History of the World According to the Movies: Part 79 – The Vietnam War

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Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Apocalypse Now is a Vietnam War rendition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Though it may not be a film you may want to show your kids, it’s one of the more definitive films about Vietnam that has shaped the popular Hollywood perspective. Of course, it depicts the Vietnam War as kind of the hell it was with American soldiers of questionable sanity as well as the smell of napalm in the morning. Also, it has a psychedelic rock soundtrack, too.

Of course, I couldn’t begin the Post-War era and plunge into the 1960s without talking about a little thing called the Vietnam War which began as a war of colonialism between the Vietnamese and the French only to turn into a civil war with Cold War implications when Ho Chi Minh’s forces wanted to unite Vietnam under a Communist government. Whenever we think about this war, we usually picture jungle guerrilla warfare, draftees being sent against their will, American troops committing human rights violations, hippies protesting, napalm, Agent Orange, Asian hookers, and helicopters. Whenever you see a movie on Vietnam, you will tend to hear songs like “For What It’s Worth” b Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” the Rolling Stones, and other psychedelic rock music. Most Vietnam movies will feature US troops who may start the war either as idealistic young men or unwilling draftees then slowly become broken and disillusioned wrecks at best or crazy homicidal maniacs at worst. Either way, your American movie GIs will need serious psychological help when they come back home. And unless it’s the terrible John Wayne Green Berets or the unreliable narrative of Forrest Gump, don’t expect any movie adaptation on the Vietnam War speak favorably because it’s one of the most controversial conflicts as far as the US is concerned. And while the US may win some battles in Vietnam, let’s just say their fighting would be like trying to fix a watch with a sledgehammer. Nevertheless, there are plenty of movies about the Vietnam War that do contain their share of inaccuracies which I shall list.

Lyndon B. Johnson:

Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War was an unpopular policy decision from the beginning. (Actually it was rather popular back in the day especially after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which happened when Johnson was running for his own term as President {he was serving out Kennedy’s term at this time}. It only started becoming unpopular in 1968 at least in the media {despite not having a single major newspaper thinking the US should leave Vietnam}, though a lot of civilians supported it then even if they didn’t like it. Yet, it had definitely become unpopular by Richard Nixon’s presidency though.)

Lyndon Baines Johnson got America into the Vietnam War. (He only brought that war closer to home. Actually, it was years in the making and had been supported by previous administrations of both parties. Other presidents would’ve done the same thing as Johnson at the time for escalation was bound to happen.)

Ron Kovic:
Ron Kovic apologized for his role in the accidental death of a Marine Corporal to his family, yet the man’s wife couldn’t forgive him. (Although this is depicted in Born on the Fourth of July, it never happened.)

Ron Kovic was inspired into becoming an anti-war activist when he saw his high school sweetheart in a protest after the Kent State shootings. (Contrary to Born on the Fourth of July, Donna never existed and Kovic didn’t see the protests in person, yet he was inspired into becoming an anti-war activist after seeing that protest on TV and was certainly outraged of how the protesters were treated.)

Major Fred Peck threatened to take Ron Kovic’s head if anything was said about the Marine Corporal’s day. (Peck wasn’t interviewed for Born on the Fourth of July, but Kovic did voice such concerns to him. However, the major just investigated and concluded that Kovic probably didn’t kill the Marine. He even promoted Kovic as a leader of a new scout group.)

Ron Kovic was a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal. (Kovic was a Marine, Oliver Stone.)

During Ron Kovic’s protest with his fellow Vietnam vets at the Republican National Convention of 1972, they made a scene that attracted a few cameras, blocked an aisle, and riled the delegates. When one Republican delegate spat at Kovic, security guards moved in, roughly pushing and pulling veterans from the hall and physically prevented reporters from following. Outside, Kovic was beaten and thrown out of his wheelchair by an undercover cop. (The scene with the Republican National Convention of 1972 actually happened but it was less dramatic than how Oliver Stone put it. Robert Dornan is said to have persuaded the guards into the convention but told Kovic and his pals not to make a scene. Unsurprisingly, Kovic and his friends ignore him. Yet, Dornan said, “It was not as big a disturbance as the movie showed, but it was a disturbance. They were screaming. The guards came down and politely pulled their chairs backward. [They] put them out peaceably.” According to UPI, the scene went like this: “After about five minutes, security agents wheeled them in protesting out a side door. I went out and watched him and the other two congratulating one another, bragging about what they’d accomplished.”)

Le Ly:

Le Ly was married to a US soldier named Steve Butler who later committed suicide. (Contrary to Heaven & Earth, she actually married two American men named Ed Munro and Dennis Hayslip. Her first husband was more than twice her age and died from emphysema. Her second marriage wasn’t a happy one. However, contrary to the Oliver Stone film, she hadn’t been in Vietnam since 1973 because she’s viewed as a traitor there.)

Adrian Cronauer:

Air Force DJ Adrian Cronauer was staunchly liberal, anti-military, and antiwar. (Sorry, but Good Morning Vietnam gets this wrong. Cronauer described himself as “a lifelong card carrying Republican” and served as vice-chair in the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign {as far from an anti-war liberal as anyone could possibly be but much more controversial}. Not to mention, he was a Sergeant, not Airman First Class. Cronauer also states that much of what Robin Williams did in that movie would’ve gotten him court-martialed in a heartbeat. And, no, he wasn’t kicked out of Vietnam but left when his tour of duty ended.)

Air Force DJ Adrian Cronauer played rock music with commentary during his tour in Vietnam. (Actually he just played rock music with no commentary.)

