, especially in the first half. I can see why such a script would appeal to Kubrick. Lots of men in uniform shouting and moving in unison can lead to mathematically precise imagry that you can just load with counterpoint.

fmj1

Aside from some great scenes in the marines barracks, however, Full Metal Jacket is not quite like 2001 or A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove where you can just play it with the sound off or capture images almost at random and still know it’s a Kubrick movie. Indeed, there is less of the visionary genius that sparkled in his earlier masterworks.

This is not to say that Full Metal Jacket is bad film.

The Parris Island chapter is a gripping and well-filmed depiction of life at boot camp. Further, R. Lee. Ermey is just mesmerizing to behold, truly a unique cinematic experience. I don’t think a single actor has ever dominated a film so completely and so brilliantly as R. Lee Ermey did in Full Metal Jacket. I think Kubrick simply recognized the man’s genius, pointed the camera at him, and let him spew pure gold.

This is part 9 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post focusing on…

Full Metal Jacket.

To begin, I believe that Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s most overrated post-Strangelove work. He never figures out how to overcome the central shortcoming of the script, which is that, chopped in half, Full Metal Jacket is really two stories that don’t cohere very well. In the first, tensions build during boot camp in 1967 as the apocalyptically abusive Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey) bullies the hapless Private Gomer Pyle (played by an overweight Vincent Dinofrio) past the point of reason. Eventually Pyle turns into a time bomb. That’s basically it.

In the second, Private Joker (played by a wisecracking Matthew Modine), who had witnessed Pyle’s self-destruction at the hands of Hartman, has become a military journalist in Vietnam. He then joins American soldiers in the field where they take on and defeat a North Vietnamese sniper, who is also a little girl. That’s basically it as well.

In my opinion, Kubrick had fewer cinematic ideas for Full Metal Jacket than in his previous films, and instead found himself relying on memorable and shocking dialogue to make up the difference. Think about it…what memorable images do we have here? A few, to be sure, especially in the first half. I can see why such a script would appeal to Kubrick. Lots of men in uniform shouting and moving in unison can lead to mathematically precise imagry that you can just load with counterpoint.

fmj1

Aside from some great scenes in the marines barracks, however, Full Metal Jacket is not quite like 2001 or A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove where you can just play it with the sound off or capture images almost at random and still know it’s a Kubrick movie. Indeed, there is less of the visionary genius that sparkled in his earlier masterworks.

This is not to say that Full Metal Jacket is bad film.

The Parris Island chapter is a gripping and well-filmed depiction of life at boot camp. Further, R. Lee. Ermey is just mesmerizing to behold, truly a unique cinematic experience. I don’t think a single actor has ever dominated a film so completely and so brilliantly as R. Lee Ermey did in Full Metal Jacket. I think Kubrick simply recognized the man’s genius, pointed the camera at him, and let him spew pure gold.

I will PT you all until you fucking DIE!
I will PT you all until you fucking DIE!

Because of this, the Vietnam chapter often gets overlooked, but it is a tight, suspenseful war story in its own right. It’s just that what makes Full Metal Jacket so celebrated, of course, is not so much what happens, but what people say in between what happens. How often does that happen in Kubrick movies? Name one single major Kubrick work other than this one in which dialogue trumps the pure, viceral images the man can so brilliantly convey.

In the first half, when little happens from a plot perspective, we’re basically entertained by the colorful abuse that Hartman heaps upon his recruits, especially Pyle. You can find most of it on YouTube or IMDB. Here are a few of my favorites:

“You’re so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!”

“You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized grab-asstic pieces of amphibian shit!”

“You climb obstacles like old people fuck!”

“Tonight, you pukes will sleep with your rifles. You will give your rifle a girl’s name because this is the only pussy you people are going to get. Your days of finger-banging ol’ Mary-Jane Rottencrotch through her pretty pink panties are over!”

“I bet you’re the kind of guy who would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!”

“I want that head so sanitary and squared away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump!”

