In this year that has reminded us all of the devastating consequences of war, we find ourselves inundated with numbers concerning the dead or wounded on a daily basis. While wars inevitably reduce those involved to statistics, the consequences for the individuals harmed and those around them can never be understated. Born On The Fourth Of July, the film adaptation of the harrowing true story of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic serves as an emphatic reminder of the irrevocable destruction that war can inflict on the life of an individual.
A teenager who excels both in the sporting and social arena, Ron (played by Tom Cruise) appears to have a wonderful future in front of him. But he is also wedded to the institution of the United States. Placing his faith in its core tenets of patriotism and Christianity, he is determined to ‘stop the communists from taking over.’ And it is these values, which Ron has at no point willingly acquired but been born into, that ultimately shape his future for the worst. For after signing up for Vietnam, Ron soon finds himself back on American soil and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Attempting to cope with the impact of PTSD, the reactions of those around him upon his return, changing domestic attitudes towards the war, and his own irreversible limitations, Ron is enveloped by frustration, rage, and hopelessness leading him into sordid environments from which there appears to be no return to the wholesome sun-filled days that once comprised his life. But through all of the pain he endures, one thing becomes very apparent to Ron: he and many other young men were sent to war for no good reason, only to either never return or return with their life quality diminished beyond recognition. But in the darkness of his reality, Ron finds purpose and subsequently makes it his mission to speak out against the ills of war, in order to protect future generations from all that he has suffered.
Watching Ron’s often horrifying story play out, I was hit with the sad realisation that there will, unfortunately, be many other Ron Kovics in the world today: young men seeking their way in life taken in by some grandiose tale about victory over evil forces threatening to ruin the world, only to find themselves standing on the side of tyranny on the battlefield. How many of those in the Russian forces I wonder, not necessarily through their own personal failings but as a result of the conditions they have lived in, take the view that Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine is justified? Sadly, nearly half a century on from the end of the Vietnam War, there are still young impressionable men being sent out as cannon fodder, mere pieces on a chessboard to the powers that command them.