American Mythology

Although I’m guessing that most Americans don’t know the word, they are fond of mythology, especially where it pertains to their own history.  Probably the most prominent mythological figures in US history are the outlaws Billy the Kid and Jesse James and lawman Wyatt Earp, at some distance followed by George Armstrong Custer and Geronimo.  Since I’m addicted to westerns I have seen between five and ten versions of each of their lives’ stories.  In Billy’s case, the murder of his protector John Tunstall and his subsequent hunt for the killers turned him into a folk hero.  For Jesse, the post-Civil War clashes in Missouri between veterans from both sides formed the basis of his legendary bank robbing career, and there can be little doubt that Wyatt knew Doc Holliday and was involved in the gunfight at the OK Corral.  Other than that, the writers of screenplays let their imagination roam freely, whether the lead actor was Paul Newman, Brad Pitt or Henry Fonda.  All mythologies surrounding Custer have effectively been debunked by Nathaniel Philbrick’s brilliant book ‘The Last Stand,’ and Geronimo had the chance to tell his story to S. M. Barrett, Superintendent of Education in Lawton, Oklahoma.

A more recent myth, heavily promoted by the Obama administration, is the story of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  In this narrative, the tenacity of a female CIA officer, who for years monitored the moves of a suspected Al Qaeda courier, coupled with the courage of twenty four Navy Seals, who risked their lives in foreign territory on a mission from which they might very well not have returned, and the guts of the President, who had been told that there was only a 50% chance that Bin Laden was at a particular location in Pakistan but nevertheless gave the order to start the operation, combined into one of the most daring actions ever undertaken by the US military.  It all but put an end to the right wing insinuations that Obama was unpatriotic, in fact un-American, and probably a Muslim.  In the best American tradition a movie, ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ was almost immediately made, with Jessica Chastain as the main character in the role of the female CIA officer.  The movie was nominated for five Oscars, and although it only ended up with an Oscar for sound editing it was considered the true version of the events on May 2nd, 2011, in Abbottabad.  Until investigative journalist Seymour Hersh got involved.

According to his article in the London Review of Books, based on information from only one unnamed retired US intelligence official, the whole story the White House has been peddling is untrue.  The Pakistani military had been holding Bin Laden prisoner for five years, and when an informant tipped off the CIA about his whereabouts simply made him available to the Seals, who were accompanied by an officer of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency when they entered the compound and killed him.

The White House vehemently denies that there is any merit to Hersh’ reporting, and obviously the weakest part of his story is its single anonimous source, but Hersh is getting support from experts like former CIA officer Robert Baer, who never believed that the President would order an action with only 50% chance of succeeding and who calls the operation ‘totally uncharacteristic’ for the Seals.

If all this doesn’t remind you of ‘Wag the Dog’ you haven’t seen that movie.  Of course more information will become available and maybe in the end the whole truth will come out, but until then it feels like Wyatt Earp borrowed a plane from the Wright brothers and threw a cluster bomb on the OK Corral, rather than shooting it out with the Clanton Gang with Doc Holliday and two of his brothers by his side.

Hugo Kijne


2 thoughts on “American Mythology

  1. 1
    i am pretty sure that ‘the whole truth’ will not come out. generally speaking, not one document comes out of the piles of secret information undamaged and, as for me personally, i will never get the truth of a minor operation in indonesia in 1958 which affected our family seriously. ‘The declassification review of this volume, which was completed in 1993, resulted in the decision to withhold 1.7 percent of the documents originally selected by Department of State historians and proposed for publication in this volume. The most important portions of the documents withheld from publication as a result of the declassification review were those relating to the details of U.S. covert support of the Indonesian rebellion in Sumatra and Sulawesi (Celebes) and to liaison with other countries interested and involved in this operation.’ we are almost SIXTY YEARS later…

    i consider seymour hersh’s mentioned article to be bad journalism. as we all know for ages is testis unus, testis nullus, one witness not a witness. moreover, ‘des lettres anonymes sont odieuses’, as montesquieu stated clearly. a single anonymous source has to be neglected.


    1. I agree about the whole thruth and that the single source makes Hersh’ reporting weak, but since then a lot of experts have shown him some degree of support. The weak piece of the White House’s story has always been that Osama would have lived within a mile from Pakistan’s main military academy and the Pakistanis would not have known about it.


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