Here is a great collection of the best bits in part one:

It’s interesting to note that Ermey had been a drill instructor during the Vietnam War and was essentially born to play that role. Nearly 50% of his dialogue he ad-libbed.

Kubrick shows his horns however when he portrays these young marines as being brainwashed into becoming nothing more than killings machines.

“What makes the grass grow?”
“Blood! Blood! Blood!”
“What do we do for a living, ladies?”
“Kill! Kill! Kill!”

This is real Lord of the Flies territory here. But is it true? I’m sure some of it is. But I am also sure there was more to boot camp than training people to kill indiscriminately. If this were the case there would have been hundreds of Mai Lai Massacres instead of one. And the American servicemen who did commit war crimes in Vietnam wouldn’t have gotten in trouble, don’t forget that. By not giving a more balanced representation of boot camp, Kubrick really tries to make military authority figures out to be bad people, psychopaths, even.

For example, Hartman at one point quizzes his recruits on the exploits of Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald. These, of course, are two infamous snipers. The former went on a rampage at the University of Texas in 1966 and murdered 11 people. The latter assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Hartman not only brags about how the marine corps taught these two lunatics how to shoot at long range, but he tells his recruits that with their top notch military training one day they will be able to do the exact same thing.

So Oswald and Whitman learned to shoot in the marines, eh? Innnteresting...
So Oswald and Whitman learned to shoot in the marines, eh? Innnteresting…

Now, did Kubrick really need to do this? Did he really need to slander our Vietnam-era military leadership like that? Did he really need to accuse them of training marines to be mass murderers? These were the guys who stormed the beaches at Normandy, or withstood heavy fire at Okinawa, or marched with Patton’s 3rd Army across Northwest Europe during World War II. These were the guys who put their lives on the line to fight fascism…and now they’re what? Brainwashing kids into becoming criminals?

This is why I see Full Metal Jacket not so much as an anti-war movie, but as an anti-military movie. R. Lee Ermey played a similar character named Sergeant Loyce in a 1978 film called The Boys From Company C. Like Hartman, Loyce had to train a group of civilians to be combat ready in a short period of time. Like Hartman, he spouted a nonstop stream of profane abuse, calling his men maggots and civilian slime and worse. But he also gets the opportunity to humanize himself. It starts at 3:01 here:

Here’s what he says:

I got one hell of a shitty Goddamn job here! They sent me 60-80 buckets of civilian shit and expect me to train them to goddamn combat ready marines. I’ve gotta send these people to Vietnam. I’m the one that has to send them! They’re gonna come back in bags. They’re gonna come back in wheelchairs. They’re gonna be maimed. They’re gonna be fucked up people when they come back. It’s up to me how they come back!

Suddenly, these recruits aren’t maggots anymore. They’re people. Suddenly, Loyce isn’t some loud-mouthed, bigoted jarhead anymore. No, he’s a person too. He clearly has compassion and concern for the welfare of the men he’s about to ship off to war. But in Full Metal Jacket, does Kubrick give us any of that? Of course, not! Compassion? In a Kubrick movie? Yes, he does pay lip service to some of the “we’re training you here so you won’t die over there” stuff. At one point, Hartman tells his recruits:

“The most deadly weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle! It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool! It is a hard heart that kills! If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth! You will not kill! You will become dead marines! And then you will be in a world of shit…because marines are not allowed to die without permission!”

Note that Hartman is less concerned about the welfare of the men he is training and more concerned about welfare of the people he is training them to kill. A dead marine is not bad thing in and of itself, according to Hartman. A dead marine is only bad because dead marines can no longer kill. Because, you know, killing is what marines do. Just because.

“God has a hard-on for marines because we kill everything we see! To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep Heaven filled with fresh souls!”

