I would imagine it's very easy for some to sneer at No Substitute for Victory: From Vietnam...to Iraq and the War on Terror, the 1970 documentary (with new, interactive sequences added) hosted by John Wayne that pushed for total victory in Vietnam, not only because of the film's firmly stated politics, but also because the film itself is such a wobbly production. It's certainly no frills, with the Duke speaking in his office, directly addressing the camera, while retired generals and other speakers such as newspaperman Lowell Thomas and actress Martha Raye, stare doggedly into the camera, espousing their political viewpoints. The camerawork is less than pretty, with shots sometimes off-kilter; the sound fails at time to synch up with the speakers' mouths, and the editing is fairly rough, with hard jump cuts between sequences. No Substitute for Victory: From Vietnam...to Iraq and the War on Terror isn't in the best of shape, film element-wise, either, with numerous scratches and dirt, and faded, washed out color. Further distancing the viewer, is a newly added, modern interactive feature, that allows the viewer (when cued on the screen by an American flag) to interrupt the documentary, to hear pundits from today discuss the parallels between Vietnam and our own war on radical Islamic fascists. This new video is shot in an extremely uncomfortable way, with huge, distorted close-ups shots of the speakers, on hand-held video. It's easy to laugh at such a film, dismissing it outright before you begin to really listen to it.
It's not within the scope of this review to go over the United States' war on international Communism, nor on radical Islamic fascists. What I can say about the views expressed in No Substitute for Victory: From Vietnam...to Iraq and the War on Terror by actors, respected military men, journalists, and politicians, is that they are firmly held, thoughtful views -- views that, which I might add, by virtue of being delivered by Americans, are as necessary and valid as anyone else's political views (we should all remember our early days of school, where we all were taught that the most divergent speech was also the most cherished speech -- and that it should be defended by all of us, at all cost). You may disagree with those views; you may disagree with the conclusions drawn from those views. However, anyone who knows their history knows that any historical event can be looked at eight different ways from Sunday, by eight opposing viewpoints, and all can sound reasonable, logical and "correct." There are facts to any situation that are demonstrable, and irrefutable, but it can be next-to-impossible to get to an objective, all-encompassing "truth" for these huge events.
That being said, there are frightening parallels to Vietnam, in the current War on Terror, drawn in No Substitute for Victory: From Vietnam...to Iraq and the War on Terror that anyone watching the news today - regardless of their political affiliations - can see happening. In particular, a politicized news media that intentionally ignores huge facets of each war, in an effort to "blame America first;" an understandably war-weary public who is bombarded each day with a pessimistic, overly defeatist world view by that same media, and politicians - from both sides of the aisle - who play politics first, instead of letting the military do the job that's needed to be done. The same end result of Vietnam seems to be playing out today in the War on Terror, with very recent developments in Washington signaling the return of a leadership who has already decided that victory in the War on Terror is not an option -- just as was done in Vietnam. And therefore, we'll have the same outcome for the front-line participants of this particular war, as we did for Vietnam: death without a purpose.
I would have really liked some context for the original documentary, No Substitute for Victory. I have several biographies on John Wayne, and none mention the film. Was this shot for theatres, for television, or was it to be shown to civic clubs, politicians, or the military? The DVD doesn't say. Perhaps even an interview with some of the people involved with the production - if they're still alive - might have shed some much needed light on the subject. Was the film a "success," at least from a financial standpoint? How was it conceived? How did the Duke get involved? All of these questions remain unanswered, if you go just by the DVD. I find that much more objectionable than the relatively poor quality of both the vintage footage, and the newly shot sequences. Context is everything for any film such as this; we need to understand where it comes from, and how and why it was produced. The Roan Group, the DVD's producer, need to understand that if they want viewers who are truly satisfied with their product. That being said, it is admirable that the Roan Group has pledged 50% of all profits of this DVD to organizations that assist wounded veterans, and the families of servicemen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As I said above, the image quality of No Substitute for Victory: From Vietnam...to Iraq and the War on Terror ranges from fair to poor. The print used for the original documentary is obviously well-worn, and the newly shot video footage is on a par with home movie quality. Don't expect a good looking image from this full-frame DVD transfer.
The Dolby Digital mono audio track is just okay, with frequent warbles during the original documentary presentation. As well, the synch is off, but that's from the documentary's original elements.
As a bonus, there are uninterrupted interviews with Major-General John K. Singlaub, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and Washington Times Editor Tony Blankley. The interactive cues, available as an optional mode when watching the original documentary, are culled from these interviews.
No Substitute for Victory: From Vietnam...to Iraq and the War on Terror presents some chilling parallels between the Vietnam War and today's War on Terror -- and not in the way you may suppose. I don't agree with all of its conclusions, by any means. But it's impossible not to see the same things happening today, that happened almost forty years ago. Only now, the stakes are infinitely higher, with our civilization and way of life really on the line this time. If I was going to recommend No Substitute for Victory: From Vietnam...to Iraq and the War on Terror to anyone, I would recommend it to those who, when seeing the title and reading who's involved in the production, automatically judge it unworthy. You may be surprised at viewing the other side of the coin -- a side you won't see if you watch the news today. Recommended.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.