In his academic book, Holy War: Cowboys, Indians, and 9/11s, Mark Cronlund Anderson states that “the 9/11 event and the response to it, collectively the ‘9/11 story,’ are as old as the nation that was born fighting Native Americans.” He is uniquely positioned to take on this bold claim because of the vast extent of research used to back up his claims, and because he is an insider/outsider, being American born, but living in Canada. He asserts that “the media’s 9/11 story also derives from a deep mythical precedent: America’s frontier narrative. Its creation story. It serves up a contemporary retelling of America’s creation myth and serves the invaluable and necessary function of ritual symbolic rebirth.” It follows that school textbooks, the press, and popular culture have solidified the myth by repetition since the frontier wars.
Anderson writes, “Americans have claimed divine succor and sanction for 400 years. Accordingly, the nation assumes the right to strike at its enemies with extreme force because the right of self-defense is embraced as timeless and universal.” He further states that “one outcome is that, as portrayed in popular culture, Mexicans, Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto Sandino, Saddam Hussein, former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, and so many Central Americans, Vietcong, conflated Arabs/Muslims, and countless other ‘Others’ have subsequently played the role of Indian stand-in(s) in later American conflicts that popular culture presented as structural, spiritual, and emotional heirs of the early Indian wars.” He treats the heartbreaking nature of these histories with an appropriate seriousness.
I like the personal touch Anderson brings to the chapter on Rambo and Vietnam, recounting a memory from his childhood in Minnesota. The chapter begins with a Vietnam soldier knocking on their door. When young Anderson asks “’What was Vietnam like,’” the soldier replied, “’It was like cowboys and Indians.’” The Vietnam “conflict was importantly built upon… the charge that in an act of war an American patrol boat had been attacked in international waters at the Gulf of Tonkin on August 4, 1964, by the North Vietnamese Navy.” It becomes clear that this incident was totally fabricated: “in the words of Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense at the time, ‘it never happened.’” This shows the lengths to which the US will go to appear as though attacked. According to Anderson, “the loss shook the United States to its core.” Anderson goes into a hilarious discussion of the movie Rambo, a character he exposes as a metaphor of the US frontiersman after the Vietnam War.
Prior to reading this book, I have always experienced discomfort with how Hollywood depicts the US as savior, and when they don’t win, still the American flag prevails. This book has caused me to knowingly question news and pop culture in a way that is far more sophisticated and informed than my former intuitive way. While history is always a version of events, I would rather have the cohesive experience offered here, by an academic who is not afraid to admit his opinions and interrogate the history and politics of his own birth country.
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