Sunday, October 03, 2010

“Heaven and Earth” Meets Afghanistan—Another American and Asian Story—

“Heaven and Earth” Meets Afghanistan—Another American and Asian Story—

By Kevin Stoda, Southeast Asia

Some decades ago, a great young Hollywood Director was smoking. (I haven’t heard much from him lately.)


His name was Oliver Stone and he made 3 great movies in a row on the Vietnam War. For the first two films, he received Academy Awards for best director back in the late 1980s. These American men’s films were Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. The third movie went into oblivion—probably because it told too many truths for Americans (after the first rah-rah Gulf War) to allow to sink in. In short, America was in anti-Vietnam denial full-time by the 1990s, when Stone’s third Vietnam film came out.

The first film, Platoon, was based roughly on Oliver Stone’s own 1967-1968 Vietnam War era experience. The second film was based on the biography of Ron Kovic. The third film, Heaven and Earth, was not considered a man’s movie. In fact, one reviewer, called it Oliver Stone’s women’s movie. [1] That particular reviewer, David Denby, actually appreciated the film, but he missed a main point. Most Americans who have not seen the film have definitely missed a main message for our generation, too.

Heaven and Earth was, as Oliver Stone intended, a film about Vietnam from a Vietnamese perspective on America’s War in Vietnam. For nearly a decade now, we have been awaiting a realistic Hollywood perspective on America’s more recent wars. The best we have had till now is (the 2005) Jarhead.

Perhaps, Heaven and Earth, says it all, though, for our generation today—especially in Afghanistan.

In the script for Stone film (based on a true story and two books), Heaven and Earth, we find both (1) the American special forces troops and (2) their enemies doing gruesome things to the locals. We are talking not only about rapes and needless bombings and killing in various Asian villages. We are talking about body parts being cut off and psych-op activities getting way out of control. By the way, this is the sort of news we have been hearing about from American special units in Afghanistan most of 2010.

America’s torture prisons and run-amok military massacres in 2001-2010 are too reminiscent of the Vietnam War—which right wingers and neo-liberal war makers have tried to make us forget about. (Taliban behavior before that was not any better in Afghanistan pre-9-11.)

Finally, in Heaven and Earth, we observe American men coming back state side and committing suicide for what they did to those Asians for their duty to God and country. (Just this past week, Ft. Hood in Texas witnessed 4 such suicides.)

On Hollywood 33 TV here in Taiwan, I just re-watched the film 1994 film, Heaven and Earth, and the story is eerily reminiscent of what we have been seeing in other parts of Asia over this past decade.

NOTE: Back in the late 1990s, I used the film Heaven and Earth—along with Forrest Gump and the other Stone films—to teach about American memory in film when I taught foreign students about American history and movies. This is why I am pushing better film education in American schools, so that youth no how to handle media and memory better in coming generations.


The book, When Heaven and Earth Change Places(1989), was actually a story of change, growth and redemption of a Vietnamese victim of war. This book was optioned out to Oliver Stone almost immediately after he read it in 1989. This book begins to tell the true tale of Vietnamese born American Le Ly Hayslip.

In turn, near the end of the Stone movie, Heaven and Earth, we get a glimpse of Hayslip returning to Vietnam with her family and finally committing herself to make a continuing difference in Southeast Asia. In fact, Hayslip soon helps to create two great foundations to aid in Southeast Asian development and reconstruction over the next decade. One of these organizations is the Global Village Foundation. This foundation focuses on improving education and ending illiteracy and poverty related illiteracy in Asia.

The other is East Meets West Foundation. It offers medical and health care programs and projects as well as undertaking local infrastructural development and construction assistance. It also offers other health care educational assistance in addition to medical & dental training campaigns for kids and communities.

Well, if America is ever learn from its continuing involvement in Asian wars, Americans are going to have to start watching this older Oliver Stone film and reading non-fiction works like Le Ly Hayslip’s tales now. Hopefully, redemption in Afghanistan and Iraq will not have to wait till future generation learn and grow up to the facts and horrors of becoming one’s own worst enemy come war-time.

NOTE: Put pressure on your political candidates to end war and fighting in Asia this election!


[1] Denby, David, Movie Review: “She is Woman”



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