Peter Davis’ 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds first came to American audiences shortly after the withdrawal of most of America's military presence in Vietnam, but well before peace would come to the region. The film, collecting war-footage, appropriated film clips, and interviews and newscasts, is concerned less with Vietnamese "hearts and minds," per Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 strategic assessment, than with those of the American people.
Hearts and Minds’ strength lies in juxtaposing images of representation with perceived reality. The use of these side-by-side images — of nationalistic Hollywood war films with the brutality of actual war footage; of bomber pilots describing in prideful, but mechanical terms their ability to “do their job” with images of bombs exploding on villages; of interviews with army and political personnel praising the value of life with a Vietnamese man building children’s coffins — documents a story not of what “really” happened in Vietnam, but of how different segments of the American public “really” saw what was happening in Vietnam. By making this disconnect visible, Davis shows how difficult winning hearts and minds can be, by bombs or by words — which is why his film should be on the mandatory screening list for incoming Presidents.