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Renegade Cut: Rambo – Hollywood Vietnam

Another excellent video essay from the pop-culture commentator Leon Thomas of the YouTube channel Renegade Cut examining how American cinema in the 1980s and ’90s managed to craft a Hollywood version of the Vietnam War that transformed the United States into the chief victim of the conflict rather than the chief perpetrator. Which echoes how much of the United Kingdom now regards the so-called Troubles in the UK-ruled north of Ireland; on those very rare occasions when the British deign to think about the thirty-year insurgency and counterinsurgency at all.

5 comments on “Renegade Cut: Rambo – Hollywood Vietnam

  1. David Morrell’s book First Blood is a far different beast from the Reagan Republican fueled fantasies Stallone used as the basis of the sequels. You notice the critique uses evidence from the sequels almost exclusively. Only in the beginning is FB mentioned, in the context of the fake MIA/Spitting stories. I’ve always seen FB as an anti-war movie, at odds with the sequels.

    25 years ago I was out in a bar in Chicago and we were chatting about the Vietnam war. One of the guys at the table next to us got up, to go somewhere. While he was away one of the fellas our age leaned over and asked us very politely to drop the subject because the guy who had left had served under Calley. At the time I did not put Calley and My Lai together, but everyone else at the table was then eager to drop it so I went along. I often think of that incident and how I would handle it differently today.

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  2. Without so many words, I have said the same myself many times. But I think even more than obfuscating history and not taking responsibility for the victimisation of others, while protesting the victimisation of the USA and of its allies, the Rambo series (especially after but also including First Blood) was an attempt to superimpose a myth of victory over the reality of defeat in the subconscious of the US (and elsewhere?). After all, the reality is that the strongest military state in the world, the USA had been defeated by a nation not quite the size of the State of Virginia.

    I wish the commentary in the video had addressed, even in passing, the other side of the issue of prisoners in the conflict. The “tiger cages” run by the South Vietnamese regime with USA backing were more horrific than any story returned US military POWs had to relate. Many of those who survived the ‘tiger cages’ were never able to walk again. To talk in any way of hardships of US military POWs, even in debunking propaganda, without also mentioning the tiger cages seems to me, in a way, obscene.

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    • Jim McGettigan

      You can rest assured that the complete Vietnam experience was an obscenity of the highest order.

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  3. I’d say that analysis misses the mark a bit. American Dolchstosslegende is NOT about The US as a whole nation being a victim. It is ALL ABOUT how American allegedly betrayed other Americans-and in doing so caused the war to be lost and while doing severe damage to the troops along the way. That’s always the meme.

    The motive is NOT to portray the US as having been wrong by foreigners. It is all about blaming and shaming Americans who opposed wars actively-with very strong implicit warnings to anyone who would consider doing so in the future.

    If you compare an American Dolchstosslegende to its cousins in Germany, Britain, and France typically the American versions put extremely little emphasis on “national humiliation” per se, and much more on internal betrayal. Furthermore where many other countries have the people who are accused of “spitting on the vets” tend to portray the spitters as members of marginalized grouops (In Weimer they were often portrayed as Jewesses!!), and the veteran is often from an aristocratic tendency. In the US and Russia both it’s the exact opposite. Both American and Russian Dolchstoss tend to portray the maltreated veterans as a working class guy, and their persecutors as WASP or Zapadniki Russians from the better half of the economy-sometimes the wealthiest 10% or even 1%. Often in the American versions the working class vet who was spat on by a well-off WASP is portrayed as black, Latino, “part Indian” or non-WASP white ethnics (typically Italian or Slavic). If the working class Vet is a WASP he is often implied to be from The South or Appalachia.

    In the US Dolchstoss there are definitely echoes of “Southern Resentment Politics” involved (Vietnam DID happen not long after The Civil Rights Movement, which played in.). In Russia there seems to be a strong “Slavophile vs. Zapadnik/Westernizer” subtext to the Dolchstosslegende. Southern resentment politics have a strong roots in The Civil War among other things. A lot of what it being interpreted here as “US victimization” is really more about “The South has never gotten over losing The Civil War”, hiding under a “veil” by conflating itself with the whole nation or even all white Americans.

    In less known stories that have veterans betraying other veterans the veteran who betrays his comrades and goes anti-war is often given an Irish name and state or implied to be a Catholic (often he was encouraged to go anti-war by a Priest for example), while the fellow veterans he “screwed over” are given very Scots-Irish looking names and backgrounds-though usually not not directly stated. (I suspect that part may have come from James Webb’s influence.

    UK portrayals are quite different in that they don’t often blame or demonize English anti-war activists or English people with sympathies towards Ireland. Indeed many right-wing Britons seems to have an extreme blindspot about people who do sympathize with Ireland who have not one drop of known, probable, or suspected Celtic blood themselves-especially people of English origins. In reality there are many English American Hibernian Sympathizers. The most famous/admired example is Abraham Lincoln who ancestors were not just English Purtians but particularly hard assed Cromwell supporters even for English Puritans, but there have always been plenty of others famous or not. There have always been plenty of people from other non-Celtic ethnic groups in the US and elsewhere who believed the treatment of Ireland was wrong.

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