Well, that about says it all, doesn’t it? So much for making the world safe for freedom and democracy. Murder and mayhem is more like it…as long as it’s said with such clever profanity that Kubrick’s sophisticated, college-educated fans would find it amusing, of course. Please go to Allan Millett’s, Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps and Larry Cable’s Conflict of Myths: The Development of American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and the Vietnam War for evidence refuting Sgt. Hartman’s (and Kubrick’s) outlandish claim. Marines kill, to be sure. But they do a hell of a lot of good work as well, even during wartime.

According to historian Lindsay Kittle in her thesis Gentle Warriors: U.S. Marines and Humanitarian Action during the Vietnam War:

Although the Marines adopted a strategy that encouraged close interaction with the Vietnamese, the forging of relations between the two did not happen simply because of the Corps’ strategy. Marines helped the Vietnamese in many different ways. They often furnished school kits and made desks for children; they also provided medical care and many basic commodities for civilians that they were otherwise unable to obtain.

In 1970, journalist Cherilee Noyes went to Vietnam and had this to say about the marines:

In addition to the few words of the Vietnamese language I managed to muddle through, I also learned first-hand the other Marine story in ‘Nam; the story which is seldom told. The orphanages, schools, churches and hospitals the Marines built, supported and protected.

Can we say the same about the Viet Cong?

Now, we all know how part one ends. Pyle goes ballistic in the bathroom and guns down Sergeant Hartman before taking a seat on the toilet, putting the rifle barrel in his mouth, and pulling the trigger. All while Joker watches on, horrified. This is a pretty intense, harrowing scene, and to Kubrick’s credit, he directs it impeccably.

full-metal-jacket4

Well, in classic-Kubrick fashion, our story then switches abruptly to Vietnam months later with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boot are Made for Walkin'” on the soundtrack.

Have you heard this song? If not, listen to it now.

An upbeat, catchy mid-1960s pop number with a classic bass-line, “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” is sung from the perspective of a woman who’s lover has been cheating on her. Whether she’ll use her boots to walk away from him or walk all over him remains open-ended.

Now why did Kubrick juxtapose such a peppy song with such a grotesque murder-suicide? Well, for one, he doesn’t care much for the characters he just wasted and doesn’t want you to care either. Really, using “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” as an elegy for such a nihilistic massacre is artistically unforgivable in a serious drama.

Compare this treatment to other famous films in which major characters get killed before the story’s end. Imagine Alfred Hitchcock dusting off “Can Can #4” after Vivian Leigh gets sliced to ribbons in Psycho. Picture Francis Ford Coppola blasting “That’s Amore!” after Fredo Corleone gets dumped to the bottom of the lake in Godfather Part II. How about hearing “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone?” by Charley Pride right after Drew falls out of his canoe in Deliverance. What about “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters after Kevin Spacey eats it in L.A. Confidential?

Or even Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” after Juliane Moore takes a bullet to the head in the futuristic Children of Men? (Yeah, I know “Blurred Lines” came out in 2013, seven years after the film and 13 years before the story takes place. But given the date of this essay, it’s the best I can do.)

And please don’t mention the famous ear slicing torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. “Stuck in the Middle” by Steelers Wheels was playing on the radio and was therefore diagetic, despite Quentin Tarantino’s upping the volume on the soundtrack. Anyway, he turned the music off when things really started to get ugly.

So are these movies too different than Full Metal Jacket to matter? OK, fine. Let’s bring it closer to home. Imagine “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” being played after Lawrence Fishburne’s heartbreaking end in Apocalypse Now. Or, better yet, after Willem Defoe’s majestic death in Platoon. Would that make any sense? Remember, Full Metal Jacket is a war drama, not a stab at satire like Dr. Strangelove. Characters really die in this movie, and there are real consequences. We must assume that Pyle and Hartman have family and friends at home who will mourn them. We must assume that what we were just forced to witness was tragic.

But when Kubrick doesn’t wait twenty seconds after bullet hits the bone to kick his movie into second gear with “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” (lingering on the backside of a sauntering Vietnamese prostitute, no less), he’s telling us these deaths aren’t tragic, especially if he’s the one killing you.