Adrian Cronauer lied his way to teach an English class so he could get close to a local. (Yes, he did teach English but not for that reason and he didn’t lie his way in either.)

Khmer Rouge:

Dith Pran and his family escaped Cambodia by going straight to Thailand and the Red Cross. (Actually contrary to The Killing Fields, he was found by the Vietnamese before that and made a village chief before his American ties were discovered. Also, the movie doesn’t show him being tortured and the fact that he lost over 50 family members including three brothers and a sister during Khmer Rouge. Interestingly, the man who played Pran, Dr. Haing Ngor also survived Khmer Rouge as well but lost his wife. After winning his Oscar, he was gunned down in an LA parking garage by muggers who wanted the locket he swore never to part with.)

New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg was a loyal friend to Dith Pran. (Contrary to The Killing Fields, the real Al Rockoff said that Schanberg was a lying coward and that many of the scenes in the French Embassay at Phnom Penh are inaccurate. Let’s just say that Schanberg and Rockoff probably didn’t get along.)

Laos:

The Pathet Lao POW camp had 6 prisoners. (Contrary to Rescue Dawn, it had seven besides Christian Bale’s character.)

US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler spoke English with an American accent. (While his Christian Bale portrayal does in Rescue Dawn, he actually spoke English with a heavy German accent since he was born in Germany.)

Dieter Dengler was a Flight Lieutenant in the US Navy. (There’s no such rank in the US military. It’s an RAF rank. Dengler’s real rank was Junior Grade Lieutenant.)

US Air Force pilot Eugene DeBruin was a selfish and unstable prisoner who threatened to betray his fellow captives at any time and didn’t know what to do when it came time to escape. (DeBruin’s brother Jerry and fellow captive Pisidhi Indradat were very unhappy with how Eugene DeBruin was depicted in Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. Both say that DeBruin taught his fellow cellmates English, shared his food and blanket, and even returned after escaping to help an injured cellmate. When it came time to escape, DeBruin simply refused to leave while some sick prisoners remained and he is still considered missing to this day {though there were reports of him being alive as late as January 1968}. Pisidhi Indradat called him,“The finest man I have ever met.” Not only that, he also helped plan and implement the escape as well. Of course, the film was already completed by the time Werner Herzog found this out.)

During the escape from the Pathet Lao POW camp, Dieter Dengler shot the two prison guards. (Contrary to Rescue Dawn, this was DeBruin’s idea and it was Pisidhi Indradat. Also, the Thai Indradat would later be captured and put in another prison camp but he and his fellow Lao prisoners would  be rescued by Lao troops and the CIA. He’s the only survivor from Rescue Dawn who’s still alive to this day.)

Dieter Dengler formulated the idea of storing rice in bamboo tubes during the escape from the Pathet Lao camp. (This was Eugene DeBruin’s idea.)

While in the Pathet Lao POW camp, Dieter Dengler  formulated an entire escape plane that included uncuffing the hand cuffs with a nail. (Contrary to Rescue Dawn, this was the other prisoners’ idea before Dengler ever stepped foot at the camp and didn’t tell him about it until two weeks after he arrived.)

American Home Front:

The military was outraged by the idea of a US sergeant and his men kidnapping, gang raping, and killing a Vietnamese girl. (Though the men were convicted and sentenced, there’s very little evidence that anyone was. Also, though not mentioned in Casualties of War, the convicted men’s sentences were greatly reduced on appeal. Unsurprisingly, the military still has a problem with handling cases of sexual assault.)

Vietnam veterans were spit on by anti-war protestors. (Not a single incidence of this has been reported.)

Vietnam produced more American casualties than almost any other. (Of course, movies set in Vietnam do put emphasis on the US casualty rate which was 58,000 troops, which is less than what America lost in the American Civil War and both World Wars. Yet, the Vietnamese suffered much more.)

Older people supported the Vietnam War while younger people opposed it. (Actually younger people were more likely to support the war than their parents; younger people who opposed it were just more vocal. The parents were more likely to oppose the war due to WWII and Korea and especially if they had a son who was eligible for the draft.)

Married men couldn’t get drafted to Vietnam. (US legislation sewed up that loophole in 1965. Yet, if you were the son of a famous politician in Texas, on the other hand….)

Pittsburgh during the Vietnam era was filled with people of Eastern European descent and Orthodox living in trailer parks whose women wore babushkas and combat boots and men worked in the steel mills as well as hunted in forests with Ponderosa pines. (Contrary to The Deer Hunter, there are no Ponderosa Pines in Pennsylvania and though most guys did work in steel mills, most millworkers didn’t live in trailer parks, have wives that wore babushkas or combat boots. And not everyone in Pittsburgh is Eastern European descent or Orthodox in that matter. Oh, and why did they have to hunt Asian Red deer instead of white tail deer?)

Most American soldiers during the Vietnam War were draftees. (Contrary to most Vietnam War movies, 2/3 of American forces serving there were volunteers and so were three US presidential candidates like John Kerry, John McCain, and Al Gore. Of course, these are volunteers in the loosest sense such as people who voluntarily enlisted.)

Most US draftees were usually sent to Vietnam. (Actually many were sent someplace else to fill in for other soldiers but you wouldn’t want to go to Vietnam though.)

The first US draft lottery took place in 1968 before the MLK assassination. (It took place in 1969.)

Miscellaneous:

In Vietnam, the sun set over the ocean. (Vietnam has no west coast.)

