IU Cinema screened documentarian and veteran Ron Osgood’s Just Like Me: The Vietnam War/The American War 7 p.m. Nov. 11 followed by a Q&A segment featuring Osgood and fellow veteran Phil Zook. While war movies and documentaries sometimes prioritize high action scenes in combat, battles and violence, Osgood took the opposite approach in his new film.
Despite only being about an hour long, the documentary showcased an array of combat artists and their stories. Osgood made sure to feature artists from both sides of the Vietnam War, which is also referred to as the American War by people in Vietnam.
Combat artists are people who draw landscapes, people and battles they see firsthand during the war. These artists capture rare moments that otherwise may not be available for us to look back on later.
Along with combat artists, Osgood also made sure to include people who were guitarists, singers and composers during the war. Hearing the tunes all these artists produced provided viewers with a small snippet of their experience in a medium that may not often be associated with war.
The music felt impactful due to the irony of its origin. Beautiful art coming out of a gruesome war seems a little contradictory. The fact that soulful artwork can still be made in the midst of tragedy and hardship says a lot about the resilience and determination of humanity.
The passion Osgood put into this film was visceral and as a veteran himself, he even included some of his own stories of Vietnam as well. He revealed he was able to come home from the war without any mental or physical trauma, but took the time to showcase the stories of other veterans who were not so fortunate.
A phrase from the film which concisely captures one of its themes is “empathy for my enemy.” Much of the film centers around veterans finding the humanity in the people they had been fighting against, whether it was during or long after the war. I saw veterans opening up about the impacts of being responsible for the death of another human being, but also discussing rare times they were able to save the life of someone from the opposing side. Soldiers risking their lives for complete strangers from across enemy lines is one of the most powerful demonstrations of empathy I have seen in a documentary.
Playing the film at IU Cinema on Veterans Day allowed students on campus to absorb the stories of veterans they may have otherwise had difficulty understanding. For most college students, the Vietnam War happened long before we were born. Hearing veterans share their memories gave students a chance to see the perspective of someone who has survived the horrors of war.
There is no way for us to travel back in time and see the Vietnam War for ourselves but, as the title of the documentary suggests, hearing these interviews and seeing the art these veterans created can garner a new level of connection to veterans’ experiences, no matter which side they fought on.
Just as some of the troops on each side of the war gained a level of empathy and respect for their enemy soldiers, viewers can gain a new level of understanding for the veterans in their lives. Having a loved one or friend who makes the effort to understand a traumatic lived experience could help a veteran who is struggling, even if they are not comfortable with opening up about events they saw during the war themselves.