What Happened to Bluto’s America?

My favorite movie is Animal House. Towards the end, after the villainous Dean Vernon Wormer shuts down Delta Tau Chi, expels its members from Faber College  and notifies draft boards they are “all, all eligible for military service,” a sense of self-pity engulfs the brothers. Bluto Blutarsky, after lamenting “seven years of college down the drain,” asks, “What happened to the Delta I knew?  Where’s the guts?”  Reminiscent of Henry V’s speech before Agincourt, Brother Bluto galvanizes Delta’s faithful remnant to action by rhetorically (if a-historically) asking, “Did America give up after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

I grew up in Bluto’s America. In the shadow of Lookout Mountain, at South Saint Elmo Elementary, a public grammar school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, every day began with a Bible reading and prayer. At 8:30 each Friday morning a lady showed up with a flannel board to illustrate that week’s Bible story. By the fourth grade I had cultivated my mustard seed-size faith to climb the mountain that was the weekly arithmetic test which inevitably followed. Ultimately, I learned the futility of faith unsupported by works.

The University of Alabama I entered in 1964 was grounded firmly in Bluto’s America. Fraternities and sororities ruled. We had our Omega houses along with a Delta house, Neidermeyers, Greg Marmarlards, Mandy Pepperidges and Bab Jensens. I was blessed by a Professor Jennings who opened my mind in similar ways.  In 1969, when I left the University with a master’s degree in history and an Air Force commission, the roots planted in Bluto’s America blossomed into the life I lived as a military officer and now as a college professor. There was a lot of good in Bluto’s America.

Osama Bin Laden’s recent offer of a truce both infuriates and dismays me. I’m infuriated because of the unforgettable horror of September 11, 2001. I cannot forgive the savagery unleashed by al Qaeda.  As far as I’m concerned, Bin Laden is a dead man. He died spiritually long ago. Hopefully, the body will follow soon.

How could Bin Laden think his truce offer might resonate with Americans?  Unfortunately, he has some reasons. America began losing its way in the 1960s when President Lyndon Johnson, fixated on creating his Great Society, failed to devise a coherent strategy to win in Vietnam. The Joint Chiefs, with no goal beyond “not losing” focused on how their individual services might emerge from a war they never wanted.  Military parochialism and political ambiguity converged in an atmosphere of mutual deceit rendering defeat in Vietnam and uncertainty at home. Meanwhile the New Left captured academe to propound moral relativism and extol the virtues of a multi-culturalism that exalted all other cultures while denigrating America, its history and traditional values.

Osama Bin Laden may be a good student of American popular culture but he’s ignorant of American history. No doubt he read polls showing a significant portion of Americans dissatisfied with progress being made in Iraq.  I’m betting he’s reading them wrong. If Osama Bin Laden understood American history he would know that Japanese war leaders read Americans wrong in 1941 when they thought a nation of milk-shake drinking jitter buggers had no stomach for war. Japan paid a high price for their leaders’ mistakes. Osama also might think the anti-war movement in the 1960s cost America the war in Vietnam. Wrong again. Instead it generated a backlash that elected Richard Nixon in 1968 and inspired the silent majority to re-elect him over ultra-liberal peace candidate George McGovern in 1972. Howard Dean and Moveon.org might want to think on that.

While many Americans are dissatisfied with progress in the War on Terror only a radical handful are inclined to cut deals with terrorists. And for most, winning in Iraq is preferable to losing. The majority of Americans wants to crush al Qaeda and will rejoice when Osama is killed.

Most of us who live west of the Potomac and east of San Francisco believe in good and evil and right and wrong. We attend churches and synagogues and believe that love is most properly expressed in marriage between men and women. In that America husbands love their families and provide for them and their wives love them for doing so.  It’s an America that’s alien to out-of-touch academics who haunt the halls of academe and to people informed by Moveon.org.

If I am wrong at least I have my memories of Bluto’s America. And if America doesn’t recapture something resembling the America I used to know, the loss for it…and for all mankind…will be immeasurable.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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