The Vietnam War was just North Vietnamese vs. the US. (It was at first the French vs. the Vietnamese then it was the North Vietnamese vs. South Vietnamese with South Korea, the United States, Australians, and New Zelanders aiding the South and the North Koreans and Soviets aiding the North. Then it was the Vietnam vs. China.)

The Vietnam War was a guerilla jungle conflict. (Well, most of the time it was. Yet, about 75% US troops there lived on bases that were decked like little isles off Americana with all the amenities of American living. Those 75% had to worry more about getting injured in sports or catching STDs than getting killed.)

The North Vietnamese were a poorly armed guerilla force. (They had a badass air force as well as were supplied by the Soviets with tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and heavy artillery. Yet, the equipment was so good that the Soviets had to stop shipping it through China because the Chinese kept swiping it. Not only those, but the guerrillas in the South were well-integrated into the regular North Vietnamese forces and had some training before seeing combat. Oh, and they had AK-47s which were far superior than what the Americans had, especially M-16s which sucked. But, yeah, they did use guerilla tactics to an advantage.)

US Sergeant Tony Meserve saved Private Sven Erickson. (Contrary to Casualties of War, he didn’t but Meserve did have a heroic reputation and was nominated for a Bronze Star for coming to a GI’s aid when his ammo pouch had exploded.)

NVA/VC Sappers were used as suicide bombers. (Though it’s said so in Platoon, Sappers were actually too valuable to be seen as such for they were specially trained combat engineers/reconnaissance commandos who used stealth to infiltrate a camp’s defenses and take out strategic targets, such as barbed wire obstacles or bunkers, with explosives before the main attack. Yet, the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong did use suicide bombers but they didn’t consist of their demolitions experts.)

NVA/VC troops wore steel helmets. (Contrary to Platoon, only North Vietnamese anti-aircraft troops protecting bases in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. Those in South Vietnam wore floppy “boonie hats” or the standard North Vietnamese sun helmet.)

The 3rd Training Ranger Battalion served in the Vietnam War. (There has never been such unit in the US military yet We Were Soldiers does give special thanks to them in the credits.)

Parris Island trained Texas Marines for Vietnam. (Contrary to Full Metal Jacket, Cowboy would’ve trained in San Diego since it was for Marines recruits who lived west of the Mississippi River. Parris Island was for recruits who lived east.)

Vietnam Marine era drill instructors were nasty and sadistic pieces of work. (Contrary to Full Metal Jacket, Lee Ermey {who was a sergeant in real life} said in an interview that a drill instructor would never slap, choke, or punch a recruit {at least openly}, even back when he was a young Marine. Also, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is far more verbally abusive in the movie than what would be permitted in real life. The drill sergeant in Forrest Gump is a more accurate example.)

The French Mobile Group 100 was ambushed and killed to the last man. (Contrary to We Were Soldiers, it was ambushed several times and they were able to escape in all of them, though they did suffer severe casualties. Also, they didn’t consist of members of the French Foreign Legion but rather the 1st and 2nd Korea Battalions, Battalion de Marche of the 43rd Colonial Infantry and the 2nd Group of the 10th Colonial Artillery.)

Huey helicopters could lift about 19,000 pounds. (Contrary to Apocalypse Now, they couldn’t life more than 10,500 pounds.)

M16s had 30 round magazines. (They had 20 round magazines.)

The Vietcong used red tracer ammunition. (The US did. The Vietcong used green.)

US soldiers wore camouflage uniforms during the Vietnam War. (They wore green. )

Vietnamese civilians were passive victims, prostitutes, or conniving with the enemy.

The Vietcong were ludicrously sadistic and evil. (As you see in The Deer Hunter. In real life, they were just very determined to win.)

Every American helicopter used in the Vietnam War was a Huey. (H-34 Choctaws, SH-3 Sea Kings, CH-47 Chinooks, CH-46 Sea Knights and OH-6 Cayuses were also in use but you wouldn’t see them in Vietnam Era films.)

The Communist Vietnamese won almost every major engagement in the Vietnam War. (Actually the US won every single major battle in the Tet Offensive, while the Viet Cong took so many losses they played no major role in the war at that point. Not only that, the North Vietnamese never really won a major battle. The reason why the North Vietnamese won the Vietnam War had more to do with the fact that they just kept coming no matter what the Americans threw at them. In short, they wanted to win more than Americans wanted them to lose.)

American troop levels in Vietnam were 500,000 in 1968. (Levels reached 500,000 a year later.)

American jeeps in Vietnam had ignition switches. (They didn’t.)

National Security Action Memorandum 263 was the first step in total US withdrawal in the Vietnam War. (Contrary to JFK, it only foresaw the withdrawal of 1,000 advisers, and not even those if South Vietnam failed to “take up slack.”)

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History of the World According to the Movies: Part 77 – The Space Race

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The Right Stuff is a 1983 film about the breaking of the sound barrier as well as the original astronauts of the Mercury 7. The film isn’t entirely historically accurate and does get a lot of stuff wrong but it’s among the great movies featured on Roger Ebert’s list. Still, while it has an almost all-star cast, the guys they portrayed were much shorter in real life since NASA height limit was 5’11.”

