The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, February 10, 2003
RAMBO'S ILLUMINATIONS: National Review Online has just published an
excerpt from Mona Charen's Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First. The article isn't quite as asinine as you'd guess from that title, but it's still a remarkable tribute to one woman's tunnel vision: an essay on '80s attitudes toward the Cold War that never once mentions such pop artifacts as Red Dawn and Iron Eagle. Instead, Charen recalls the touchy-feely goop of the age, from Jonathan Schell's unreadable anti-nuke tome The Fate of the Earth to the sudden fame of Samantha Smith, an American fourth-grader who earned international acclaim for writing a can't-we-all-be-friends? letter to Yuri Andropov.

Well, that was part of the era too. But growing up in North Carolina, I have to say that the Iron Eagle stuff sure seemed culturally dominant to me. I lived in Chapel Hill, one of the few territories in the state where people like Schell were taken seriously, and even there we had plenty of Reaganite hawks to contend with. Venture out of the Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh triangle -- to Boy Scout camp, say -- and the bumperstickers urging the Pentagon to fund its bombers with bakesales would disappear. As for Samantha Smith: My foreign-policy views in high school were arguably to the left of Jesse Jackson's, and even I thought the media's obsession with Smith was inexplicable. I can't remember anyone I knew actually taking her micro-crusade seriously. (I also noticed that the Soviet propaganda magazine in my school library -- we got it for free, along with an equally risible rag from South Africa -- couldn't stop featuring her on the cover.)

Now, I spent the '80s opposing pretty much everything the U.S. did abroad, from the invasion of Grenada to the bombardment of Libya, so I recognize that, like Charen the perpetual hawk, I'm remembering the decade from a rather biased point of view. But I don't think I've just written anything as silly as Charen's declaration that "Reagan was up against an enormous headwind" in foreign affairs, given that her examples of this headwind consist of Helen Caldicott, Bill Moyers, Walter Mondale, Phil Donahue, and Vladimir Pozner. The only member of that group who ever had a popular following was Donahue, and that was left over from the much more liberal '70s -- in the age of Reagan, he was constantly lampooned as an exhibitionist and a sissy. Caldicott was a radical, Moyers a PBS phenomenon, Pozner a novelty sideshow, and Mondale -- well, we all know how much trouble Reagan faced when he ran into that particular headwind.

There was a grassroots sentiment for peace, nuclear and otherwise, in the '80s. Polls showed a majority consistently rejecting U.S. military involvement in Central America, and, as Charen notes, the national landscape included a fair number of "sister cities" and "nuclear-free zones." Meanwhile, even hawkish flicks like Rambo seemed to treat the U.S. government and the Communists with the same distrust and contempt. A complete picture of the '80s would include all this. But it would also include a lot that Charen seems to have forgotten.


posted by Jesse 7:32 PM
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