It Smells Like . . . Victory

One of the most iconic and ironic lines in all of American film. Robert Duvall’s Lt. Col. Kilgore — a name straight out of Dickens — is framed in one of those low-angle, “Hollywood Hero” shots. Mortars explode around him, but he moves confidently, oblivious to or unshaken by (I’m not sure which) the danger and destruction that threatens to end him. Kilgore is an anachronism — an archetypal war hero stripped from a WWII service film and dropped into chaos. His attempts to impose discipline and order on the situation are both absurd and strangely fascinating. Ask anyone what they remember about Apocalypse Now and most will mention Kilgore. Most will even remember his most famous line.

I was reminded of that scene today when I read The Progressive‘s recent interview with Martin Sheen, in which he discusses the potential of civil disobedience, the pitfalls of being an outspoken liberal, and the wellspring of his resilient faith. I was aware of Sheen’s activism, of course — it’s near impossible not to be when he is so often demonized by the conservative media — but I’d never heard him explain so rationally and passionately his motivations. Who knew that he would come off sounding like a modern Dorothy Day? Sheen’s answer to the final question is damn near inspiring:

Q: Do you despair, or do you have hope?

Sheen: No, no, I never despair, because George Bush is not running the universe. He may be running the United States, he may be running the military, he may be running even the world, but he is not running the universe, he is not running the human heart. A higher power is yet to be heard in this regard, and I’m not so sure that we haven’t already heard, we just haven’t been listening. I still believe in the nonviolent Jesus and the basic human goodness present in all of us.

If all of the issues that I have worked on were depending on some measure of success, it would be a total failure. I don’t anticipate success. We’re not asked to be successful, we are only asked to be faithful. I couldn’t even tell you what success is.