One of the key events in the Cold War was the Space Race in which the United States and Russia competed to put the first artificial satellite (Russia), the first manned spaceflight (Russia), and the first man on the moon (US). Of course, if there was a more constructive way to channel Cold War aggression and competitiveness, then the race to Space Exploration was it. After all, the race for nuclear weapons kind of scared the hell out of people while the Space Race gave everyone a way to boast about one’s national technological marvels while not having to worry about being blown to oblivion. Thus, when US President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the national desire to launch an artificial satellite in 1955, the Space Race was on. Then the Soviets beat the US in the first round in 1957 with Sputnik 1 which basically sent the US freaking. Then the Russians launched Sputnik 2 which carried a dog named Laika into space who died five to seven hours after launch due to stress and overheating (well, the satellite was never intended to bring her back alive, though Moscow said she was euthanized but her death was kept secret for over 40 years). In 1958, the US launched Explorer 1 that discovered the Van Allen belt. Then you have the race for manned spaceflight in 1961 with Soviet Yuri Gagarin being the first man in space on Vostok 1 and the Russians would launch the first woman Valentina Tereshkova two years later (though the US would launch the first LGBT person in space in the 1980s if you know what I mean). Later in 1961, the US would launch Alan Shepard as their first man in space followed by John Glenn in 1962 as the first man to orbit the earth. Yet, even later that year, US President John F. Kennedy announced the US’ intent to land on the moon by the end of the decade. However, the US would beat the Soviets on this one and put a man on the moon by the end of the decade mostly because the Soviet manned moon program was beset with problems from the start, though they did send a probe there before Neil Armstrong made his one small step for man. Nevertheless, movies made pertaining to the Space Race do have their share of inaccuracies which I shall list.

Yuri Gagarin:

Yuri Gagarin lifted off into space at night. (He lifted off at 9:07AM Moscow time.)

Werner Von Braun:

Werner Von Braun was involved in the failed attempt to launch the Vanguard rocket. (Sorry, Homer Hickam, but you had no need to send your condolences to him since he wasn’t involved in the project and wouldn’t have been upset at all. You should’ve sent them to the Navy, much to Von Braun’s disliking.)

NASA:

NASA astronauts were over 6 feet tall. (Let’s just say the maximum height limit NASA is 5’11” thus, anyone over that would be considered ineligible. But astronauts in movies are always played by taller people.)

NASA scientists were bumbling idiots who needed design tips from the astronauts to even make the spaceships. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, it was the NASA scientists who designed the spaceships that put the astronauts into space and brought them right back. Also, NASA scientists were among the best and the brightest minds in the nation. Heck, at the time there were German scientists from WWII like Werner von Braun who were able to duck war crimes indictments because the US needed to compete with the Russians. These guys deserve their own movie, too.)

President John F. Kennedy inspired the US space program. (NASA was established during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency in 1958 contrary to Apollo 13.)

The Mercury 7:

Virgil “Gus” Grissom was 5’10.” (Contrary to Fred Ward’s portrayal of him in The Right Stuff, he was 5’5.” Also, his full name was Virgil Ivan Grissom, with the first he found personally embarrassing and the middle a propaganda embarrassment in itself. It’s no wonder why they called him, “Gus.” Also, the first guy to be launched into space twice as well as the first one of the Mercury 7 to die when he met his end during a launch pad test for the Apollo 1 mission.)

All the Mercury 7 astronauts all raised their hands when asked “Which one of you will be the first into space?” (Contrary to The Right Stuff, the question was actually about whether they were confident they would return from space.)

Gordon Cooper was a Korean War veteran. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, he was the only astronaut of the Mercury 7 who wasn’t a combat veteran. He was also the only nonsmoker and managed to hold his breath longer than John Glenn or Scott Carpenter unlike in the movie.)

Though John Glenn was planned to go on seven orbits on Friendship 7, he only landed after three. (He was always planned to land after 3 orbits and did so though the ground did tell him that he was to go for 7 it was to inform him that he was in a stable orbit. Also, he was the oldest man in space then since he was the oldest astronaut of the Mercury 7 and he’s the only one of that group still living at the age of 93 as of 2014.)

NASA chose Alan Shepard to be the first American man in space. (Actually while this is implied in The Right Stuff, Shepard was actually chosen by his peers.)

Gordon Cooper was the last American to go into space alone. (As of 1982 when The Right Stuff came out and as an astronaut of NASA. However in 2004 two guys on Scale Composite’s SpaceShipOne named Mike Mevill and Brian Binnie have the latter on the day when Gordon Cooper died.)

John Glenn traveled 17,500 miles per hour on Friendship 7. (No Mercury spacecraft had a guidance system that permitted to measure its velocity.)

Gordon Cooper was the only person of the Mercury 7 not to fly a Mercury mission. (Deke Slayton was due to a heart condition but he’ll go into space in 1975 during the Apollo-Soyuz test project as a docking module pilot. As for Gordon Cooper, he went into space in 1963 on Faith 7 and was the first American to spend more than a day in space. He would also be the commander on Gemini 5 two years later.)

Deke Slayton could swim. (Despite the pool scene in The Right Stuff, he could not and never told anyone. Also, during underwater training, Slayton sank to the bottom and had to be rescued. He subsequently practiced holding his breath in the kitchen sink according to his wife Marge.)

Gus Grissom panicked when his Liberty 7 sank in a splashdown landing that he caused the premature detonation of the hatch’s explosive bolts. (Actually contrary to The Right Stuff, the premature detonation was due to mechanical failure, not human error. Yet, it took a long time to find that out.)

Gus Grissom was an incompetent pilot as well as a womanizer. (He was neither contrary to his portrayal in The Right Stuff. Besides, NASA didn’t see him as an idiot since he flew on a Gemini mission and was selected to command the Apollo 1 mission before a fire during practice killed everyone on the launch pad. Not to mention, neither did his fellow astronauts on the Mercury 7 either. By contrast, Scott Carpenter had a little controversy with his mission in the realm of fuel management and never flew again.)
John Glenn hummed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during his potentially fatal re-entry. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, he didn’t do this.)

