How Hollywood Turned an Anti-War Novel on its Head


Forrest Really Threw his Medal of Honor Away

by Stanley Heller

One of the most popular movies of the 1990's was "Forrest Gump" lovably played by Tom Hanks, a triumph of an honest decent "idiot", the spirit of America triumphing in difficult time. He helped American fell good about itself, yada, yada, yada.. There's now even a "Bubba Gump" restaurant at Universal Orlando. You would never know the original book "Forrest Gump" was openly against the Vietnam War. The author Winston Groom was in the army in the late '60's and served a tour in Vietnam.

You recall after Forrest gets wounded he's awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery. In the book he's immediately taken on a recruiting tour. At his first stop he repeats the one sentence he can remember too get men to enlist. Then someone in the audience asks him, "So, what do you think of the Vietnam war?" He answers, "It's a bunch of shit." End of recruiting tour.

Later his table tennis skills get him selected for the team that plays in China and helps Nixon "open" China. That much is in the movie, but there's more. In the book Gump saves Mao's life by rescuing him from drowning. As a reward he gets to sit next to Mao at a state dinner. Mao asks him, "So what do you think of the war" Gump replies, "It's a bunch of shit." That didn't make it into the movie either.

Later when Gump visits Bubba's family, his late friend's father asks him, "What did he die for? What was the war for?" Once again Forrest answers, "It was a bunch of shit". And Bubba's father agrees.

In the movie Forrest follows Jenny and her boyfriend to a planning meeting for a protest. Black Panthers stand around menacingly. The boyfriend sees Gump dressed in his uniform and calls him a "babykiller". None of that is in the book and with good reason. Any soldier who showed up at an anti-war meeting would have been embraced and set to work on four or five committees. Veterans and even active duty soldiers were commonplace in the anti-war movement in the late '60's. See the non-fiction movie "Sir, No Sir". All the stuff about "hippies" spitting on soldiers was invented later, some by right-wing Vietnam veterans as a way of justifying themselves.

What follows in the movie is Gump in his soldier's uniform stumbling into a huge anti-war demonstration in front the Lincoln Memorial and finding himself in the line of speakers. As he gets up to the microphone a right-winger pulls the amp plug and we and the crowd never hear what he has to say. You do see the hippie protest leader saying "right on" to Forrest remarks, but the chickenshit movie producer won't let the anti-war message out.

What happened in the book is far different. Gump does go to a anti-war demonstration, very deliberately encouraged by Jenny (who was his girlfriend at that point). But he doesn't' go to speak to a crowd. He takes part in the climax of Dewey Canyon III, which was actually a very real and extraordinary protest that took place in April 1971. That protest went on for several days. Then on April 23, around 800 veterans tossed medals, combat ribbons and discharge papers on the steps of the Capitol and spoke about atrocities they took part in or witnessed.

In the book Forrest walks up to the steps, thinks about Bubba and Col. Dan and then throws his Congressional Medal of Honor over the fence. Now since the book is essentially a "fool's story" Forrest's medal strikes the Clerk of the Senate in the head and knocks him out. Gump gets arrested, and goes on to further adventures.

The movie Forrest really is an idiot. He just stumbles along finding himself in one situation after another. He's decent in the everyday sense, and true to Hollywood tradition gets his reward in the end. He becomes a millionaire businessman. But the book Forrest is a "fool" in the Shakespearean sense, someone who is allowed to tell the truth because he is a ridiculous person. He does become a millionaire, but doesn't like high society and then gives the business away to family.

The Forrest Gump of the book is the fool who in the language of those days, "tells it like it is". "Forrest Gump" is an anti-war novel.

A word about Lieutenant Dan. In the movie he's mad at Forrest for saving him, because he thinks it's his destiny to die in combat just as did four generations of his ancestors. There's nothing like that crap in the book. Dan isn't even a lifer. We learn he was a history teacher from Connecticut when they "grabbed him up and threw him in the army". He only meets Forrest in the hospital where they do become friends and meet on and off over the years. He never has anything to do with Forrest and his shrimp business. At the end of the book he's homeless, on a little wheeled cart, shining shoes while Forrest makes a living as a one man band. It's a much more realistic outcome than the feel good "Forrest Gump" movie fantasy.

Postscript: The book sequel to "Forrest Gump" came out after the movie. It was called "Gump and Company". This book is also anti-war. It's against the 1991 Gulf War. Forrest loses all his money, gets involved in a series of crazy jobs and business, ends up re-joining the army and is eventually sent to Kuwait. When the war starts he finds himself in a lead tank with Lieutanant Dan (yes, I know his legs were amputated in the first book) and an orangutang. They all end up accidently capturing Saddam Hussein and then setting him free under army orders.

Anyway when it's all over Forrest is talking to his son who asks him what the war was all about. Forrest tells his son. What's the war all about? "Oil, he says. I guess it was about oil."