June 15, 2011

The “light at the end of the tunnel” – from Joseph Alsop and Robert Lowell to Hunter Thompson


“At last there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Joseph Alsop (1910-1989)
       American journalist and newspaper columnist 
       An oft-cited comment he made about the Vietnam War in his September 13, 1965 syndicated column 
books and websites about quotations or the Vietnam War mention this line by Alsop. It’s often assumed to be either the origin of the metaphor or the first use related to Vietnam. In fact, the figurative use of “light at the end of the tunnel” dates back to at least 1922. And, ironically, it had been used in reference to Vietnam in 1953 by French general Henri Navarre, who told reporters he could see France’s eventual success in its war with communist leader Ho Chi Minh’s troops “clearly, like light at the end of a tunnel.” A year later, Minh’s troops decisively defeated French forces at the battle of Dien Bien Phu and France lost control of its former colony. Joseph Alsop’s use of “light at the end of the tunnel” in 1965 was in a column predicting that America would eventually defeat Ho Chi Minh’s troops in Vietnam. Alsop said the French lost because they fought “with grossly insufficient resources.” He wrote: “This is in fact the real flaw in the argument of the silly people who parrot the assertion that this kind of war cannot be won, because the French failed...Today, however, American power is fully committed here, side by side with the considerable and courageous army of South Viet Nam. The American troops in the country already number more than 100,000. And eventually the U.S. force in South Viet Nam is likely to reach 200,000...at last there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Of course, 10 years later, after more than 58,000 Americans had been killed (along with an estimated 2 million Vietnamese troops and civilians), America essentially lost the war and pulled out of Vietnam.


“If we can see light at the end of the tunnel
It’s the light of the oncoming train.”
       Robert Lowell (1917-1977)
       American poet, World War II conscientious objector and anti-Vietnam activist 
       These lines are from “Since 1939,” a poem originally published in Lowell’s book Day by Day (1977)


“Leon Panetta leaving the CIA to replace [Robert] Gates at the Pentagon and General David Petraeus taking Panetta’s job in Langley just seems like a revolving door that bodes ill (more drone attacks and missile strikes) for the people in the AF/Pak  war...There seems no light at the end of the dark tunnel U.S. policy makers have put us in and which most Americans continue to enable with their passive indifference.”
Dave Lefcourt
       American blogger and book author
an opinion piece about the war in Afghanistan and U.S. military operations in Pakistan, posted on the OpEdNews site, June 11, 2011


“When Mr Obama assured the UN and the world that the ‘kinetic military action’ would quickly subdue Libyan military forces, he forgot an axiom of war. It is easy for a national leader to start one; but once started, it is impossible to stop...NATO airstrikes have fostered a war, which has turned into an inconclusive trudge through the swamp. Not only is there no light at the end of the tunnel, there appears to be no tunnel.”
       A Bangkok Post editorial
titled “What are they doing in Libya?” (June 10, 2011)


“This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling ‘consciousness expansion’ without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously...a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody — or at least some force — is tending that light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)
       American “gonzo” journalist and novelist
       In his novel
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), about the darkly comic misadventures of the semi-autobiographical character “Raoul Duke.” (A slightly altered version of these words are also spoken by Johnny Depp, as Raoul Duke, at the end of Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film adaptation of Thompson’s novel.)

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