John Glenn was threatened of being replaced by another astronaut when he got into a shouting match with a NASA official who ordered him to get on the phone with his wife Annie and tell her to let Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson in. (Contrary to The Right Stuff, Glenn did confirm the incident but didn’t mention other astronauts, “I saw red. I said that if they wanted to do that, they’d have a press conference to announce their decision and I’d have one to announce mine, and if they wanted to talk about it anymore, they’d have to wait until I took a shower. When I came back, they were gone and I never heard any more about it.”)

All John Glenn did during his flight on Friendship 7 was gaze at the star and talked about the so-called “fireflies” outside his spacecraft (“They were droplets of frozen water vapor from the capsule’s heat exchanger system, but their fireflylike glow remains a mystery” as John Glenn wrote). (Contrary to The Right Stuff, Glenn said he did more than that including taking his blood pressure, taking pictures of the Canary Islands and the Sahara, testing his vision, and doing exercises with bungee cords to compare his readings to previous ones taken on the ground.)

Apollo 13:

The glitch on Apollo 13 sent the crew into total chaos. (Actually contrary to Apollo 13, NASA had already simulated many of the faults that would occur on the actual Apollo 13. Not to mention, the astronauts remained with cool heads at all times than what the film implies with the emotional tensions being played up for drama.)

Jim Lovell and Fred Haise were a bit mistrustful of Jack Swigert who replaced Ken Mattingly when the latter had to pull out due to rubella. They were also worried about his competence with docking the Command Module. (Contrary to Apollo 13, Swigert was an expert on the Apollo command module who literally wrote the book on emergency procedures, many of which were actually used on the mission. Yes, there was a little apprehension when he replaced Mattingly but it was short-lived and had more to do with the fact he was a last-minute inclusion they had to bunk with for the duration than with his abilities, especially after what happened. Also, if he couldn’t dock the Command Modules, his cremates could’ve done it.)

Ken Mattingly was bumped off from the Apollo 13 mission for rubella. (Yes, he was yet though the film gets this correct as well as the fact he never contracted it. Yet, viewers may have a hard time wondering why Mattingly was grounded despite never contracting the disease. The answer is that a week prior to the launch, one of the backup crew members named Charles Duke contracted rubella from his kids and everyone else on both the prime and backup crew was exposed since they trained together. Aside from the obvious exception of Duke, Mattingly was the only one of both crews who didn’t have rubella as a child, and thus, wasn’t immune. So three days before the launch, Mattingly was out and Swigert was in.)

Ken Mattingly was rewarded for not nobly going into space and saving his stricken crewmembers from the control center. (Contrary to Apollo 13, the tasks Mattingly performed were down to a whole team operating more closely on the lines of existing procedures.)
Commander James Lovell said, “Houston we have a problem.” (Actually he said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem” though he probably should’ve said that. Also, the real Jim Lovell looked more like an older Edward Norton than Tom Hanks.)

Ken Mattingly was at home drinking when the Apollo 13 accident occurred and only knew from watching the TV. (Contrary to the film, he was at Mission Control at the time. Also, Gary Sinise was much more attractive than he was in real life.)

A team of engineers devised a solution to the Command Module on Apollo 13 by making its air filters fit the incompatible slots of the Lunar Module’s filters. (Contrary to Apollo 13, this was devised by a single NASA engineer while driving to work.)

Marilyn Lovell’s wedding ring went down the drain while she was taking a shower before her husband’s Apollo 13 mission. (Unlike in Apollo 13, her ring was too big to fall through the drain cover and Marilyn was able to retrieve it.)

Alan Shepard was bumped to Apollo 14 because of inner ear problems. (Contrary to Apollo 13, it was his lack of training and the relatively short time until launch. Bumping his crew up to Apollo 14 would give his crew more time to train. Still, Alan Shepard would get to be on the moon and use his own golf clubs, too.)

Miscellaneous:

The launches of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin took place in Star City, Russia. (They took place in Baikonur Cosmodrome which is in present-day Kazakhstan. Still, it’s worth noting that Yuri Gagarin was mistaken for an alien when he landed in a Russian village and asked them for a phone. I’m sure being 5’2” in an orange jumpsuit didn’t help.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 76 – The Cold War

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Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove: or How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb is one of the great Cold War satires that perfectly captures the historical mood of the time. Peter Sellers’ titular character shown here is based off of guys like Henry Kissinger, Edward Teller, and Werner Von Braun. Sellers also plays the President of the United States and a British Lieutenant stuck with General Ripper. Yet, one of the most surprising things in this movie is the presence of James Earl Jones as an Air Force pilot (yes, that James Earl Jones).

The problem with doing a movie history of the Cold War is that for many years there are so many movies that use it as a contemporary setting, particularly spy films. Thus, it makes the idea particularly hard to separate the history from the fantasy, well, maybe not that hard but close enough. Still, Hollywood had plenty of material to go by with the Cold War and it shows, even today with every James Bond movie or Tom Clancy or John LeCarre film adaptation. Nevertheless, from 1945 to 1991, the Western societies and Communist countries were locked in a war of influence with The United States and the Soviet Union being the two major superpowers involved. It was a time of arms races with building doomsday weapons and scrambling to get to outer space (which I’ll get to later). It was time in which indirect conflicts would be backed by one or the other. And it was a time of paranoia and scares in which people were afraid of nuclear annihilation and suspicious of opposing spies. You also had the Berlin Wall. Yet, it would all come down in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which made many bummed out of their minds. Nevertheless, there were plenty of movies made pertaining to this era which have their share of inaccuracies I shall list.

