There was one line in Oliver Stone’s perceptive 1986 film “Salvador” that capsulated the tragic American post-World War Two road to economic calamity.
James Belushi, playing the sidekick to James Woods, who seeks to resuscitate his career as an international political reporter amid the dangers of war torn El Salvador, asked Woods an important question of what it says about America’s and the world’s future when the U.S. was preparing to elect “a guy who played straight man to a chimp.”
The scene occurred on Election Day 1980. Belushi and Woods were attending a party given by the American Embassy in San Salvador to view U.S. election results.
As those who followed Reagan’s movie career know, he played in the 1951 comedy “Bedtime for Bonzo” in which he was cast opposite a chimp. Those critical of his fitness for political office, beginning with governor of California and eventually the presidency, have used the film and Reagan’s role in it to underscore what they deem to be the futility of a B movie leading man undertaking such awesome responsibilities.
What made the statement as made by Belushi take on greater import than a one-liner centered around the film and Reagan’s role in it by Jay Leno on late night television was the background of individuals and circumstances pertaining to the context of Belushi’s comment.
The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, played by Michael Murphy, is ready to be elbowed aside as soon as Reagan is elected. He is surrounded by gung ho military and CIA types, with a focus on one stridently right wing major played by Tony Plana, who contends that unless the current repressive regime survives a revolutionary insurgency that Communism will fester on America’s borders, ready to strike.
The Belushi comment needs to be extrapolated and placed beyond its superficial context of a statement indicating Reagan’s woeful inadequacies. It needs to be placed in the context of the realm classified as “deep politics” by Peter Dale Scott.
The analyses of Scott and L. Fletcher Prouty encompass something that the latter political historian referred to in the title of one of his books as “The Secret Team.”
As soon as it was revealed to the group of Americans at the election night party that Reagan had projected as America’s next president of the United States robust cheers were heard. The game plan could then be put into effect.
The major played superbly with appropriate zealous conviction by Tony Plana bought into the theory that a domino effect existed. If allegedly Communist led revolutionaries in El Salvador and neighboring Nicaragua were not thwarted, Fidel Castro’s troops would ultimately stand somewhere presumably in Texas threatening America.
Savvy and battle-tested Woods, who throughout the movie proclaimed himself to be the last American out of Cambodia, argued about the indigenous nature of popular uprisings. Plana’s strident major replied bitterly that it was left wing extremist types like Woods who had swallowed Commie propaganda and that as a result we had lost Vietnam.
Manipulating war strategy well beyond the battle scene are the architects of the deep politics being employed, delighted to use zealots like the major in Stone’s movie as shock troops.
In terms of the high flown idealism of saving penniless peasants along with those citizens of the world living in other countries from the scourge of Communism, look at the contrasting example of discoveries of the Kerry Committee of rampant drug activity throughout Central America making fortunes for criminal elements.
While Ronald Reagan warned that if President Daniel Ortega were not overthrown in Nicaragua that Communist revolutionaries would threaten the U.S. from Harlingen, Texas, those paying attention saw the reality.
The cargo planes that had flown from America to deliver military supplies to the anti-government contras of Nicaragua were loaded on the return trip with drugs to be unloaded on America’s streets.