GreenBerets movie poster art 1500 crop

john wayne and “the green berets” as pentagon propaganda

WHEN THE SINGLE The Ballad Of The Green Berets was re­leased in Jan­uary 1966, I was 14-years-old (“one hun­dred men will test today”). Being a good, pa­tri­otic Amer­ican lad, I went out and bought it on the same trip to the record store that I picked up the Byrds’ latest record, Set You Free This Time / It Won’t Be Wrong (“but only three win the green beret”).

I played the two records side by side on my portable, plastic, mono record-player be­cause Top 40 radio was so in­clu­sive in the ’60s that dis­parate types of music were a given on the pop charts and con­se­quently in the houses of young record-buyers around the country. Like me!

As I was a pa­tri­otic lad, still a few years from draft age, I be­lieved what I was told: we had to stop the Com­mu­nists in Vietnam be­fore they in­vaded San Fran­cisco and mur­dered and plun­dered and had their way with our women!

I would not sit back and allow Com­mu­nist in­fil­tra­tion.

I would not sit back and allow Com­mu­nist in­doc­tri­na­tion.

I would not sit back and allow Com­mu­nist sub­ver­sion.

I would not sit back and allow the in­ter­na­tional Com­mu­nist con­spiracy to sap and im­pu­rify all of our pre­cious bodily fluids. 1

Hell, yes—I’ll go!


GreenBerets movie poster US 500

This is the Amer­ican poster for The Green Berets movie. It is down­right boring com­pared to the more graph­i­cally ar­resting French poster (below).

Then there was the draft

At 14, I even har­bored dreams of being one of those brave men with silver wings upon his chest. My fa­ther sug­gested West Point in­stead of art school, where everyone al­ways I as­sumed I would end up.

But by the time that John Wayne’s The Green Berets ap­peared in movie the­aters on July 4, 1968, I was on the op­po­site end of the po­lit­ical and philo­soph­ical spec­trum, like many other of my fellow Amer­i­cans.


By the time The Green Berets ap­peared in the­aters in mid-1968, many Amer­i­cans had come to grips with the meaning of the Tet Of­fen­sive and were op­posed to the film’s mes­sage.


I don’t re­call what caused the tran­si­tion in those two years: I’d like to think it was due to my awak­ening morality and not that I was get­ting close to draft age.

By the middle of ’68, the Tet Of­fen­sive had oc­curred and anyone with a func­tioning con­scious­ness knew that not only was our gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary lying to us on a daily basis but that our media—including our pre­cious “free press”—was ei­ther lying with them or en­abling them to con­tinue lying.

And of course, there’s a world of dif­fer­ence be­tween being 14 and being 17-years-old.


BarrySadler TheBalladOfTheGreenBerets PS 1 600

This is the pic­ture sleeve to the Amer­ican single which was awarded an RIAA Gold Record for sales of 1,000,000 copies within weeks of re­lease. Re­puted do­mestic sales by the end of the year were ap­prox­i­mately 5,000,000, making it the biggest-selling 45 of 1966.

Silver wings upon their chest

My cur­rent in­terest in The Ballad Of The Green Berets was spurred while re­searching a project in­volving hit records of 1966. It’s cer­tainly not the kind of record that most of us who grew up then bring to mind when we want to hum or sing a golden oldie to our­selves.

This led to an ar­ticle on Sadler where I called The Ballad Of The Green Berets, one of the un­like­liest #1 records of all time and said it sounded like some­thing that should be played over the closing credits of a movie, not on Amer­ican Band­stand. (“I’d give it an 85. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”)


I would not sit back and allow the in­ter­na­tional Com­mu­nist con­spiracy to sap and im­pu­rify all of our pre­cious bodily fluids.


I tried to de­ter­mine how and why such a record be­came the biggest selling single of 1966. After dis­missing a couple of rea­sons, I fo­cused on looking at its suc­cess as sup­port by the white middle class for our mil­i­tary’s ef­forts to stop the so-called domino ef­fect in South­east Asia.

I dis­cov­ered that Barry Sadler was a very in­ter­esting figure with sev­eral dis­tinct ca­reer paths after his mil­i­tary duty, in­cluding stints as a recording artist, a movie star, and a sa­loon owner be­fore ending up a mod­estly suc­cessful writer with more than twenty pub­lished and pop­ular novels!


GreenBerets movie poster France 500

This is the French poster for The Green Berets. The black back­drop and the huge (should I say “god­like”) image of John Wayne looking down at the war make this much more graph­i­cally in­ter­esting than the Amer­ican poster (above).

