Re-Making the American Dream
by David Vaught

"This was not the American Dream. It was coercion and abuse of power."

Fifty years ago, David Vaught, a 1969 West Point graduate, embarked on a perilous legal journey to challenge the compulsory weekly chapel attendance at his famous alma mater. Up against such defiant figures as Colonel Alexander Haig, David and his friend Lucien Truscott stood atop the principles of religious freedom and the First Amendment to state their case. As dramatic a theme as this is for a nonfiction book (a fictionalized version of which Truscott wrote as the novel and miniseries Dress Gray), Vaught’s retelling is merely an early mile marker on a much grander literary journey—that of his own attempt to figure out what the American dream really means. To do that, he chose to combine his views on the West Point incident with such experiences as his time in Illinois politics, recollections of his family history, and his opinions on the values on which our nation was founded.

To try to identify the many truths, falsehoods, misconceptions, and pursuits behind the concept of the American dream, Vaught decided to tell a sweeping personal, political, and historical saga. Therein lies both its great strength and perhaps its most significant challenge: there are so many compelling components to the overall tale that it could have used a slightly more cohesive structure. With shades of Born on the Fourth of July, A Few Good Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and half a dozen other books, plays, and movies, the author’s effort is at once honest, gripping, and heartfelt—if a bit overly detailed and occasionally rambling. But in the final analysis that matters little, for with all the compelling personality profiles the author shares and the American enigmas he candidly discloses, deciding to engage in this literary journey is nonetheless an act of patriotism.

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