Imperialism in the film Apocalypse Now

Imperialism enables a state or country to increase its sphere of influence by seizing control of foreign territories. The film Apocalypse Now, based on the story Heart of Darkness, was produced in 1979 during the Vietnam War era and explores the role imperialism played in US foreign policy. The film highlights the drawbacks of imperialism by revealing the atrocities committed by the US Military, allegedly, in the name of freedom. The most tragic aspect of the Vietnam War was the huge numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children. Indeed, the chemical warfare exercised by American troops in the form of deploying Agent Orange (napalm) for deforesting the region is a major disaster for the local population. As a result of contamination of these heavy toxins, a whole generation of children was born with deformities and genetic mutations. Hence those who are apologists for imperialism are on the side of the unjust.

Military intervention in Vietnam was a part of a wider strategy forged by the Kennedy administration that sought to prevent the spread of communism throughout South-East Asia. Know as the “domino theory”, the common belief at the time was that if one state in a particular region fell to communism several others would follow suit. As a result, the US military implemented an aggressive means of occupation which included extensive ground and air offensives. Ultimately, the military was naive in believing they could conquer Vietnam quickly. They undervalued the Vietcong and were not prepared to fight a guerrilla war in the jungles. In the film, Captain Willard’s mission to kill Colonel Kurtz is symbolic of US imperialism and naivety because it demonstrates just how out of touch the US military was in fighting in Vietnam. Not only do they lose track of an entire unit of soldiers, but they also impulsively commit resources to kill one of their own highest-ranking officers. This is surprising when we study the nature of imperialism’s history. As George Orwell so wittily and movingly articulated in his numerous essays, it is the oppressor who ends up looking the weaker and foolish than the oppressed. It is the same with Captain Willard’s poorly conceived and poorly executed military mission we witness in the film. When one is pursuing their greed for wealth or lust for power, the moral force will be lost. That is the reason why the imperialists failed in meeting their objectives in the film.

1 2