But the third and bigger point is that, enjoyable as they are, pop-culture metaphors aren’t really of much use, especially when you’re up against cultures where life is still defined by how you live as opposed to what you experience via media. It seems to me, for example, that when antiwar types bemoan Iraq as this generation’s Vietnam “quagmire,” older folks are thinking of the real Vietnam — the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and whatnot — but most anybody under 50 is thinking of Vietnam movies: some vague video-store mélange of The Full Metal Deer Apocalypse. Take the Scott Thomas Beauchamp debacle at The New Republic, in which the magazine ran an atrocity-a-go-go Baghdad diary piece by a serving soldier about dehumanized troops desecrating graves, abusing disfigured women, etc. It smelled phony from the get-go — except to the professional media class from whose ranks The New Republic’s editors are drawn: To them, it smelled great, because it aligned reality with the movie looping endlessly through the windmills of their mind, a non-stop Coppola-Stone retrospective in which ill-educated conscripts are the dupes of a nutso officer class. It’s the same with all those guys driving around with “9/11 Was An Inside Job” bumper stickers. That aligns reality with every conspiracy movie from the last three decades: It’s always the government who did it — sometimes it’s some super-secret agency working deep within the bureaucracy from behind an unassuming nameplate on a Washington street; and sometimes it’s the president himself — but when poor Joe Schmoe on the lam from the Feds eventually unravels it, the cunning conspiracy is always the work of a ruthlessly efficient all-powerful state. So Iraq is Vietnam. And 9/11 is the Kennedy assassination, with ever higher percentages of the American people gathering on the melted steely knoll.
There’s a kind of decadence about all this: If 9/11 was really an inside job, you wouldn’t be driving around with a bumper sticker bragging that you were on to it. Fantasy is a by-product of security: It’s the difference between hanging upside down in your dominatrix’s bondage parlor for half-an-hour after work on Friday and enduring the real thing for years on end in Saddam’s prisons. That’s the real flaw in Christopher Dickey’s Remembrance metaphor: If Cheney is Burt Reynolds, and the rest of America is Jon Voight, and the river is Iraq, who are the mountain men? Well, presumably (for he doesn’t spell it out) they’re the dark forces you make yourself vulnerable to when you blunder into somewhere you shouldn’t be. When the quartet return to Atlanta a man short, they may understand how thin the veneer of civilization is, but they don’t have to worry that their suburban cul-de-sacs will be overrun and reduced to the same state of nature as the backwoods.
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