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Radical History Review 89 (2004) 243-247

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The Abusable Past

Love Boat

Imagine this: a gleaming white cruise ship sailing the turquoise blue Caribbean with stops along the way at Aruba, Caracas, Dominica, and St. Thomas. Sound good? Now consider the passenger list: Oliver North, Duane "Dewey" Clarridge (former CIA operative and pardoned Iran-Contra conspirator), former National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, and former congressmen Bob Barr and Dana Rohrabacher. Are you having fun yet? Well, throw in former attorney general Ed Meese, and you have the skeleton crew of the Freedom Cruise that Oliver North helped organize and lead last March to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada. In fact, North was advertised as leading a special "private tour" of Grenada in order to relive "one of the most pivotal episodes of the Cold War," the "liberation" that launched a cascade of events culminating in the downfall of communism itself.

It is easy to forget how the U.S. invasion of this small island (133 square miles) on October 25, 1983, has come to be treated by the Right as the first step in Reagan's triumph over Cuba, the Soviet Union, and communism in general. But this is the story that North (who hosts War Stories on Fox Channel) and his friends tell of the thrilling rollback of the Evil Empire. And, as the occupation of Iraq grows bloodier every day, Grenada looks even better: only eighteen Americans lost and some seven to eight thousand military medals handed out. Can't beat those numbers. Which is perhaps why Clint Eastwood chose Grenada to make Heartbreak Ridge (1986), the first of his many redemptive allegories of the besieged white American male. [End Page 243] Together, Reagan and Eastwood revised a triumphalist Hollywood formula that the now aging Reaganauts in the current Bush administration continue to think applicable to the Middle East.

And perhaps it is. What the mass media have also conveniently forgotten is the awkward fact that the Grenadan invasion came a mere two days after 241 U.S. servicemen were killed in an explosion at the Marine barracks in Beirut, and a mere six months after 63 Americans were killed by a suicide bomber at the U.S. embassy, also in Beirut. Reagan's embarrassment at those losses was quickly eclipsed by his wag-the-dog move (and medals) in Grenada, and by the abject enthusiasm with which the news media embraced the victorious troops on their return. Even as the Marines were being quietly evacuated from Lebanon, Americans were being told that the noisy welcome afforded those returning from Grenada marked the end of the country's "Vietnam syndrome." Thanks to Oliver North and his coconspirators, we have been compelled to "relive" that "ending" ever since—on sea and on sand.

Batteries Not Included

It was hard to imagine a more disheartening May Day. On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush donned a navy flight suit, landed an S-3B Viking jet on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared "the turning of the tide" in the war on terrorism and the end of combat operations in Iraq. A massive banner on the ship's bridge proclaimed: "Mission Accomplished." The assembled officers and sailors interrupted Bush's twenty-three-minute speech two dozen times for applause. Conservative commentators waxed euphoric about Bush's "remarkable" speech and "masterful" stagecraft. And pundits universally predicted that we would be seeing a lot of clips of flyboy George in the 2004 election.

Showing that mass-merchandised patriotism knows no borders, Hong Kong- based Blue Box Toys quickly commemorated the event with a new item in their action figure line—"Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush—U.S. President and Naval Aviator." Their press release promised that "this limited-edition action figure is a meticulous 1:6 scale recreation of the Commander-in-Chief's appearance during his historic Aircraft Carrier landing," complete with "a realistic head sculpt, fully detailed cloth flight suit, helmet with oxygen mask, survival vest, g-pants, parachute harness and much...


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pp. 243-247
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2004
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