Napalm Sticks to Kids: A Marine’s Thoughts

March 6th, 2012


A Marine’s brief thoughts on Hearts and Minds


It’s hard for me to talk about.

I can’t help but laugh, most times with a bit of despair, like when that one interview talked about fighting a battle without any “drawers.”

I was the only one in the class laughing.


That’s why I probably didn’t make a pitch. How does one make a pitch for a movie like this? Furthermore, is the final product anything like the pitch?


How do you make this sound upbeat? It’s not a Schwarzenegger movie. It’s not an American masturbatory celebration of all things violent, one of many each summer which lays 8 year-old Hearts and Minds prostrate before the silver screen, genuflecting as Arnold takes down another and yet another foreign human, brown human, bad guy, then the young wanna-be good guys clap, laugh, run home and relive how Arnold’s hot metal penetrated numerous bodies, running wild around the house, imagination raised up in an almost sexual fervor, hot metal like a penis, foreign land a vast, soft vagina, and our bodies making it throb quite explosively in silver screen ecstasy.

In slumber, each kid dreams of one day being that guy. Not the other guy, never the other guy, but that guy.

The one guy in that one shot, with all the flames in the background, the hero walking in slow mo toward the camera – an Eclipse of all things American.
And so we have brought the audience to climax.


Which is more poetic, fact or fiction?


This Film is Not Yet Rated: God forbid we show a vagina, or two lesbians making love, or a man thrusting into a woman more times than is appropriate.


Bigger, Stronger, Faster: But if we get an illegally hormone infused over-the-hill Rambo mounting a 50 caliber machine gun and killing 200 “gooks” in 2 minutes, then that’s fun for the whole (American) family … (as long as you have an ‘adult’ with you).


From a creative perspective, when covering war and the many distortions within war; political and social, propagandic, etc.; it’s impossible to have a firm grip on the outcome – narrative structure, characters, arc, drama, etc.

The outcome is very much in flux. Such is the nature of chaos.

In bootcamp, we used to yell “Kill!”

We’d yell it for every action: Brushing teeth – “Kill!” – Putting on socks – “Kill!” – breaking into a run – “Kill!”

By the time we get out to Iraq, there is no hesitation.


We’d also call this cadence, a running cadence:

Throw some candy on the ground – Throw some candy on the ground!

(Anticipation with each drop of sweat)

Watch them kiddies gather round – Watch them kiddies gather round!

C130 flying low – C130 flying low!

(Oh, now we all know what’s coming, oh oh, and the platoon’s energy gathers … )

Watch them kiddies start to glow – Watch them kiddies start to glow!

( … into a gleeful thrust! Penetration achieved)

Because naaaapaaaalm sticks to kids!


Full Metal Jacket: Combat Correspondent –

When we got out to Iraq and started to write, “Hearts and minds” was something we wrote over and over and over, in many contexts.

I thought it was brilliant. I had never heard it before.

Near the end I thought it was cliché and stupid, a crutch for those who didn’t know what to write, and who so relied on the old and trusty “Hearts and Minds.”


Out on patrol, Marines, they used to say: “Two in the Heart, One in the Mind.”

It was a marriage between our arms training – two in the chest, one in the head – and our media training – “Winning Hearts and Minds.”

It was an unintended reflection of the difference between reality and fiction.

We laughed.


Despair is a hard sell.

The elites of the time knew how wrong Vietnam was, but that didn’t mean they were brave enough to take it on.

Few were, and those who did, paid for it.


Before I decided I ought to just say what I needed to say, I had read a great analysis of the movie, it’s start up, production, post-production, etc.


Carol Wilder, Atlantic Journal of Communication, “Separated at Birth: Argument by Irony in Hearts and Minds and Fahrenheit 9/11” –

“Pearce and Davis shot more than 200 hours of film both across the U.S. and in Vietnam, and acquired twenty hours more of stock footage. Davis accumulated 1200 pages of notes on the dailies alone, eventually wrestling the film to just under two hours. In April of 1974 an incomplete version was screened for Columbia lawyers and other front office personnel. Two hours after the screening, Columbia Executive Vice-President David Begelman called Schneider to say that Columbia was in “precarious financial condition” and was “fearful of reprisals from bankers” (Harrington, 1975). This despite the fact that Schneider had five million dollars of liability insurance on Hearts and Minds alone, in addition to Columbia’s twenty million of general coverage. An additional twenty-five million acquired by BBS did not change things. Lamented Stephanie Harrington: “first an undeclared war, then an unseen film.”