The second reason why Kubrick chose this song was because it has meaning vis-a-vis the Vietnam War. According to Wikipedia:

• During television news coverage in 1966/67, the song was aired as a soundtrack as the cameras focused on US Infantrymen on patrol during the Vietnam War.
• In 1966 and 1967 [Nancy] Sinatra traveled to Vietnam to perform for the troops. Many US soldiers adopted the song as their anthem, as shown in Pierre Schoendoerffer’s academy award winning documentary The Anderson Platoon (1967).

Well, I am assuming this was one of Kubrick’s reasons. I am assuming he knew about this, given his penchant for shoulder-hunching research and near-maniacal dedication to perfection. I imagine the chances that I would know something about a Kubrick film that Kubrick himself didn’t would be kind of low.

And it makes sense…this song resonating with American troops in Vietnam: the simple juxtaposition of loyalty versus infidelity, honesty versus mendacity, honor versus dishonor. The delicious threat of a well-deserved comeuppance. And there’s not an ounce of irony to it. The song also serves as a useful allegory for the war itself. For someone who actually believed in the cause, the song’s antagonist could be the North Vietnamese themselves. Consider the lyrics:

You’ve been messin’ where you shouldn’t have been messin’
(Yeah, like in South Vietnam and Cambodia.)

Yeah, you keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’
(Like with all the guerrilla and terrorist stuff you pull with the Viet Cong.)

Now, what’s right is right but you ain’t been right yet
(We have the moral high ground here, not you…)

These boots are made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots
Are gonna walk all over you
(See? You’re gonna get what’s coming to ya…)

So to select this very song to segue from a horrific murder-suicide to a scene in which a Vietnamese prostitute solicits two American GI’s who are keen on haggling is to make a statement on the very men who chose this song as their fight anthem. And that statement is negative to say the least. Intellectually snotty, even. If Stanley Kubrick re-makes “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” into the ironic anthem for the psychotic killers, remorseless bullies, and cynical assholes like what we have in Full Metal Jacket, then he has found a very clever and sophisticated way to say that the American GI’s did not have the moral high ground in Vietnam.

And why is this an anti-humanist perspective? Well, for one, Kubrick up till this point in the film refuses to humanize two of his three main characters, not to mention the entire US marine corps. But we already know that. Secondly, the American soldiers, despite whatever misdeeds you can accuse them of, did indeed have the moral high ground in Vietnam. Of course, you can’t expect soldiers to behave like boy scouts when they’re getting shot at all the time. You will find abuse in all wars and on virtually all sides. But as a whole, and in comparison with our enemies, the American forces have little be ashamed of for their conduct during the war.

I understand this not a popular opinion these days. Most educated people, if they think about the Vietnam War at all, will consider the war an act of colonial aggression on the part of the US and ascribe to it the basest of motivations. And of course they’ll have this perspective. They will be informed mostly by films like Full Metal Jacket.

For a more rounded perspective, you can go to Our War Was Different by Al Hemingway, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1965, by Jack Shulimson and Charles Johnson, A Voice of Hope by Thomas Flynn, the documentary The American Humanitarian Effort: Out-takes from Vietnam, The untold story of humanitarian efforts during and after the Vietnam War by Robert Wilensky, and Gentle Warriors: U.S. Marines and Humanitarian Action during the Vietnam War by Lindsay Kittle. These sources will show that winning hearts and minds were not simply words to many US servicemen. The US forces did make real efforts to save and protect the South Vietnamese from the Viet Cong as well as improve their standard of life as much as they could.

Yes, there were American war crimes. According to Wikipedia, there was the Mai Lai Massacre of 1968 (504 civilians killed) and other less famous crimes amounting to an additional estimated 194 civilian deaths. This makes the total of innocent lives lost at the hands of American soldiers to 698.

