No Comment — October 23, 2007, 7:41 am

‘Deliverance,’ Reloaded

In 1972, James Dickey’s novel Deliverance was turned into a major Hollywood motion picture. It instantly became a cultural icon for America of the last years of the Vietnam War. For many of those who saw it, Dickey has spun a clear political subplot—the men lost in the wilds were America lost in the jungles of Vietnam. But more broadly, both the novel and the film can be viewed as a modern American transposition of Lord of the Flies, involving not children marooned on an island, but modern American suburban men lost in the wilds of north Georgia. If anything, Dickey’s working of this material is more powerful than Golding’s. Dickey’s son, Christopher, is a talented writer who now mans the Paris bureau for Newsweek. I got to make his acquaintance this summer when we both attended a counter-terrorism conference in Italy.

In a column in the current Newsweek, Dickey gives us an update on Deliverance and applies it to America’s current predicament. Here’s a snippet:

Me, I think Lewis is Vice President Dick Cheney’s closet fantasy of himself, and as such, a sort of model for the Bush Administration as a whole. And Ed, he’s about the rest of us, just scared and trying to get by. And the river? That’s the war in Iraq.

“What the hell you want to go f— around with that river for?” one of the unfriendly locals asks Lewis early in the movie. “Because it’s there,” says Lewis. “It’s there alright. You get in and you can’t get out, you gonna wish it wasn’t.”

One of the most disconcerting aspects of the endless war the United States is fighting now is that it started because Iraq was there: it appeared to be a made-to-order target for an easy invasion that would have great symbolic (indeed, philosophic) significance for the thinkers around Bush. After 9/11, the capture of the terrorists who plotted the attack and the destruction of the Taliban government in Afghanistan that gave them shelter just hadn’t seemed a weighty enough challenge for these would-be supermen. “There’s a feeling we’ve got to do something that counts—and bombing caves is not something that counts,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a confidante of Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told NEWSWEEK in November 2001. In fact they had tasted that great forbidden fruit of war, the sense of license that it gives, and they didn’t want to give it up. In wartime they could make up their laws as they went along. On a grand scale they could reinterpret the Constitution until it became meaningless. On the ground, they would give well-connected companies fat contracts and politically compatible mercenaries like those of Blackwater a license to kill . . .

Anxious to assert their vision of American strength, and themselves as its personifications, they were looking for a fight with Saddam Hussein long before September 11. Casting themselves as implacable opponents of tyranny, the ideologues of the administration had, since the days of the Soviet Union, envied the tyrants’ ruthlessness. Quick to denounce bias when they faced opposition, they were the first to use mass deception to assure their own grip on power. And what made all this possible? They could not do any of it—they could not begin to do it—without war and its attendant mystique of survival . . .

Dickey’s relation of Deliverance to the current American dilemma is not an entertainment. It’s an admonition.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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