The Movie Full Metal Jacket is ironically titled considering the term refers to the type of bullet the Marines use in their rifles when in combat. When taking the movie as a whole into consideration, there are two moral issues discussed in the film. The focus is the progression of a platoon of Marines who attend basic training in 1967 in Paris Island, South Carolina and how each of those graduates progress in the Vietnam War. The two moral issues highlighted in this film deal with the excessive hazing of recruits in boot camp and its effects on some soldiers, and the second is the dilemma of killing the enemy when you know they are brainwashed and are begging for death. Both issues are of significance because young men who were drafted to fight in Vietnam were subjected to both during their time in the service.
First, the issue of excessive hazing of recruits in boot camp is a problem that has been swept under the rug by the military for decades. There have been incidents in every war of young men who were considered substandard recruits who were hazed by their drill sergeants as well as their fellow platoon mates. In the movie, Leonard, an overweight man who is nicknamed Gomer Pyle by his drill instructor, is hazed, humiliated and subject to some of the cruelest psychological punishments all in the name of toughening him up to be a ‘good soldier’. Over his time in basic training with the help of another recruit named Joker, Leonard improves his performance in boot camp but there is a gradual mental breakdown happening. Everything comes to a head the last night of basic training when Joker discovers Leonard in the bathroom loading live ammunition into his rifle which he uses to shoot the drill instructor dead (who is still verbally tormenting Leonard to the end) and turns it on himself. This is a tragedy that does happen in the military because of the cruel tactics used in basic training.
Second, while in Vietnam, Joker who is a military reporter is paired with a platoon in the field head by his former friend Cowboy in basic training. After a series of mishaps that gets Cowboy and several members of the platoon killed by a mysterious sniper, Joker discovers the sniper is a teenage girl who is mortally wounded. She begs Joker to kill her and he is forced to make the choice by the surviving leader. Joker ends up killing the girl and as the film closes the audience can see by his stare into space he is emotionally affected by this one act. This is understandable and applicable to current military action because the enemy uses children to kill for them, and soldiers are forced to kill them first. It is morally wrong to kill to begin with, but to have to kill a child in war is a terrible choice to be forced into.
The only way to describe the elements of the film is to use the word realistic. Stanley Kubrick was famous for making realistic films, and this one is no exception. If anyone, students or otherwise, asks questions about what it was like to serve in Vietnam all they need to do is watch this movie. From watching the mental breakdown of a sweet, gentle man from basic training to the choice of killing a child whose life had only begun is a sobering experience. Both major incidents in this film are morally wrong and testify to the fact that armed conflict is something that should be avoided at all costs.