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Films >> Born on the Fourth of July (1989) >>

1) But ultimately it is you, the student of history, who should read for yourself and discover what is true. Never base your views on one movie, one historian, one dramatist, one ideology or one perception, no matter how seductive or convincing the messenger. Life is far too ambiguous. Allow your natural sense of judgment, generosity, and empathy to prevail. You could certainly say that Born on the Fourth of July presented a “debatable biography” of Ron Kovic’s life. But Ron cries when he sees it. Why? I think because he recognizes that “thing” in the movie that may not be his exact life but is something he is very close to. (Oliver Stone, qtd. in Toplin 46)

2) It’s a film that tells us we can’t blindly trust the leaders of this country, that we ourselves must search and find out where we stand and what we believe in. It’s not easy finding the truth about anything. . . . This is the truth about what happened over there. . . . When you get right down to it, Vietnam was basically economics. (Tom Cruise, qtd. in Kagan 162)

3) What combat burned into our heads was the very real fact that we could be dead at any moment . . . . The war formed me, it was the major shaping event of my life, but it never, never turns out the way you expect it to be. . . . It has nothing to do with heroism. (Oliver Stone, qtd. in Kagan 17)

4) Great movies and great literature should protect. It should be so truthful that it keeps people alive. (Ron Kovic, qtd. in Kagan 162)

5) Well, here I am, anonymous all right. With guys nobody really cares about. They come from the end of the line, most of 'em. Small towns you never heard of… Two years' high school's about it, maybe if they're lucky a job waiting for them back at a factory, but most of 'em got nothing. They're poor, they're the unwanted, yet they're fighting for our society and our freedom. It's weird, isn't it? They're the bottom of the barrel and they know it. Maybe that's why they call themselves grunts, cause a grunt can take it, can take anything. They're the best I've ever seen, Grandma. The heart & soul. (Chris Taylor, Platoon)

6) And I saw the lie. I saw the goddamn lie! I saw it. It was so clear to me that it was fraudulent, fuckin’ fraudulent! The whole goddamn thing was a sham. My best intentions, my innocence, my youth, my beautiful young spirit had been desecrated by men who never went where I went, men who would never have to go through what I was about to endure. (Ron Kovic, qtd. in Seidenberg 56)

7) I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days… There are times since, I've felt like a child, born of those two fathers. But be that as it may, those who did make it have an obligation to build again. To teach to others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and meaning to this life. (Chris Taylor, Platoon)

8) I am the living death/ the memorial day on wheels/I am your yankee doodle dandy/your John Wayne come home/your fourth of july firecracker/exploding in the grave. (Ron Kovic 11)

9) But no matter how much historians fiddle with the narrative or how in-your-face they make classroom lectures, they will never command the reach and resonance of a Stone film. (Jack Davis 15)

10) I think Born is one of the most emotional films I’ve ever done. I think that the entire structure of the film was dictated by emotions. The editing of the film, the way it was cut, felt. . . . As I remember there were seven or eight valleys and peaks: a lot of emotional work to do. (Oliver Stone, qtd. In Salewicz 62)

11) Although this film has vast amounts of pain and bloodshed and suffering in it, and is at home on battlefields and in hospital wards, it proceeds from a philosophical core: It is not a movie about battle or wounds or recovery, but a movie about an American who changes his mind about the war. (Roger Ebert)

12) Born on the Fourth of July presented viewers with unpleasant scenes from Vietnam ranging from the slaughter of innocent villagers, and the friendly fire death of a soldier, to the repulsive scenes of a V.A. hospital. These events led some audiences to the conclusion also reached by Kovic that the U.S. role in Vietnam was unjustified. (Barbara Pickering 69)

13) I think the film was criticized because it did not show the re-education of Ron Kovic. But the re-education is there in the sense of going to the demonstration in Syracuse and in fighting at home with his brother, fighting with his mother, seeing the indifference of the country, seeing Steve and the way he treated him at the hamburger stand, going to that ex-girlfriend and, through her, seeing that there was another way. The seed was sown in Ron’s mind that protest against our system could be valid and could be a good thing, as opposed to a bad thing. (Oliver Stone, qtd. in Wilmington 138)

14) For years, I felt there was nothing worthwhile about the tragedy that had befallen me. Making a movie would enable me to give something back to the others instead of merely being a victim. Life isn’t about avoiding conflict and pain, but shaping it into something beneficial. (Ron Kovic, qtd. in Riordan 275)

15) Here’s a boy from Massapequa, whose father was an A&P manager, who is getting up there to speak to the American nation on national television. For him, that’s a huge moment. But maybe I overdid it with the adulation part because I was trying to end a two-and-a-half hour movie. Maybe the music was too much. And you saw that glitzy aspect as opposed to the content. (Oliver Stone, qtd. in Wilmington 142)

16) When Oliver called me up and told me that we were going to do this film again, it was like being given a second life. I could never quite reconcile being in this wheelchair after Vietnam. I could never quite understand how my sacrifice could have any kind of meaning at all. Working on the script with Oliver was the first time that I began to understand that my sacrifice, my paralysis, the difficulties, the frustrations, the impossibilities of each and every day would now be for something very valuable, something that would help protect the young people of this country from having to go through what I went through. (Ron Kovic, qtd. in Seidenberg 30)

