How Rambo Saved the World


In addition to being a pervert and a drunkard, you may not know that I’m also a history buff.  So when I’m not chasing girls with shots of vodka, or chasing shots of vodka with girls, I’m usually philosophizing (is that a word? I’m a history major, not an English major) on the evolution of warfare and America’s struggle against the evils of communism, terrorism and hippieism.

Which brings me to today’s topic, how Rambo saved the world.  Actually, to be fair, I should say Sylvester Stallone, since it was a combo of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.  But since Rambo killed commies, whereas Rocky only knocked them out, and since Rambo was a life-altering figure in my development, I’m going to give him the bulk of the credit.

In 1985 I was 9 years old.  Too young to truly appreciate the peril the free world faced from the evils of communism.  Oh sure, I knew the Soviets were the “bad guys,” but to my young mind they might as well have been Cobra to America’s G.I. Joe.  I had seen R-rated movies by that time, but they were nominally censored by my parents. We had a VCR (I think it was still a Betamax), and if my brother or I wanted to see an R-rated movie my parents would screen it the night before to determine if it met their standards; sometimes they would fast forward through a sex scene –it was years before I finally saw the supremely disappointing sex scene in The Name of the Rose— or particularly gruesome killing, but for the most part I wasn’t too censored.

But Rambo was the first R-rated movie I got to see in the theater, unscreened and uncensored.  I have to admit, 9 years old is probably too young to be taking a gamble like that (if we’d been going to Silence of the Lambs at that age I’d probably be completely fucked up today as opposed to just slightly), but Dad wanted to see it as badly as I did so I got to go.

I won’t go too deeply into my own personal experience, but it’s safe to say that Rambo changed my life.  It put a face on the enemy.  It gave me an appreciation of the sacrifices our veterans made in Vietnam and every other war.  And it awakened me to the fact that not everyone in America was really on the right side in this life-or-death struggle with totalitarianism.  The world would never be the same for me.

On a world scale, Rambo’s affect was no less profound.  Ronald Reagan was our president, and for the first time in the entire duration of the Cold War we were actually trying to win the war as opposed to merely contain our adversary.  This is not a political rant.  It is not partisan.  Republican presidents Nixon and Eisenhower were just as incompetent in fighting the Cold War as Truman, LBJ and Carter.  Like monkeys trying to fuck a football, the whole bunch of them. For 35 years, from the end of World War II in 1945, to the day Reagan took office in 1981, we were on the retreat in the Cold War.  You could count our victories on one hand.  Meanwhile, the losses piled up: Albania, China, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Cuba, Yemen, Congo-Brazzaville, Benin, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Nicaragua, the Seychelles and Grenada.  Most of the Middle East’s Muslim states allied themselves with the Soviets even if they did not become communist.  (I’m pretty sure California went communist at some point in the 60’s as well.)  It was a dark time.  The light of liberty was literally flickering out across the world.

Until Reagan.

But even the great Ronald Reagan couldn’t do it alone. He needed help.  That help came in the form of Pope John Paul II, himself a child of Soviet oppression in Poland.  It also came from Margaret Thatcher, the greatest British leader since Henry V.  (And no, I haven’t forgotten Churchill, Maggie blows him away.)  But until 1985, that’s about all Ronnie had.

But in 1985 Sylvester Stallone brought Hollywood squarely into the Cold War with a propaganda campaign unseen since the days of Casablanca.  In May Rambo came out; it portrayed the Soviets (and Vietnamese) as soulless, vile war criminals, hell bent on world domination.  And in November Rocky IV came out; it portrayed the Soviets as soulless, vile cheaters, hell bent on athletic domination through steroids and intimidation.

Rambo and Rocky were huge on the homefront too.  After years of declining morale and patriotism, Reagan had focused much energy on raising the national spirit.  Both movies grossed over $300 million, and their blatantly pro-American message made people’s hearts swell with a pride that hadn’t been felt in years.