One hundred men will test today

Back to the Duke’s movie: the rep­u­ta­tion of The Green Berets as an in­ac­cu­rate piece of Pentagon-approved pro­pa­ganda has tar­nished its rep­u­ta­tion for decades. Not that there’s much of a rep­u­ta­tion to tar­nish: based on the novel of the same name by Robin Moore, the film wasn’t very good, even as bad movies go. Here is a sum­ma­tion of the plot from The Guardian (July 11, 2014):

“Wayne wrote to Pres­i­dent Lyndon B Johnson to se­cure gov­ern­ment ap­proval. The Pen­tagon al­lowed Wayne lavish use of props and mil­i­tary bases for filming; it also re­tained script ap­proval, and in­sisted on ex­ten­sive and de­tailed changes to plot and di­a­logue.


We had to stop the Com­mies be­fore they in­vaded San Fran­cisco and had their way with our women!


The film be­gins with a lengthy pro­logue showing what good ol’ boys the Spe­cial Forces are. But there is a lib­eral journalist—those guys are the worst—called George Beck­worth. He has gotten the silly idea in his commie-loving head that this war might be a bit nasty. For­tu­nately, Spe­cial Forces set him right at the press con­fer­ence.

The Amer­i­cans spend all their time in Vietnam doing nice things, like of­fering med­ical as­sis­tance to needy peas­ants and hug­ging adorable chil­dren. Mean­while, the Vi­et­cong are a mas­sive, face­less force of evil, mur­dering chil­dren and raping women. Beck­worth sud­denly re­alises that America is to­tally in the right. Take that, lib­erals!”

The Guardian writer points out that a year after The Green Berets was re­leased, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by writer Daniel Lang for The New Yorker mag­a­zine re­vealed that atroc­i­ties such as the film de­picts were in fact happening—but they were being com­mitted by US troops.

In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected Pres­i­dent after hinting he could end the war where the De­moc­rats had failed. He did this after tor­pe­doing Pres­i­dent John­son’s at­tempts to broker a peace ac­cord with North Vietnam. Nixon and the Rep*blican Party thus en­sured the deaths of tens of thou­sands more Amer­i­cans and hun­dreds of thou­sands of South­east Asians.

It did not ap­pear that The Green Beret movie stemmed the tide of anti-war sen­ti­ment and opinion that was flowing through the United States and Eu­rope.


GreenBerets movie poster Japan 500

This is the Japanese poster for The Green Berets. It is much closer to the orig­inal Amer­ican poster than the French poster (both above) but packs a little more graphic punch due to the Japanese sym­bols.

Only three win the green beret

This pales in com­par­ison to a re­view of the movie given it at the time of re­lease by Re­nata Adler in The New York Times (June 20, 1968):

The Green Berets is a film so un­speak­able, so stupid, so rotten and false in every de­tail that it passes through being fun, through being funny, through being camp, through every­thing and be­comes an in­vi­ta­tion to grieve, not for our sol­diers or for Vietnam (the film could not be more false or do a greater dis­ser­vice to ei­ther of them) but for what has hap­pened to the fantasy-making ap­pa­ratus in this country. ”

And that’s the opening sen­tence! While the movie was crit­i­cally panned, it still drew people to the box of­fice: it was pro­duced at a cost of$7,000,000 while pulling in just under $22,000,000 at the box of­fice. This would in­di­cate that it was prof­itable, though far from being a block­buster. 2


GreenBerets BarrySadler 1971 600 crop

Barry Sadler playing sol­dier in the deserts of the Amer­ican South­west in 1971.

The Lord of the Beret trilogy

This is the second of three ar­ti­cles re­lating to Barry Sadler and his 1966 hit single The Ballad Of The Green Berets. The three make the most sense if read in this order:

1.  SSgt Barry Sadler And The Ballad Of The Green Berets
2.  John Wayne And The Green Berets
3.  The Sen­sa­tional Movie Poster Art Of Frank Mc­Carthy


TheGreenBerets movie poster US 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The art­work at the top of this page was taken from the orig­inal poster for the movie The Green Berets. It’s a painting by artist Frank Mc­Carthy, one of the great names in the his­tory of movie poster art.



1   I had prob­ably seen Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­rying and Love the Bomb by this time as part of a Sat­urday mat­inée double-feature. I’m not sure that I un­der­stood the nu­ances of the de­ranged, para­noid Brigadier Gen­eral Jack D. Rip­per’s (Ster­ling Hayden) re­flec­tion at the time.

2   I don’t even try to make sense out of cost and gross and profit for Hol­ly­wood movies—their ac­counting de­part­ment is ap­par­ently far more cre­ative than any­thing the scum­bags in the record in­dustry ever tried. The movie For­rest Gump grossed al­most $700,000,000 world­wide, yet the pro­ducers claimed it did not make a profit: “Win­ston Groom was paid $350,000 for the screen­play rights to his novel For­rest Gump and was con­tracted for a 3% share of the film’s net profits. How­ever, the film’s pro­ducers did not pay him, using Hol­ly­wood ac­counting to posit that the block­buster film lost money. Tom Hanks, by con­trast, con­tracted for a per­cent share of the film’s gross re­ceipts in­stead of a salary, and re­ceived $40,000,000.” (Wikipedia)



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