Apocalypse Now

In Saigon of course stories of war come to mind.

One thinks of the musical ‘Miss Saigon’ and miserable war biopics such as ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and the Coppola classic, ‘Apocalypse Now.’

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The city, now Ho Chi Minh, alive with young people, neon lights, night markets, food vendors, taxis and tourists barely hints such a sad history existed, but then  museums and battle field tours remind.

My tour guide fought in the war and took our bus via the obligatory Centre for Victims of War. His presentation of life for Viet Cong surviving in tunnels while U.S. Bombers swept napalm and Agent Orange through fields and jungles, was sobering.

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Many soldiers lived 12 years under ground, if not killed blinded by the eternity of hiding. Children of descendants of the war still suffer deformities from chemical weapons.

In Laos, 80 million unexplored munitions still lie live in farmlands -very real risks to villagers and children. A poor country efforts to clear the land is painstaking.

While much propaganda of the time focused on the evils of communism – Coppolas film ‘Apocalypse Now’ is more self exploratory.

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Using Joseph Conrad’s modernist classic ‘the Heart of Darkness’ as inspiration, Coppola points out the hubris of American imperialist intentions.

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The ‘heart’ of darkness is not the savage land explored by intrepid men, nor the corruption they seek to wipe out,  but in fact the ‘heart of man’ exposed there once up-river as far as can go.

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There most keenly this madness is epitomised by Kurtz – a soldier, seeking worship from the locals and decorated with the skulls of his conquests.

Instead of bringing ‘justice’ through righteous war as governments would have us believe, the narrative explores the darkness at the seat of the human soul-  a darkness war does not create, but sanctions.

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Kurtz’s final words before dying articulate the tragedy, “the horror, the horror.”

Animal Farm 

I have never fully understood the allegory of communism that George Orwell wrote in 1954. It seemed both childlike and conversely, overly pessimistic.

In the story, the farm animals led by two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball revolt against their human slave-masters and declare independence. Initial glory, success and freedom soon decays into bitter infighting, reconstructed ideals and a dictatorial leadership by lone pig Napoleon who behaves much like the humans he overthrew.

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However, visiting a communist nation like Vietnam recently illuminated a few things to me about the contradictions the short novella highlights.

Despite being a socialist state, there is almost nothing in the way of social security in Vietnam  – elementary education incurs a fee, as does basic health care and retirement benefits are rare.

When the average monthly salary is only USD $150 per month the problems these expenses cause families on the lower end of the wage spectrum, are immense. Disability and illness, exacerbated by after effects of the war include, unexploded munitions, chemical poisons and genetic deformities.

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While the people are industrious, gentle and hospitable and there is little begging or visible unrest, the country rests upon an ideology that is not clearly displayed in its social systems. The divide between the richest and poorest is immense.

It does seem that the unfortunate result of communist ideology is “some animals becoming more equal than others.”