There is no conspiracy regarding Rambo. There is misinformation about it, however, and that misinformation directly ties to a major figure in conspiracy theory. His name is James “Bo” Gritz.
Gritz is an American hero. A former Lt. Colonel in Army Special Forces, he boasts an array of medals and commendations, although perhaps not as many as he has claimed. Upon returning from Vietnam he spent years advocating for the prisoners of war who had been left behind. Independent of any other points, this absolutely grants him the status of hero.
He is also an aggressive conspiracy theorist who, after failing to locate prisoners turned to attacking key government figures… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
During the 1980s Bo Gritz engaged in a series of high-profile attempts to locate and return POWs. He, with or without small groups of accompanying mercenaries, would venture into Vietnam without authorization and search for evidence of held soldiers. His detractors argue these were simple self-aggrandizement, and there are reports that his efforts impeded at least two covert operations to seek evidence regarding the rumors of continued MIA camps.
These actions were what served as partial inspiration for movies such as Missing in Action and, on television, Hannibal of The A-Team. Among the movies which may have been inspired by Gritz is Rambo: First Blood part 2.
Gritz has been hailed in some media circles as “the real Rambo” or “the inspiration for Rambo”, especially since the release of the documentary about him, Erase and Forget. This is absolutely untrue.
David Morrell, author of the novel First Blood, occasionally refers to himself as “Rambo’s Dad”. He has an immense appreciation for the character he created. He is also not shy about the reasons he had for writing either the book or the screenplay.
The book was written out of sympathy for the plight of Vietnam vets, after Morrell performed research during his collegiate years. Morrell, a patriotic writer, wanted to explore the problems that some veterans were facing upon their return. The movie was written because a film company thought that low-dialogue movies would be easier to translate, and thus easier to sell to overseas audiences. With an instruction to keep conversation to a minimum, Morrell was paid to write the screenplay.
Gritz was not the inspiration for Rambo. What he was, however, was a decorated warrior who, upon traveling repeatedly to Southeast Asia with no success, faced three possibilities: the POWs didn’t exist, with the camps having been shut down (the most likely answer, as killing the prisoners would be easier than continuing to torture them); his very public efforts to locate POWs was tipping off the Vietnamese and allowing them to continually uproot the prisoners before he arrived; or powerful figures in the U.S. administration were tipping off the Vietnamese to keep the MIA from being found.
Gritz chose the third option. He found an informant he trusted, Burmese drug lord Khun Sa, who allowed him to record a 1986 interview in which various American officials were named as secret drug lords working toward a One World Government and the New World Order. Because of George H.W. Bush’s prior leadership of the CIA in the 1970s, Bush became a particular target for Gritz’ conspiracy theories.
Since deciding that was the case, he has approached both national and international events from the perspective of a New World Order believer. This led him to condemn the first Gulf War as an effort toward a consolidated world government and ingratiated him with some survivalist groups and activist Christian groups.
He eventually served as a mediator between the Weaver family and the government during the Ruby Ridge standoff, as well as running for President on the Populist Party ticket. Some of his positions called for simply printing money to eradicate the national debt, as well as fighting the New World Order (which, one supposes, would have been finally attributed to specific people and groups).
Bo Gritz is a hero. He’s a conspiracy theorist. He’s the launching point for next week’s attempt to cut away some of the craziness associated with what was a tragedy, the Ruby Ridge standoff. He might even arguably be Hannibal, from the A-Team. But he’s not Rambo.