With the Soviets already on the defensive for the first time since the battle of Stalingrad, this new front did not sit well with the embattled Soviet premiere Mikhail Gorbachev.  He publicly blasted the Hollywood propaganda machine (funny how he never seemed to mind when they were spewing out the usual Soviet-friendly propaganda Hollywood was notorious for during most of the 20th Century).  The Soviet Minister of Culture decried Stallone’s movies as part of an “anti-Soviet campaign.”

And how did good ol’ Ronnie respond?  Unlike past presidents who would have groveled and apologized, disavowed the films as not representing the true feelings of Americans, he embraced them.  He bragged about watching Rambo in the White House movie theater.  He mentioned Rambo in speeches, taunting Gorbachev and making it crystal clear that the days of American backpedalling were over.

To make a long story short, after being on the defensive for literally every day since the end of World War II, it took just 9 years to turn the tide so completely that the Berlin Wall fell.  By 1991 the Cold War was over, and the Evil Empire was consigned to the “trash heap of history.”  And Rambo was an instrumental part of it all.  It wasn’t just the bad-ass way he blew Russkies away with his M-60 machine gun (shot one handed from the hip no less!)  It wasn’t just that he carried a knife bigger than most swords.  It was his will, his indomitable American spirit in the face of the seemingly unbeatable nemesis.

So next time you see any of the Rambo movies come up on AMC (that’s right, Rambo movies air on the American Movie Classics channel, so all you haters can suck it!), kick back and enjoy the flick.  And don’t be afraid to shed a tear or two when he gives his famous speech.

A few other notes about the great John J. Rambo:

–Lest you think Rambo was just another action hero, a caricature similar to a thousand other brainless Seagal or Van Damme movies: The original First Blood novel used to be taught in college literature classes before Hollywood commercialized the name and story.  David Morrell’s excellent novel is acknowledged as being one of the first works to discuss Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In fact, First Blood dealt with the issue of vets struggling to re-assimilate into society before the medical community had even coined the term PTSD.  Rambo is not a superhero, he is not invincible.  He is flesh and blood.  He also happens to be a badass motherfucker.

Rambo III, released in 1987, saw Rambo head to Afghanistan to face down the Soviets once again.  Since 9/11 this film has been mocked and derided for portraying the Muslim mujahedeen as allies and heroes.  In fact, the film is even dedicated to the mujahedeen.  And it’s true, those same mujahedeen would later produce such modern-day sweethearts as Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban.  But let’s not be naive, this is the way the world has always been.  Allies today become the enemies of tomorrow.  Don’t forget, we once crawled into bed with “Uncle Joe” Stalin to defeat the Nazis.  That’s right, in order to crush the Nazis in three-and-a-half years we allowed a new foe to flourish, one that would take 46 years to defeat.  So by my calculations, as long as we defeat the Muslims in the next… uh, let’s see, carry the one… 604 years, it won’t have been as big a blunder as cozying up to the Evil Empire turned out to be.

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4 Comments

  1. My favorite post yet; but then I am more of a nerd…
    Got to thank the Californian and the catholic (among others), Nov. 24 1989 will always be a great day in history. One of the reasons he is my favorite president.

    The Godfather trilogy will have to wait, I’ll bump Rambo to the top of my must watch list as I was too young and too censored when It came out.
    Oddly… I think I did see Silence of the Lambs around 9 or 10… what were they thinking?

  2. Solid article, check out this clip from a silly sketch comedy show in 1969 that predicts both the fall of the Berlin wall and Reagans presidency. Note the huge laugh when they say Reagan for president cause he was just some pretty boy movei star at the time.

    • Wow, I’d never seen that before, thanks! It illustrates my point perfectly; in 1969 no one could really imagine us actually winning the Cold War someday.

  3. Sad news on the Rambo front. Apparently the plans for a 5th Rambo movie have been scrapped in favor of an Expendables sequel. Nothing against The Expendables, it was an entertaining ensemble flick (sort of an action movie version of the Oceans Eleven films), but I sure would’ve liked to see Rambo save the world one more time.


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