Vital Signs

Caution: Historical Revisionism at Work

"He who controls the past controls the future." Nowhere is Big Brother's dictum truer than in the case of Vietnam and the antiwar movement. Lately, one can detect a new and persistent attempt to remold the history and goals of the antiwar movement in a way designed to make it more acceptable to. the mass of the American people. And obviously, how one is taught to view the movement as it was in the 60's will help determine how one ought to view various movement efforts of the 80's: the encouragement of a nuclear freeze, for instance, or the fierce support for Commandante Ortega's Nicaragua. Hollywood, of course, has always sentimentalized the radicals of the 60's: the outrageous Running on Empty (1988), with its warm, fatherly and motherly ex-bomb throwers still (for some reason) pursued by a harsh and unbending government, is only the latest in a long string of ideological epics that stretches back to Alice's Restaurant (1969) and Zabriskie Point (1970). But what is particularly at issue here is not the romanticizing of radicalism. Rather, it is the denial of the existence of radicalism, radical ideas, and radical goals among the movement in the first place.

As far as I am aware, this new tack was first taken by Stanley Kauffman, in his review of The Hanoi Hilton for The New Republic in March 1987. Kauffman bitterly objected to the depiction of...

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