Red Scare:

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was an upstart member of the US Senate who just went a little too crazy over the Red Scare of the 1950s as well as well-liked figure in the Republican Party. (Actually, by 1948, McCarthy was in a career crisis mode by that time after allegations of bribery arose in 1948 which might have brought him impeachment or at the very least censure. Either way, his political career was on the way out and by this point, even the Republicans felt that he was an embarrassment so they sent him to do a speech in Wheeling where McCarthy made his famous anti-Communist stump speech that led to seven years of witch-hunts as well as made him politically bulletproof until 1954. Though Hollywood may make it seem otherwise, the Republican Party at the time didn’t intend to make Senator McCarthy a major political sensation. Rather, they were just trying to make him quietly go away.)

Senator Joseph McCarthy’s influence was at its height by 1953. (It was already on the wane by the time Edward R. Murrow’s show about him aired due to years of investigative reporting by other journalists by Drew Pearson. As Murrow said in Newsweek, “It’s a sad state of affairs when people think I was courageous” in presenting his show. Still, having Joseph McCarthy on See It Now certainly helped Americans everywhere to see how batshit insane this guy really was. Oh, and the Joe McCarthy footage in Good Night and Good Luck, well, it’s actually him despite some people complaining that the actor playing him hammed too much.)

The McCarthy era was one of the worst Red Scare eras in American history. (The notorious Palmer Raids of 1919-1920 would make the McCarthy hearings look like a picnic.)

McCarthyism made the job of finding Soviet spies easier. (It made the job harder. Not only that but accusing people of being Communist Party members actually allowed many bonafide Soviet spies to escape prosecution like Mary Jane Keeney who worked for the GRU and she was the only one of McCarthy’s accusations who was anything close to guilty. You could say that McCarthy was kind of a godsend to Soviet spies operating in the US.)

J. Edgar Hoover had little involvement in McCarthyism. (If it wasn’t for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, then the McCarthy witch-hunt would’ve been written off akin to the bullshit you’d typically hear on Fox News that nobody should take seriously. J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI were the muscle behind the McCarthy witch-hunts and the reason why the Red Scare of the 1950s ruined so many lives.)

American Communists were cynical opportunists as well as racists only interested in seizing power in the US on behalf of the Soviets and not improving social and labor conditions in the country. (The movie I Was a Communist for the FBI portrays American Communists as this. However, the reality was {mostly} the opposite in regards to people like Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, or a lot of other folk singers as well as others. One critic was especially critical of the 1951 film writing, “In many respects, this heated item bears comparison to the hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee—which, incidentally, it extols. … For instance, in glibly detailing how the Communists foment racial hate and labor unrest in this country … [it] hint[s] that most Negroes and most laborers are ‘pinks’. It raises suspicion of school teachers … [and] that people who embrace liberal causes, such as the Scottsboro trial defense, are Communist dupes … and the film itself glows with patriotism. But it plays a bit recklessly with fire.”)

The K-19 Submarine Accident:

K-19 was the Soviet Union’s first nuclear submarine. (It was actually the Russians’ first nuclear missile submarine. The first nuclear Russian submarine was K-3 {an attack sub} which wasn’t as prone to serious nuclear accidents as K-19 was though similarly “reliable.” Also, contrary to the titular film K-19: The Widowmaker, the sub was actually much roomier than it’s depicted since it’s being played by a diesel sub. Of course, Kathryn Bigelow and the other filmmakers did try to secure the boat as a production set but the Russian Navy declined {for obvious reasons since it had a service life marred by a large number of accidents. The Russian Navy probably was worried about the film crew’s safety or thought filming there would be nuts}. As of 2014, the submarine is said to be preserved in a submarine graveyard after it was bought by one of the members of the original crew. Still, it’s worth mentioning that its first submarine commander did look a lot like Harrison Ford though {though his character’s name was changed out respect for the real life counterpart’s family}, which partly explains why his performance was praised by the remaining survivors.)

Seven men died as a result of radiation exposure during the K-19 nuclear accident. (Contrary to the 2002 film, 8 did that included all 7 members of the engineering team along with their divisional officer, within the next month from July 4, 1961. However, 15 would die from the after-effects of radiation exposure within the next two years.)

The K-19 was nicknamed: “The Widowmaker.” (It was never nicknamed “The Widowmaker” though it would’ve been an appropriate one since it did create a lot of widows and quite a few widowers during its construction and service. Rather its nickname was “Hiroshima” but after the accident. It would have a lot more accidents in its subsequent years of service with some resulting in fatalities {yes, it was put back into service after the meltdown}. Incidents include a 1972 fire that would kill 30 people and an electrical short circuit in 1982 that would kill one. Still, “The Widowmaker” is a lot more badass name than “Hiroshima.”)

There was an actual mutiny on the K-19 during the 1961 accident. (Contrary to the movie, the Captain was savvy enough to throw almost all the submarine’s small arms overboard out of concern of the possibility of mutiny.)

The Bay of Pigs Invasion:

The New York Times didn’t publish a story on the Bay of Pigs Invasion and regretted it. (This is a widely believed myth that’s depicted in Thirteen Days. The paper published a front-page story on the Bay of Pigs Invasion preparations two weeks before the event occurred, but it didn’t address any CIA involvement and that invasion was imminent.)

