Thoughts on seeing Apocalypse Now again:
It's 1979 and a young Martin Sheen is taking us up that fateful river again. He is our wise and somber Virgil, our guide, narrator, the ORM (Only Rational Man), leading us up that labyrinthine river of death and insanity which is our Vietnam War. That great river of no return, that winding thread of dark infuriating lies that will take us further and further into the Heart of Darkness, into our great national shame, guilt and self-loathing. This was the real secret mission of that clandestine journey. And they almost succeeded.
It's the summer of 2008 and I'm taking that trip with him once again and I wonder at the enormity my previous innocence and gullibility. I am overcome by the tragedy of it all. Not just by the horrors of this bloody and inconclusive war, but overcome by what they, the narrators, have done to us all. Our trusted and revered guides have all but ruined us with the binding threads of their dark unscrupulous lies. Up the river we follow them into that great cynical myth, slaughtering myriad innocent women and children, laying waste to the fertile land, sacrificing a small courageous people in the fiery embrace of Napalm, like great birds of prey, swooping in on the schoolchildren playing in their schoolyard, accompanied by Hitlerian Wagnerian orgasms of supremacist passion, the demonic sounds of that self-righteous, contemptuous warrior's passion. We are all too young, much to young to know what the hell we're doing, we're all dopeheads and surfers, sadistic, drunken sex-starved smiling adolescent American monsters, smiling the awful smiles of insanity as we slaughter our helpless prey. Meaningless slaughter. Pointless death. Ghastly unnecessary erroneous war. Monumental moral blunder.
And what finally do we find at the end of that gruesome river, at the end of our perilous journey? We find ourselves. And the discovery is alarming. Madness, arrogance, ruthless, contempt of all that is fine and good in human nature, thoughtlessly obliterating a fine nation for inscrutable and indefensible motives. A big stupid illiterate giant stumbling around the world in our drunken orgy of self-gratification. We have become the monsters we once abhorred, too young, too naive to even begin to appreciate the enormity of our loss, that loss of all that which we once held dear. This is the grave and ominous lesson of that journey into the Heart of Darkness. This, then, shall be our new national narrative: The epic downward spiral of a once great nation into that hopeless moral miasma.
This is what they have done to us, this is what they have wrought. Our honored Virgils, our trusted guides, our respected ORMs. This, what we have become, is their doing, this is the product of their genius and their ideology and their talent. With the power of their heavy-handed symbolics and crude metaphors they have almost succeeded in redefining our national narrative. We have become lost in that impenetrable jungle of lies and propaganda and have almost lost our humanity. We have, they have convinced us, sinned greatly, monumentally, against all mankind, and all that saves us from oblivion is heeding their grave warnings, the concerned admonishments of our counterfeit ORM. Oh, and they have worked their magic well. They have taught us how to hate ourselves with great success, and how to love our enemies, and finally, how to find hope and solace in our boundless self-contempt. There is, they tell us, still one possible chance for salvation -- our willingness to face up to our past mistakes and to try to make amends. To give up all of our old selfish and contemptible imperialistic warrior dreams and join the humble brotherhood of man. It's not too late yet, they tell us. There is still time. If we just follow their lead.
So I have taken that old trip up that long loathsome river once again and I wonder at my previous ignorance and gullibility. But no longer. Now I can see the corrupt degenerate treachery of our false guides. Their lessons are lies and their messages are empty. They have almost ruined us with their deceptions and their purposeful distortions of the truth. They have almost succeeded, they have almost robbed us of our self-respect, our hard-won and well-earned self-respect. But ultimately they have failed to destroy us. Because we can still remember, we can still remember the truth of who we are, despite their most talented and ambitious efforts to obliterate it.
We are a great fine people. We are a great fine nation. We owe apologies to no one -- least of all to ourselves. In the end the false storytellers with their secret agendas have failed. It is the beginning of a new season now, we are beginning to create a new narrative. A narrative founded on truth and hope and promise. We are looking for new Virgils. Not to lead us down into the depths of self-immolation and despair, but to lift us up to the heights of promise and fulfilment. We are looking for guides now who will teach us how to love ourselves once again and regain the strength of the righteous warriors that we are. We are free and we are kind and decent. And the old men's tales, the False Virgil's lies just won't do anymore.
For a fascinating corrective on Vietnam Vet war myths see Lew Waters great article here