Reborn on the 4th

Remembering the ghosts of wars past on the nation's birthday

Our cover story this week is an excerpt from William Scott Morrison’s novel The Luck of the Draw. He says he wrote the book so people might be reminded of the perils of engaging in unnecessary wars. It’s a well-timed reminder, as America celebrates its 240th anniversary this weekend, in a 2016 that will be remembered for its raging lies wrapped around a flag of proud intolerance.

I recently watched The Last Days of Vietnam, a documentary about the terror faced by Vietnamese citizens and military officials who had worked for the Americans as the Viet Cong rolled into Saigon in 1975—complete with that desperate helicopter-on-roof scene that came to characterize the rushed and chaotic evacuation. It was not a proud moment for America.

Yet it has always struck me how, just one year later, the fall of the American embassy in Vietnam was brushed aside to make way for the fireworks. Just a year later, there we were, celebrating the Bicentennial and finding all sorts of things to be proud of—especially Rocky Balboa.

Rocky was just one of many Hollywood classics released 40 years ago that framed a new narrative for an America eager to reclaim its place in the world through the magic of Hollywood. This trend would find its apotheosis four years later when a former movie star was elected president. While it wasn’t all escapist, 1976 films reveal a cultural repositioning and an urgency to wrap it up and move on.

We had red-white-and-blue Rocky at the top of the Oscar heap, and All the President’s Men to settle the Nixon score, along with WWII genre movies that included Midway, which looked back to a good war to rationalize the imperatives of a patriotic 1976. But ’76 also saw the release of Taxi Driver, whose anti-hero is a Vietnam vet struggling with a past he can’t shake, no matter how long he stares at the mirror talking to himself.

I think of Travis Bickle’s psychotic break with reality every time Congressman Trey Gowdy opens his mouth and starts talking about the American embassy in Benghazi. This week, Congress released its final report on Benghazi, but for Gowdy, there will never be a final reckoning. For Benghazi diehards, who insist on a narrative similar to Vietnam—the politicians lost the war—those helicopters are still hovering around out there somewhere, anxious to clutch victory from defeat, lest anyone remember the truth of the matter.

Tom Gogola is the news editor of the ‘Bohemian.’

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].

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