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Thursday, June 17, 2004

HOW MYTHS ARE MADE, PART ONE 

Wednesday gave me not one but two "I can't believe he's actually saying that" moments. The first came from the mouth of Colonel David Hackworth, who was making one of his semi-regular appearances on Fraters fave Dan Barreiro's KFAN radio show. Hack was discussing, in his usual half-penetrating, half-nutty way, how difficult it is to deal with insurgency movements like the one in Iraq, and he related an anecdote purportedly from his Vietnam days about a Marine unit that went into a village to inoculate the children only to have the Viet Cong come in behind them and cut off the kids' arms.

Story sounds familiar, right? That's because it's straight out of the "diamond bullet right through my forehead" monologue mouthed by Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now:
I remember when I was with Special Forces--it seems a thousand centuries ago--we went into a camp to inoculate it. The children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile--a pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it, I never want to forget. And then I realized--like I was shot...like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, "My God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that." Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they could stand that--these were not monsters, these were men, trained contras, these men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled with love--that they had this strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly.
Neither Hackworth nor Barreiro mentioned the Apocalypse Now connection. Moreover--surprise, surprise--there's no evidence that the story is true, at least according to these three sources. Director Francis Ford Coppola and writer John Milius are said to have attributed the story to one of the film's military advisers, but the chain of proof ends there. And it gets even weirder: Hackworth is rumored by some to have been a model for Colonel Kilgore (the Robert Duvall "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" character), by others as part of the inspiration for Kurtz (beyond the obvious source in Conrad's Heart of Darkness). Is it possible that Hackworth himself was the adviser who gave the story to Coppola and Milius?

In any event, the tale of the pile of hacked-off (or Hacked-off) arms ought not to be trotted out by anyone, let alone Hackworth, without about fourteen levels of disclaimers.

My breath, I will not be holding.

(By the way, just because I listened to Radio K for a while two nights ago and Barreiro for a bit last night doesn't mean I'm two-timing Hugh. It's just that I already have all the VitaGanza, Iraqi currency, and refinanced mortgages I need, thank you very much.)

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