The Trumbull College dining hall was turned into a bully pulpit Friday afternoon by a Yale drop-out who went on to earn two Purple Hearts fighting in a war he would later revive and relive in bitter film.
Oliver Stone, Vietnam War veteran and Oscar-winning director of such movies as “Platoon,” “Wall Street” and “JFK,” packed the Trumbull dining hall Friday and spared no celebrity with his stinging criticism of what he called today’s “artificial return to World War II.”
Stone fielded questions from students for nearly an hour, commenting on the subjects of his controversial filmmaking, including America in the 1960s with the Vietnam War, icons like The Doors and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“The whole history of America is wetted with secrets and blood,” said Stone, his gruff voice echoing the take-no-prisoners style of his filmmaking.
Stone entered Yale with the Class of 1968, and as others hunkered down within the walls of Yale away from the Vietnam War, Stone dropped out of college and enlisted.
After experiencing the throes of combat, Stone became a skeptic of how others portray war. He cautioned students against the returning surge of American nationalism following Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film, “Saving Private Ryan.”
“I think there’s a nascent patriotism that’s back,” Stone said. “It’s very dangerous, nefarious.”
Stone condemned the way in which Saving Private Ryan glossed over the darker details of war and trumpeted sacrifice as an everyday virtue in war. Stone called Hanks’ character in the movie a “madman” for his willingness to offer up so many lives for the sake of only one.
“Hanks’ movie creates the illusion that men are better than themselves,” Stone said.
Stone went on to peg journalist Tom Brokaw’s recent book “The Greatest Generation” as “close to a donut compared to a real meal.”
He also took jabs at author Tom Clancy, actor Mel Gibson and David Gergen ’63, Yale Corporation member and editor-at-large of U.S. News and World Report. Gergen was also on campus for tercentennial events Friday afternoon, and delivered another master’s tea of his own.
Stone also spoke directly to aspiring film visionaries in the audience.
“I would encourage you. If you have something brewing inside you, don’t think of it as weird,” Stone said. “Think of it as original.”