January 13, 2008

The Rambo Syndrome

The New York Times today has the first article in an investigation into violent incidents perpetrated by returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Question: do you think any of the NYT's editors noticed the connection between this story and an article in the Style section on the return of "tough guys," including John Rambo?

WHEN marketing executives were deciding on a strategy to sell the new “Rambo” film, they shunned splashy posters in favor of a minimalist image of a black spray-painted stencil outline of Rambo’s head on a white background.

“We called it Che Guevara crossed with Jesus Christ by way of Andy Warhol,” Mr. Palen said. “In a way, he’s all of those.”

Some of this blog's readerships know that when the character John Rambo was first introduced into the world, he wasn't any of those things. The film (and novel) First Blood was a more sophisticated-than-remembered meditation on the psychological wounds of returning veterans and the difficulty we face in re-integrating them into society. The contemporary producers of the Rambo movies have missed an opportunity. For a lot less money, they could have just re-released First Blood and aired a film that would have been much more relevant to America today. We prefer it when Rambo is out in the world, of course, fighting Russians or Vietnamese or Burmese. But his real struggle will always be his fight with America.

Update: The NYT story, by the way, has our friend Phil Carter steaming with anger...