NPR ran a story recently on a group of Los Angeles plastic thieves that began with this movie dialog and ended with an instrumental version of the soundtrack:
I just want to say one word to you – just one word.
Are you listening?
Yes I am.
The film, The Graduate, was released in 1967 and the single, “Mrs. Robinson,” which expanded on the popular chorus from the film, debuted in April the following year. The lyrics of “Mrs. Robinson’ cry out for lost American heroes in a voice that is amazingly prophetic: Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio/A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
The Tet Offensive, which some call the turning point of the War in Vietnam, took place January 31st of 1968. The My Lai massacre, in which more than 300 Vietnamese civilians were slaughtered, was March 16th. On April 4, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June.
The lyrics hint at the mental breakdown of Mrs. Robinson – the (medical) files, the (hospital) grounds, the sympathetic eyes. But the reference to DiMaggio extends the breakdown to the nation. We are all victims. “Every way you look at it you lose.”
In researching the history, I found a chronology of the war that included this reference: “Upon entering My Lai and finding no Viet Cong, the Americans begin killing every civilian in sight, interrupted only by helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson.” I knew the story of Lt. William Calley, who was later convicted for his actions in the killing. But I had never heard of Thompson. Apparently Warrant Officer Thompson and his two gunners were flying reconnaissance when they came upon the dying and wounded of My Lai. Thompson, knowing something was amiss, put his helicopter down between the advancing Americans and a group of ten civilians, then called for help to evacuate them to safety. He immediately reported what he had seen, though the military cover-up kept the truth hidden for another year.
That’s a powerful image: a man standing between evil and innocence.
I am thankful that heroes like Thompson — and King, whose life we celebrated last Monday — personify the ideals: justice, equality, liberty, grace, mercy. I am thankful that in the larger scheme, their heroism will stand with all that is good and real in this world, and will not be lost. The fight against evil will not be lost. Indeed, it is already won.