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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only uses historical references, but opens it to Biblical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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