History Extension: Gabi Fitzgerald

Major Work: How and why has the American representation of the conflict in Vietnam changed over time?

Gabi has loved history since she was a little girl, and has always had an inquisitive and curious nature.

“I have always done well in History, so when I heard History Extension was an option, I thought I would give it a try, and I’m so grateful I did,” Gabi said. 

“Rather than studying history, you more learn about the way history is formed and documented and the debates that have occurred and continue to occur about what is history, and how it should be produced.

“It’s been really interesting to broaden my views of history, as I now not only consider the past but how and why it has been documented for me to understand.”

Gabi said she will take the lessons from History Extension with her for the rest of her life.

“It has helped me become more critical and analytical,” said said.

“It was also really enjoyable as we spent a lot of time having class debates, to try and encourage analytical thought.

“In discussing ‘is the earth flat?’ and ‘would you genetically modify your child?’ and having to make points for both sides of the arguments, despite your personal beliefs, we had a lot of fun while also deepening our understandings on how to debate, persuade and form our ideas into comprehensible structures.”

In her Major Work, Gabi used examples of the films The Green Berets (1968) and Go Tell the Spartans (1978), to discuss how and why American film representation of the Vietnam Conflict changed over time. 

“The two films were made with different intentions, with the directors/producers having very different political beliefs,” she said.

“In comparing these two different films made 10 years apart, I was able to scrutinise the impact of the time period and the purpose of the films in changing the outcome of the film, as well as how the films were received by the public and critics.

“Major works are always challenging, as your work is under constant scrutiny and change, however, I’d have to say the most challenging part of completing this essay was having to do it in quarantine.

“Finding the motivation to write was also hard in quarantine, but Dr Dennett was like our class guardian angel and he helped us in every way he could. He sent me books from his personal collection to my house with express shipping when I told him I was struggling to find sources, and he always responded to emails and texts promptly. 

“He was always looking out for us and making sure we were on track and for that, I am so grateful. Thank you, Dr Dennett.”

Gabi’s synopsis:

My question of “How and why has the American representation of the conflict in Vietnam changed over time” is answered through the case study of two films that follow experiences from the conflict in Vietnam. The Green Berets (1968) was made during the time American soldiers were in Vietnam, and Go Tell the Spartans (1978) was made 10 years after The Green Berets, and after the American troops had returned to the US from Vietnam.

Originally, the posed question was “How and why has the representation of the conflict in Vietnam changed over time?” I changed it to become “the American representation”, as films have been made from all over the world that discuss the perspectives of many different people that were involved in the conflict. To achieve a more concise result, and produce writing of high quality that is still within the word limit, I decided to concentrate on the American perspective. 

My essay included information from a variety of sources, some that have negative views, and some that have positive views on the two different films. This is in an attempt to have balanced material when forming my discussion.

Although using diverse sources, my bias remains that after watching the two films, I preferred both the sentiment and entertainment value of Go Tell the Spartans. 

John Wayne in The Green Berets uses the same techniques from his other films, that have a distinctive difference between the Americans and their enemies, as good and bad, polar opposites that dehumanise and over-simplify the enemy and their intentions. This depiction of the enemy gave the American public a reason to believe the conflict in Vietnam was necessary.

Burt Lancaster, though not being as iconic as Wayne, had the same star power and influence as Wayne. In his film, Go Tell the Spartans, in the classic American advertisement mentality, he opposes each ideal that Wayne represented, to make the audience consider his ideals over the pro-war ideals shown from the Government, and in Wayne’s The Green Berets.

These opposing views shown through films, represent the polarisation of beliefs that spread across America.