The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the political fallout that followed may have been the first strike that eventually became a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. (Contrary to JFK, there’s no proof of this.)

Cuban Missile Crisis:

Kenneth O’ Donnell was the chief agent in preventing the Cuban Missile Crisis from escalating. (It was really, Ted Sorensen. As former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara said, “For God’s sakes, Kenny O’Donnell didn’t have any role whatsoever in the missile crisis; he was a political appointment secretary to the President; that’s absurd.” I wonder why they put Kenny O’Donnell in Thirteen Days because he’s played by Kevin Costner {who looks nothing like the real guy at all} and Ted Sorensen’s not. Yet, almost everyone in the Kennedy Executive Committee of National Security was more important than Kenneth O’Donnell. Shame Thirteen Days didn’t have the guts or funding to keep Kevin Costner out of the film.)

John F. Kennedy was worried about the prospect of millions of people dying in a nuclear holocaust around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Yes, he certainly was and so was almost everyone in the Kennedy White House during that time. Yet, contrary to Thirteen Days, it wasn’t the only thing on his mind since his first comment to the real Kenneth O’Donnell when the crisis broke out was about how two militant Anti-Castro Republicans would do in the polls: “We’ve just elected [Homer] Capehart in Indiana, and Ken Keating will probably be the next president of the United States.” Yet, let’s just say that a president worrying about his electoral prospects in such a crisis may be understandable. Still, while Thirteen Days was criticized for not devoting much time to Cuba and Russia, this is understandable since it’s based on memoirs from various Kennedy officials. Khrushchev had to get to Kennedy through Radio Moscow to talk to him during this time. Then again, perhaps Khrushchev should’ve been more worried about his job because he’d lose it after the Cuban Missile Crisis {which he kind of started}, though he got off pretty easy compared to other Soviet leaders.)

Kenneth O’Donnell made phone calls to Commander Ecker and Adlai Stevenson during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (O’Donnell played almost no part at all in the Cuban Missile Crisis despite his Kevin Costner portrayal in Thirteen Days. Thus, these phone calls never occurred.)

The secret deal with the Soviets over the Turkish missiles was shared with the members of the Executive Committee of National Security in the Kennedy Administration. (Contrary to Thirteen Days, it was only known to very few people such as JFK, RFK, Dean Rusk, Ted Sorensen, and perhaps McNamara. Robert F. Kennedy vaguely hinted at this deal in his 1968 memoir Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The secret deal wasn’t known to the public until 1989 when it was officially confirmed by Ted Sorensen.)

President John F. Kennedy didn’t wear a hat when he left Chicago during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Contrary to Thirteen Days, he did, supposedly with a cold, since the White House Press Corps certainly would’ve noticed it for JFK almost never wore one.)

Nikita Khrushchev’s acceptance of peace contained the lines, “you and I should not now pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the harder you and I pull, the tighter the knot will become…”(Contrary to Thirteen Days, this quote appeared in Khrushchev’s first letter from October 26, 1962, not October 27.)

The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in November 1962. (It took place in October.)

Soviet-Afghan War:

Representative Charlie Wilson greeted Pakistani president General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in Islamabad in a smart suit. (Unlike in Charlie Wilson’s War, he was in a Stetson hat and heeled cowboy boots almost making him look 7ft tall. Also, the conversation was about India, not fighting the Soviets. Not to mention, Pakistan was developing a nuclear bomb at this time, but you wouldn’t know it from the film. Then again, Wilson denied in front of congressional subcommittees. At the same time it’s said he told Zia at a state dinner, “Mr. President, as far as I’m concerned you can make all the bombs you want because you are our friends and they, the Indians, are our enemies.” {Actually the bit about the Indians isn’t exactly true for they weren’t US enemies}.)

Representative Charlie Wilson was a womanizing booze hound. (His exploits weren’t just limited to women and booze. He was also said to be a drug user.)

Charlie Wilson and General Zia were willing to help the Afghans so they could improve the lives of refugees. (Sure the refugee bit as a main motivation was more to make Wilson and Zia sympathetic characters in the Aaron Sorkin film though the refugee bit wasn’t even the half of it as far as motivations were concerned. It had more to do with Cold War politics and an enemy infidel invasion next door as far as the US and Pakistan were concerned. Yet, the story is far too complex for 1 ½ hour film.)

Charlie Wilson was willing to build a few schools in Afghanistan after the Soviets were defeated. (I’m not sure about this. Still, Charlie Wilson’s War leaves out actions by the ISI, MI6, CIA, and Saudi Arabia as well as the various factions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, he had no remorse or regret over arming the Afghan rebels despite the consequences.)

Charlie Wilson was the only American politician involved with the Soviet War in Afghanistan. (Contrary to Charlie Wilson’s War, Ronald Reagan actually gave the order to provide the Mujahadeen with Stinger missiles that denied the Soviets air supremacy and turn the momentum of battle after 1986. And remember that many of the Mujahadeen would later become Islamic warriors and form the Taliban so, yeah, he did negotiate with terrorists. Still, Charlie Wilson didn’t carry out his operation without the government’s knowledge but with the government’s approval.)

All of Charlie Wilson’s aides were gorgeous women. (His chief aide was a man named Charlie Schnabel.)