Bad, yes. Tragic, definitely. And you know what? Let’s make it even worse. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Wikipedia got it wrong. Let’s say just for the heck of it that Wiki came up short by about an order of magnitude. Let’s just say that it wasn’t 698 civilian deaths caused by US servicemen but 6980. Then let’s round it up to an even 7000, because I’m a nice guy. That still would be nothing compared to the sins of our enemy.

According to Wikipedia:

During the months and years that followed the Battle of Huế, which began on January 31, 1968, and lasted a total of 28 days, dozens of mass graves were discovered in and around Huế. North Vietnamese troops executed between 2,800 to 6,000 civilians and prisoners of war. Victims were found bound, tortured, and sometimes apparently buried alive.

Really. Burning people alive, huh? Even Kubrick doesn’t accuse American GI’s of that. Wait, there’s more.

On December 5, 1967, two battalions of Viet Cong systematically killed 252 civilians in a “vengeance” attack on the hamlet of Đắk SÆ¡n, home to over 2,000 Montagnards, known for their fierce opposition to the Viet Cong. The Vietcong believed that the hamlet had at one point given aid to refugees fleeing Viet Cong forces.

and

VC terror squads, in the years 1967 to 1972, assassinated at least 36,000 people and abducted almost 58,000 people. Statistics for 1968-72 suggest that “about 80 percent of the terrorist victims were ordinary civilians and only about 20 percent were government officials, policemen, members of the self-defence forces or pacification cadres.” NVA/VC forces murdered between 106,000 and 227,000 civilians between 1954 and 1975 in South Vietnam. Up to 155,000 refugees fleeing the final North Vietnamese Spring Offensive were killed or abducted on the road to Tuy Hòa in 1975.

In fact, Wiki has a whole section on the VC/NVA use of terror here:

Let’s not even stop there, because the North Vietnamese were just getting started. Let’s jump cut to after the Vietnam War. Once Saigon fell in 1975, Vietnam succumbed to one of the most shameful periods of violence and oppression the world has seen since World War II. Indeed, the poor Vietnamese were thrown into the 10th circle of Hell. Again, from Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

On 2 July 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Following the communist takeover, 1–2.5 million South Vietnamese were sent to reeducation camps, with an estimated 165,000 prisoners dying. Between 100,000 and 200,000 South Vietnamese were executed. R. J. Rummel, an analyst of political killings, estimated that about 50,000 South Vietnamese deported to “New Economic Zones” died performing hard labor, out of the 1 million that were sent. 200,000 to 400,000 Vietnamese boat people died at sea, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, fell to the communist Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge would eventually kill 1–3 million Cambodians in the Killing Fields, out of a population of around 8 million. At least 1,386,734 victims of execution have been counted in mass graves, while demographic analysis suggests that the policies of the regime caused between 1.7 and 2.5 million excess deaths altogether (including disease and starvation). After repeated border clashes in 1978, Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) and ousted the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. The Vietnamese installed a new government led by Khmer Rouge defectors, which killed tens of thousands and enslaved hundreds of thousands.

Hey, Stan, don’t worry about all the zeroes in those numbers counting dead gooks, man. Zeroes mean nothing, baby. Nothin’.

Seriously, ignoring such all-encompassing evil in order to make US soldiers look bad cannot be seen as the work of a humanist. A humanist would be appalled at the inhumanity of the North Vietnamese and would be grateful that the United States and other civilized countries sent men over there to stop them.

I’ll say it, and I’ll say it slow. The North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and afterwards were a bunch of ruthless communist bastards. They were enemies of humanity and a stain on the human race. They are guilty of murdering, subjugating, and terrorizing millions upon millions, and I am proud to live in the United States which had the moral courage to stand up to people like that. This one major reason why I have problems with Full Metal Jacket, for all its brilliance.

This concludes part 1 of my polemic against Full Metal Jacket. Part 2 will address part 2 of the film and how Kubrick continues to rely upon shocking dialogue rather than visionary filmmaking to promote his less-than-humanistic ideas.