The general and the gadfly met on friendly territory yesterday to reclaim the image of the Vietnam veteran.
Adrian Cronauer, the wartime Armed Forces Radio disc jockey, and retired Gen. William C. Westmoreland spoke glowingly of American soldiers to an audience of students, scholars and veterans at a University of Baltimore conference arranged by the Vietnam Veterans Institute. Both men are officers of the institute, founded in 1981 by Timonium resident J. Eldon Yates. The conference continues today.
Mr. Cronauer was depicted by Robin Williams in the 1987 Barry Levinson movie, "Good Morning Vietnam," as a wisecracking disk jockey, poking fun at military brass at a time when General Westmoreland was commander over all U.S. forces in Vietnam.
But that movie was a departure, Mr. Cronauer said, from a relentless parade of movies that showed Vietnam veterans to be marijuana-smoking, psychologically unstable soldiers as much at war with one another as with a shadowy enemy.
"In Hollywood, you see a subtle but pervasive hostility toward the veteran," Mr. Cronauer said. "I never was anti-military or anti-Establishment. I was only anti-stupidity."
Mr. Cronauer said that he never intended to ridicule General Westmoreland, who was the subject of protests across the nation. And Mr. Cronauer also expressed dismay at the harsh dissent at home aimed not only at the men who set the policies that led to American involvement in the war but at the men who fought it.
Peter C. Rollins, a professor at Oklahoma State University, started the morning's session by criticizing the depiction of Vietnam veterans in movies and the press.
In particular, Dr. Rollins was angered by the departure from the model created for World War II, with stalwart platoons driven by a sense of common purpose. In films about the Vietnam War such as "Coming Home," "The Deer Hunter," and especially the films of Oliver Stone, soldiers were shown shorn of their certainty in blasts of betrayal by their own side. In fact, General Westmoreland told the audience of roughly 100 people during Tuesday morning's session in Langsdale Auditorium, "we didn't lose a single battle, but strategically we withdrew our troops."
Standing straight as a column behind the lectern, his voice slowed by his 81 years, General Westmoreland spoke of the primacy of America in the post-Cold War world.
"The military are the ones that have made us pre-eminent," General Westmoreland said. "Our nation is, de facto, the world leader."
While most audience members gave General Westmoreland a standing ovation, the uniformly positive account of American conduct during the war did not gain unanimous consensus in the crowd.
Arthur James, a veteran who lives in Clear Spring, Md., said he thought the entire morning showed General Westmoreland and other veterans who spoke yesterday were "living in a dream world." He pointed out that no mention had been made during the two sessions spanning nearly three hours of the bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong, the incursions across Laotian and Cambodian borders, or the atrocities committed by American troops at My Lai and other places.
"For me, Oliver Stone did a great service because you could feel the fear [in his movies], you could hear the heartbeat," said Mr. James, an infantryman who was wounded in both legs. "We were fighting against ourselves."