Monday, September 20, 2004

Stolen Valor II - Return of the Crazy Veteran 

In Stolen Valor, authors B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whittley look at several Vietnam myths that have often been repeated so often and loudly by such "credible" sources that they are taken for granted as beng true. One such myth is the Crazed Vietnam VetTM. While the most well known example of this is probably John Rambo, originally seen in the film First Blood as a withdrawn, loner whose killer instincts developed and honed by the military are rekindled when in a stressful situation, he has become as much a stock character as the bespectacled professor or buxom barfly and is prominently featured in such well lauded films as Dog Day Afternoon, The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver in addition to drivel such as Welcome Home Soldier Boy (in which four CVVTMs engage in a cross-country rampage of rape, kidnapping and, of course, murder). He is today as much an established feature of American folklore as the bandana-wearing Bandit or the steely-eyed Gunslinger or the steadfast, brave Minuteman.

Wasting no time, Hollywood is at it again, building a new archetype, the Confused (but still Crazed) Iraqi War VeteranTM . While folding some laundry last night, I happened upon a rerun of Without a Trace, a CBS show about FBI investigators that, for some reason not completely clear to me, are immediately called in to investigate missing persons reports. Once you swallow the premise it's not a bad show and has an occasional interesting plot twist. In last night's broadcast, the team was trying to find a soldier/hero who had been wounded in Iraq, then came home and went missing. Skipping past the part where two of the investigators fly all the way to Iraq to interview his platoon mates (revealing that he intentionally exposed himself during a firefight to get wounded/killed so he would be sent home), we eventually come to the climax. In an attempt to get money to win back his straying fiancé he robs a bank with another C(bsC)IWVTM and ends up killing an off-duty police woman. Faced with the situation, it seems his trained killer insticts took over and he just dropped her. He had to redeem himelf in the end, of course, by unloading his weapon and charging through the front door of his house to the waiting hail of bullets from the assembled police. And so another legend is born.

Now, the basic scenario (unstable boy does something stupid "for his girl") is not uncommon and really happens, to one degree or another, hundreds of times every day. I do, however, question why this particular unstable boy had to be protrayed as a C(bsC)IWVTM. Complete with his grumbling about "not accomplishing anything", "no WMDs" and an expressed desire by many soldiers to do anything to get out of Iraq, it seems this background was used to allow a statement to be made. I don't think Iraq is easy duty, nor do I envy those in coutry, but I honor their sacrifices and those of the families of members deployed. Futher, I feel a certain disgust with them or their situation being used and exploited for dramatic effect or to make a story seem more current or to just allow the writers/producers/directors to make a statement. I mean, this is not a year or two or five after the war is over, but right during the thick of it. Have they no shame? (OK, I know it was rhetorical, but it still felt good.) I just hope that this stereotype will not gain traction like the last invention of the Hollywood "elite" did.

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