… fearful of reprisals from bankers …

And I’m the only kid in class laughing. Despair is a hard sell.


History is bound to repeat itself: And there is the girl. THE girl.

There are a couple images, one of the Colonel summarily executing a VC.

Then the other of the girl.


Among other things, napalm sticks to kids.


I played football in High School.

I was good at it. I was a linebacker, among the more aggressive guys on the field. I gave the enemy no quarter.


He was outside the hospital one night, injured and bleeding but inconsolable.

I had been inside when his men arrived with holes where men weren’t meant to have holes. Two were definitely going to make it, the other one was not quite stable.

I had left the hospital to get some air, fatigued at watching the surgeons frantically paw through some guy’s intestines. They were looking for hot metal.

So I went outside and saw the gunny and the chaplain and when I got closer I saw the gunny was bleeding and he was carrying this bundle, a dark black bundle, clutching it to his chest and pleading with the chaps, chaps please, let me take her in she can be saved, chaps, but she couldn’t be saved, I noticed as I got closer, she was definitely dead, definitely made mostly out of charcoal, definitely hit by an incendiary IED, definitely dead and starting to fall apart in his arms, but something had pulled inside the gunny, something he was familiar with, possibly his own kids, and he just wouldn’t let go of the flaking carcass, ignoring his wounds, edging closer to a nervous fury at the inaction of our medical staff, of our system, that big green machine that just chews up bodies and spits them out without the least bit of care.

They diagnosed him with combat fatigue and gave him “flexerall” and a couple nights sleep.


Napalm sticks to everything. We bring it home with us. But our pleading goes unanswered more often than not, or labeled Un-American.

Then Hearts and Minds fills the void briefly. But the writers, the spin doctors, the marketers and advertisers, they are prepared.

Un-Americans are hidden in the annals of history. Rebuffed. Erased. Orwell’s 1984.
They remember, but we don’t. Their tale becomes a bit more covert, the media a bit more covert, the operations a bit more covert.

The sale is a bit more sculpted, but it takes the same route. It just replaces Communist with

Terrorist and then off we go.

We waltz into Iraq, draped in the flag, dragging the cross, we waltz.


One of my oldest friends is an Eagles fan. I love the Giants. Every week we’re at each other’s throats. Sworn enemies. Arbitrarily.


I played football and I loved it. I loved it for a lot of reasons. The violence. The glory. The unity.

That was a big one, the unity. The unflinching faith in one another, at least if you wore the same colors.

Cut and dry, win or lose, friend or foe – Bush’s with us against us – McCarthy’s Red Scare turning neighbors on each other, well meaning people become the dogs of civil war, if there’s anything civil about war.


I see now, my eyes are open, yet the dream has become a nightmare, one in which I seem to be the only one awake.

We need a Marine Corps, I believe.

There is a virtue, nonetheless, to faith, to unflinchingly carrying out any and all orders without hesitation. We must respect that, I believe, because it is the ultimate in vulnerability, in altruism.

In doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable to misuse, because we will protect you from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Without question.

This is nature, despite the illusion of civilization, and nature requires the occasional use of force.

But this use has become more than occasional.


It didn’t take long after the season for me to realize that there were some players and coaches I plain old did not like, or agree with. No matter what we’d been through.

Still I understood the nature and power of cooperation, of collective strength, disagreements aside.


Years later:

I wonder sometimes where that gunny is, what he’s doing, if he’s recovered.

I wonder if he jokes with his Marines still about killing Hajjis (Gooks).

I wonder if he still says, “Two in the Heart, One in the Mind” and then laughs afterward.

I wonder if there’s any despair in that laugh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>