Film review: Rambo – a Reagan fantasy

Pat Smyth, Militant Irish Monthly, October 1985


“I’ve always thought,” Rambo tells us in his first remotely intelligent remark half way through the film, “that the mind is the best weapon.” How then could they send a man to totally defenceless to do battle with the entire Vietnamese nation and most of the Russian army thrown in for good measure?

Rambo is the latest is a long line of American films that rewrite history in the Reaganite mould. They owe nothing to historical accuracy and everything to a conscious attempt by the American right to whip up a blind, bloodthirsty patriotic fervour that would sustain US military intervention in parts of the Third World, most particularly Central America. Reagan’s praise for Rambo is no accident, the film is effectively part of the ideological armoury of the United States State department.

The central contention of this particular film and its utterly obnoxious hero is that the Americans lost the Vietnamese war because of the pussyfooting back home. The boys at the front were simply not allowed to get on with the job of eliminating the entire Vietnamese people. “Do we get to win this time”, says our ‘hero’.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Americans threw everything they had ay the Vietnamese, no holds barred, and still lost the war. They developed the techniques of pattern bombing, simply flattening whole areas. Hey napalmed villages, killing and maiming men, women and children. They summarily executed prisoners. Others they tortured, threatening to throw them from helicopters, and often doing so.

The war killed 2 million Vietnamese and 57,000 US soldiers and cost the United States $172,000,000,000. Eight million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, mainly by US B52 bombers. That is equivalent to four times the entire bomb tonnage dropped during the whole of the Second World War. A further six million tons of artillery and shells were also expended.

At home the politicians and military leaders spent much of their time covering up for the boys at the front.

The Vietnamese people, against all odds, against the mightiest military power in the world, ill-fed, poorly armed, successfully carried through a war of liberation that resulted in the overthrow not only of imperialism but of capitalism in their country. Faced with the inevitability of defeat in the war of attrition, the US army began to disintegrate and the young people back home rebelled.

There is absolutely nothing positive to be said fro Rambo, the man or the movie. The film preaches warmongering. It is racist – all the Vietnamese appear as mindless cruel savages, and it seems to me that the Russian troops are only brought into the film to create worthy Aryan opponents for this superman Rambo. The plot makes no sense at all and the film is only worth mentioning because of the political significance that Reagan has given it.

Pat Smyth