Robert Hanssen:

Robert Hanssen’s wife Bonnie didn’t know that he was a spy for the Russians. (Contrary to Breach, she knew since 1969 when she found $10,000 in cash at their home. Yet, by Hanssen’s capture in 2001, she was living in denial. Still, despite all the shit he had her put up with, Bonnie still wouldn’t want to divorce him. Yet, judging by the fact that Hanssen was a member of Opus Dei who videotaped himself having sex with his wife he’d watch with a high school buddy, he probably did it for the money.)

Miscellaneous:

Everything in the USSR was terrible, or technically backward, and that life was worse for them in every way, compared to the “democratic West.” (While the citizens of the Soviet Union certainly lacked civil rights compared to us, there were many aspects of their country that was advanced. For example, they were landing their cosmonauts on land, while ours had to fall into the sea. Their literacy rate was higher than the US, and their public education system superior. There was very little crime and doctors were making house calls right up to the bitter end – of communism, that is.)

The Soviets had the ability to nuke the US to oblivion. (Contrary to most movies that gives us the impression that the Soviets had thousands of nukes ready to unleash a fiery death on American cities, they only had 200 strategic bombers in all, tops. Their missiles weren’t much better. Yet, let’s just say, in the nuclear capabilities department, the Soviet Union was behind at least in the 1950s. If the Soviet Union had a chance to nuke the US into oblivion, it would’ve been in the 1980s.)

All Russians were Caucasian. (Russians came from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities as well as cultures.)

All Communist countries were Soviet puppets. (Maybe Poland and East Germany though their relations with the USSR weren’t entirely smooth. As for the rest of the Iron Curtain, they tried to gain more autonomy from the Soviet Union even though they were Communist. As for the Asian Communist states, China was at odds with Russian and tried to invade Vietnam, the Korean War was Kim Il-Sung’s idea, and Vietnam actually thwarted the Chinese invasion. Oh, and Vietnam wouldn’t put up with China invading them either.)

Communist banned religion in their countries. (Officially atheist, sure, but many religious traditions in those countries did survive to this day. Not to mention, many Chinese religions actually don’t require belief in a god and tend to have characteristics that resemble philosophy. Also, explain to me how John Paul II was able to become Pope? I mean John Paul II spent most of his life before pope as a Catholic priest/bishop in a Communist country. Not to mention, though the Soviet Union did persecute clergymen and tried to dismantle religious institutions, the laity was mostly tolerated {same goes for other Eastern Bloc nations} since persecuting a group that made up the majority of Russia’s population was a bad idea. Not to mention, Josef Stalin would actually revive the Russian Orthodox Church to drum up support for Russia’s entry into WWII and never bothered to persecute the Georgian Orthodox Church because he was afraid of angering his mother. There would be a time when the anti-religious policies would be revived under Khrushchev , they’d be considerably relaxed under Brezhnev onward.)

Some East German Stasi agents would betray their agency and help those they had under surveillance. (The plot to The Lives of Others revolves around this but unfortunately, no Stasi agent has publically regretted their actions, let alone help their victims. Also, the Stasi agents watching were also under surveillance so they wouldn’t get away with what Wiesler did. Ironically, they guy who played Wiesler was also under surveillance and later found out that his then wife was a registered informant on him.)

Russia was a US ally in 1947. (A more accurate term would be frenemy since they still kept ambassadors {enemy nations don’t send ambassadors to each other} but Russia and the US weren’t exactly friends.)

At least one woman was awarded the “Hero of the Soviet Union” twice. (This is the Soviet equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. 92 Soviet women were awarded this once {50 posthumously} yet there’s no record of any woman being awarded it twice.)

The Soviets had the power to launch nuclear missiles with a push of a button. (Contrary to Dr. Strangelove {which is a great satire by the way}, unless the Russians were planning an offensive on the US in which use of nukes was imminent, the Soviet premier couldn’t just press a button to start off a nuke. The Soviets used a particularly toxic and rather corrosive blend of rocket fuel for their missiles and since they didn’t have the kind of metallurgy the US did; Russian missiles could only be fueled for a limited time before they’d have to be unfueled, maintained, and refueled. As a result unless an offensive posture was needed in the event of a nuclear war, the Soviet missiles were kept empty of rocket fuel until they were set to be launched. And the fueling process of Soviet nuke missiles usually took up to four hours, which would’ve made launching preparations very problematic. Oh, and the Soviets had a mostly train-based missile launch system under an impression that it would be more difficult to destroy a mobile target than one at a stationary reinforced location. Yet, such train-based missile launch system made US intelligence agencies very good at finding things with the increasingly ubiquitous spy satellites that were more or less developed to spy on the Soviet Union. Let’s just say if Nikita Khrushchev was able to cause a nuclear holocaust with a push of a red button, there probably would’ve been no Cuban Missile Crisis since he was only willing to deploy Soviet missiles at Cuba after the US has had deployed their missiles in Turkey which could hit Moscow within 16 minutes to launch. Yet, problems arose when it became uncertain of whether Cuba had any authority to launch them or whether Cuba would launch them anyway as well as the United States finding out. Maybe the Russians should’ve stuck to making assault weapons since the AK-47 is the most widely used and popular assault rifle on earth and has killed far more people than nukes.)

Soviet officers wore beards. (Facial hair was prohibited in the Soviet Union’s armed forces.)

Russian soldiers were equipped with Swedish Gustav M45 submachine gun. (Look, unless this is a WWII movie of the Eastern Front or any time before 1946, it would be best if Russian soldiers during the Cold War would be equipped with AK-47s since it’s the most recognized Soviet Union weapon on earth and is made all over the world. Not to mention, everyone practically knows what they look like and can be found anywhere.)