In looking at Good Morning Vietnam in its role as a historical film, we can break it up into two categories. First, how does the film work as a secondary source? In this case a secondary source on the Vietnam War and potentially on Adrian Cronauer. The second, is to look at how the film works as a primary source of the time period in which it was made, the 1980s.
As A Secondary Source
Good Morning Vietnam can serve as an effective secondary source on the Vietnam War if anything because it provides a look into the violence and complexities of relations and interactions in South Vietnam. The film while primarily having the violence shown off-screen creates a powerful and solemn message as it depicts the aftermath of events such as the bombing of Jimmy Wah’s bar, the airstrike on a Vietnamese farming village, and the shooting of the three young teenagers that the viewer later learns are members of the Vietcong. It addresses the conditions in which the soldiers were fighting with a glimpse into the heavy forests and muddy conditions in its many B-roll shots of American forces throughout the film, and even tackles issues with American soldiers taking advantage of and sexualizing Vietnamese women, and racism towards the Vietnamese that they are claiming to be here “helping.”
In the video below, I look at a particular scene in the film a bit more and how it depicts the Vietnam War. The audio of the actual film did not play over the clip, so if you would like to view the original scene I am referring to, you can access it here.
*Small correction from the video: Trinh is Cronauer’s love interest in the film, her brother is Tuan. I mixed them up at the end when discussing Cronauer’s relationship with both of them in the film.
As A Primary Source
As a primary source, this film represents a stark contrast to other films of the period about Vietnam, and especially with taking a comedic approach to the topic. It was made relatively close to the end of the war, and the tensions around getting the idea for the movie picked up for production highlight that concern over the sensitivity of the topic. The film was fairly popular and mostly well-received and Robin Williams would go on to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor for the movie. Its satirical depiction of the US military through Lt. Steven Hauk and Sgt. Major Dickerson and portraying them as the antagonists of the film clearly establish the continued criticism of the American government and military for censorship during and following the war and contribute to continued anti-war sentiment while also creating a more clear understanding of why the US lost this war for the average viewer.
Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World (Good Morning, Vietnam’s Soundtrack), accessed November 11, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzFIDTs3WtI.
 Don Kunz, “Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam,” War, Literature, and the Arts 14, no. 1/2 (2002): 230-.