James Fallows on Comparisons to the Remsburg Moment

James Fallows has posted several blogs about Cory Remsburg’s acknowledgment during the State of the Union address focusing on “what is right about this young man, but wrong about the spectacle.”

I think the spectacle should make most Americans uneasy.

The vast majority of us play no part whatsoever in these prolonged overseas campaigns; people like Sgt. Remsburg go out on 10 deployments; we rousingly cheer their courage and will; and then we move on.

Last month I mentioned that the most memorable book I read in 2013 was Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. It’s about a group of U.S. soldiers who barely survive a terrible encounter in Iraq, and then are paraded around in a halftime tribute at a big Dallas Cowboys game. The crowd at Cowboys Stadium cheers in very much the way the Capitol audience did last night—then they get back to watching the game.

In his latest piece, Fallows invites readers to find the most apt comparison with the Remsburg event in popular culture. One reader nominates Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now:

I agree that the spectacle of oblivious war supporters applauding and completely missing the point is disconcerting. War lovers also applauded at the ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’ part of Apocalypse Now, but that doesn’t make the movie a less powerful antiwar statement.

I never watched Apocalypse, but I have seen A Few Good Men similarly abused.

War lovers go gaga when Colonel Jessep barks that he has “neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.” They do so even though the line comes as testimony that, seconds later, leads to Jessep’s arrest for extrajudicial punishment resulting in the manslaughter of a Marine.

Given how well the line sans context overpowers the film’s message in popular culture, Apocalypse Now might be an apt comparison to the Remsburg event if we assume that the powerful antiwar statement will be mostly lost to cultural memory. But I hope the discussion we’re having will prevent that.

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