Hearts and Minds (Director: Peter Davis, US, 1974): A powerful documentary about American involvement in the Vietnam war. Perhaps the reason it packs such a punch is that it was filmed before the war was actually over, and it argued passionately that America’s involvement was wrong. For that reason, at the time of its release it was quite controversial. Now, almost thirty years later, history has caught up with Peter Davis’ film, and its arguments seem almost self-evident. That is, unless you look at the current American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Personally, I couldn’t stop thinking about those countries while watching the film. When the interviewer asks a former bomber pilot whether America or Americans have learned anything from their experience in Vietnam, he laments, “I think we’re trying hard not to.” Sadly, I think history has proven him right.
One of the most compelling subjects of the film is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the 7,000-page Pentagon Papers to the media in 1971. This document was a report, commissioned by the US Army and classified as top secret, of American decision-making in Vietnam from 1945-1968. Ellsberg was prosecuted for his actions, but the case was dismissed on grounds of government misconduct against him. His recently published memoir Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers looks like a fascinating read.