To me there’s something incredibly beautiful about parents making mistakes while trying their very best to do the right thing by their families. It’s the true bravery and nobility played out daily in the sphere closest to real life. I empathize much more with fathers, the forgotten, forsaken and forlorn imagery of my generation but I know that’s not objective or fair, it’s just a reaction to what the silver screen and the big screen for some misbegotten reason have focused on for more than half a century. I wonder why?
There’s a US television program I watch now from Colombia; it’s set in the late sixties and among the protagonists is a young man my age at that time. It was a serious program, dealing in a wonderfully fair and balanced way with the incredibly complex problems of that era, albeit set in soap. Of course, it was cancelled after just three seasons. What does that say about those who shape our character today in a much more defined manner than families, friends, schools or churches?
The program was called “American Dreams” and the title seems uncannily accurate to me; … the theme song touches my heart, both lyrically and musically. It portrays in a balanced manner not only the typical problems in typical families of the time, but also those issues that were impossible for us to face objectively then: the fact that the best of us were divided passionately into two diametrically opposed camps and that an impenetrable barrier separated us, making it impossible for any kind of empathy to leak through. Now, so many years later, my eyes can mist in true perspective, valuing all of us. The gratitude I feel for that is immeasurable.
Not that this is an epiphany, I grew towards this position many decades ago. First, in coming to understand the sacrifice that Muhammad Ali so willingly made; then, flowing from the light of that example, to the sacrifice so many others made in opposing an unjust war I fully and naively supported; and finally coming to the realization that almost all wars are not only unjust but are merely vehicles for the worst among us to steal our treasure, our fortune and our lives; to waste the very best among us for no reason at all other than those fantasies in shades of propaganda that the worst of us know how to weave so well.
It was an epiphany too long in coming to me largely based on the guilt I felt when injuries kept me from joining my classmates on the fields and in the skies over Vietnam. Every message I received advising that one of them was injured or had passed away lashed at me, echoing bugle calls at the close of day on college fields too far away. Duty, honor, country shouted at me day and night as my own students followed in my classmates heels. But they were concepts bereft of the meaning that had so thoroughly filled them earlier on. That’s what too many of my classmates who returned from that sad experience had to share with me: shame for the things that war makes all men do to people who are human too.
But American Dreams didn’t only focus on that part, it also reflected the unbridled heroism, honesty and belief in purpose that my classmates brought with them to that terrible and useless conflict, it mirrored the position the Vietnamese people found themselves in as pawns of ruthless superpowers, no not the United States: those who manipulated and controlled us for their own ends, who still do, the faceless villains who laugh behind our backs, referring to us as idiotic Baby Hueys. It’s too bad they are all too often right.
American Dreams showed our villains: racists and crooked cops and more crooked politicians as well, but that’s what they were; and it shows the noble plight of blacks finally electing to assert their rights, not always well but well past time. It makes me remember an underclassman, one year behind me, Charley Foster, and to begin to grasp what he went through as the first black cadet at of all places the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, but it also makes me remember with undying pride the way that his success changed the long grey line, ennobled it and made it better than the best there’d ever been. What by all rights it should be today.
Perhaps most meaningfully, American Dreams helps me reflect on my world today. How, having started out so right, we’ve listed so very wrong. I look around and perhaps, it’s just my perspective, perhaps it’s the criticism elders always have for their successors, but I don’t see a generation ready to take on the tasks we started. There’s no hunger in the soul or anger in the heart or the reckless indifference to consequences that drove both sides of our great divide. Whining … well, plenty of that; that’s something that as we matured we perfected and passed on. But the courage of our convictions, that seems to be passé, at least until I see my sons and the things they won’t accept; bigotry of any kind, and that’s a major step.
So, … what am I writing this for? Therapy? Yes. But maybe more, maybe it’s a clarion call as well, a call to us to return to our ideals, wiser now with a more profound perspective. And for us to somehow motivate our progeny to fulfill the American dreams we left behind.
 © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2010; all rights reserved