n Gunfighter Nation
, Richard Slotkin argues, "Myth expresses ideology in a narrative, rather than discursive or argumentative, structure. Its language is metaphorical and suggestive rather than logical and analytical."48
The power of myths resides in the fact that they are culturally understood narratives; the story is known, and events are applied to the story in order to make them comprehensible. The frontier myth is especially ideologically loaded, and it was especially resonant during the Cold War. Referring to the strength of frontier imagery, Slotkin writes that "the preoccupation with violence that characterizes the Western and the Myth of the Frontier made its formulations particularly useful during a period of continual conflict between the claims of democratic procedure and Cold War policies that required the use of armed force."49
Vietnam was portrayed as a symbolic frontier landscape, a liminal space replete with heroes and villains. Powerful cultural symbols are crucial to the maintenance of hegemony. Although there is not one symbolic universe that we all share, "a given symbolic universe, if it becomes hegemonic, can serve the interests of some groups better than others. Subordinate groups may participate in maintaining a symbolic universe, even if it serves to legitimate their domination."50
Myths are disseminated and sustained through metaphor, and frontier metaphors were applied indiscriminately to Vietnam. These metaphors were imbued with legitimating cultural symbols. Allusions to the conflict in Vietnam as an "Indian-war" reflected the perception that it was being fought "in a 'wilderness' setting against a racially and culturally inferior enemy."51 American democracy and civilization (collectively known as "progress") were juxtaposed against the backwardness and immorality of Third World communism; progress would prevail over barbarism, just as it had on the American frontier. The South Vietnamese were captives of communist aggression in the same way that the frontier settlers were captives of Indian aggression; the white hunter would save them all. Epithets like savage were resurrected for Vietnam, belying the same racism and cultural ignorance that characterized the earlier frontier. "Strategic hamlets" that protected the South Vietnamese from the Viet Cong were described as fortresses or stockades.52 The Green Beret, "an elite combination of the Peace Corpsman and the soldier," was the updated western hero who represented the frontier spirit.53 The symbolic Green Beret was actualized by John Wayne, the cowboy hero of the West and the brave American soldier/peacekeeper.