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The Unholy Crusade Essay, Research Paper
The Unholy Crusade
Religion is a canopy under which American culture and
society thrives. Its extension reaches the boundaries of
such cultural mainstreams as movies, television, and
music. Oliver Stone’s 1986 war film Platoon is an example
of the religious subtleties and overtones that appear in
various American genres. Stone not only uses religious
themes to portray the Vietnam War, but manipulates the war
to show the decadence of American society.
Throughout history, man has traveled the world, and
conquered nations, in order to force one religion on
another. America was founded by Spain’s attempt to spread
Christianity to the new world. Although Spain was the
most powerful nation at the time, their attempt to spread
Christianity on less civilized people came to a fatal end
due to the explorers’ detrimental actions. The movie
Platoon reenacts this theme in a modern true life event.
After World War II, America demonstrated itself to be
arguably the most powerful nation. When communism
threatened Vietnam, America acted to defend its democratic
belief by sending troops over to thwart the communist
attempts. Stone uses the war to portray the failed
attempt due to the exploits of the American soldiers. In
one scene, Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Bunny (Kevin Dillon),
mercilessly kill several innocent villagers. Later in the
same scene, some soldiers are caught raping a village
woman. The actions taken by the soldiers are Stone’s
comparison to the Spanish explorers’ actions, which
finally led to both nation’s failed expeditions.
To add depth to his religious allegories, Stone not
only uses historical references, but opens it to Biblical
contexts as well. According to the Bible, the garden of
Eden is a paradise, often pictured in a jungle-like
atmosphere. In Platoon, Stone uses the jungles of Vietnam
to represent the mystic garden of Eden. Stone’s
underlying intent is to parallel the fall of man with
American destruction in the Vietnamese jungle. When Adam
and Eve committed man’s first sin, Eden no longer held the
sanctum of holiness, thus began the fall of man. Like
Adam and Eve, America set itself on a stage for the world
to see, and lost credibility due to their malevolent
actions. Unlike the previous wars that America
participated in, the Vietnam war was, for the most part,
an independent mission. America sent over thousands of
troops, comprised mainly of very young men, who were green
to the experience of life, much less war. One of the
young men was Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who came to
the war on his own accord. It is in this setting, the
same as Adam in Eden, that Chris comes to lose his
innocence towards life. Chris’s tenure in Vietnam exposes
him to experiences with drugs, killing, and brutality,
which signifies his lost innocence, and spiritual
downfall. The same can be said for the other men in
Chris’s platoon, who came over to war young to reluctantly
lose their innocence early.
Along with a religious backdrop, Stone uses symbolism
to create his version of the controversial 1970’s war.
One of the major symbols involved that of the characters
Barnes and Elias, played by Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe,
respectively. Their characters symbolized the Biblical
personalities of Cain and Abel. According to the Bible,
Cain and Abel were the first brothers of the earth.
Driven by jealousy, Cain later kills off his brother Abel.
In wars, a bond of brotherhood is created by serving in
combat together. Elias and Barnes survived several years
of combat, making them the more experienced members, and
in a sense “brothers”. Later in the movie, while the
platoon is being ambushed, Barnes “frags” Elias due to
previous differences. When Cain betrayed Abel, the ground
saturated by Abel’s blood, cried out to God, thus
condemning Cain for life. After Elias was shot by Barnes,
Elias managed to run out to the field, saturated with his
own blood, for the American troops in the helicopters to
see, thus condemning Barnes in the eyes of his platoon.
This Biblical allegory Stone uses in the movie portrays
America’s irreverence for the sanctity of family bond.
Stone’s interpretation of the Vietnam war was not
only driven by the events that transpired during the war,
but many religious aspects also. The movie was not only
ground breaking in the sense that it represented a neutral
view of America versus Communism, but it was insightful to
the religious undertones of all wars. By using religious
themes throughout key parts of the movie, Stone
illustrates the decadence that American society is heading
towards. This decadence is one factor that led to the
American ineffectiveness in Vietnam.
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