17) I always wanted to be a hero, from my very earliest days. I remember reading Sgt. Rock comic books, watching John Wayne movies, watching Guadalcanal Diary. I remember watching From Here to Eternity with my mother. I remember how deeply I was moved when I saw Sands of Iwo Jima, with John Wayne playing Sergeant Stryker. I remember crying when he was shot and killed, with the Marine Corps hymn playing in the background. I never heard the Marine Corps hymn playing when I was wounded. I realized in Vietnam that the real experience of war was nothing like the comic books or the movies I had watched as a kid. I realized when the war was over and I had come home in a wheelchair that these movies had romanticized war, made war seem like a glorious and heroic thing, a wonderful thing to get involved in. I realized that these movies had done a great disservice to myself and other men of my generation. (Ron Kovic, qtd. in Seidenberg 56)

18) [Stone] cannot resist grandiloquence. . . . [He is] constantly basting [his movies] with a mythic sauce. And so what comes out this time is not a searching examination of Ron Kovic's life, but a symbolic life, the effort to make Kovic's experience represent the history of an entire nation. (Christian Appy 187)

19) You get the feeling that Stone does his best not to ridicule campus activism. But he can't help it. . . . The film implies that only those who fought the war can legitimately fight against it. One sign of that attitude is the casting of Abbie Hoffman as a cheerleader to the Syracuse demonstrators. Stone would never dream of using a forty-five-year-old man to play a grunt in Vietnam. (Christian Appy 188)

20) Kovic regains the pride of a warrior. . . . Some have said that if the Vietnam experience did nothing else, it would at least undermine the worst ideals of masculinity represented by John Wayne. Judging by this film, the Duke is still in the saddle. (Christian Appy 189)

21) The historical moment that allowed both Kovic and the anti-war movement to challenge patriotic militarized masculinity was defined by the horrors of the war in Vietnam and the realization that American power and mythology had reached a dead-end. (Fran Shor)

22) Kovic's desire to join the Marines was not only an obsession of the pumped-up young warrior-in-training, but also an aspect of the mythologizing that Marine recruiters conveyed to the impressionable Kovic in high school. (Fran Shor)

23) I believe that Born on the Fourth of July, which I take as an emblematic Vietnam film and one most directly concerned with the project of remasculinization, presents a highly critical view of the close relation between masculine identity and nationally sanctioned aggression. (Robert Burgoyne 59)

24) "I am the living death/ the memorial day on wheels / I am your yankee doodle dandy / your john wayne come home / your fourth of july firecracker / exploding in the grave." The text is a gift from the grave of a living dead man, and it is designed to explode like a firecracker in the faces of its American readers. . . . Kovic's work is an extended attack upon the American society and American myths which, in Kovic's view, compelled him to go to Vietnam and to be permanently disabled. Kovic blames America and Americans for what happened to him, and accuses his culture of fraud. (Peter McInerney 198)

25) Vietnam is as much a state of mind as a place or event. It is a kind of mystery which cannot be represented or even adequately named by straight or exterior history. In the words of a character in Ward Just's story "The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert," "the war . . . poisoned everything" - especially the possibility of straight history. (Peter McInerney 191)

26) For Stone, Vietnam is the stage for a national psychomachia, a Nietzschean version of the Magic Theater in Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf. The novel argues that Americans witnessed the destruction of Lyndon Johnson's vision of history and found out who they were in Vietnam. (Peter McInerny 196)

27) The film wants to shout down the sentimentalization of the Vietnam War, the sweet-talk about national healing, most of all the current pieties about the war's veterans. This is perhaps the first I-was-there picture (including Stone's own Platoon) to vent full-blast the self-doubt and self-pity and justifiable rage so many veterans have felt. (Stuart Klawans 28)

28) They say I am unsubtle. . . . But we need above all a theater that wakes us up: nerves and heart. . . . They say I throw too many fastballs. But Nolan Ryan has done pretty well at that. . . . I'm in the face all the time. . . . Always in your face. . . . I put my passion out there, my honest feelings. That's all I do. Some people like that, and some feel it's too strong. (Oliver Stone, qtd. in Collins C13)

29) The experiences of making Platoon and Born were cathartic to me, and I felt a bit of an obligation to make them. (Oliver Stone, qtd. in Collins C13)

30) Born on the Fourth and Platoon share common characteristics. Both are laced with enough fact to make the stories difficult to refute, while at the same time they are saturated with so much hateful negativism that in the end the proper term to describe them is probably "propaganda" or "disinformation." In the end, both films seem to work most effectively on the guilt of those who did not serve in Vietnam, while at their kindest the disappoint the honest expectations of those who did. I, like many who were seriously wounded in Vietnam, have a bone to pick with Stone and Ron Kovic. . . . There is an inherent dishonesty in Stone's depiction of those who served. There is an overwhelming self-pity in Kovic that seems even to have shaped his politics. (Richard Eilert)

31) Kovic emerges holding himself blameless for the actions he has taken because he has purged himself of these sins by denouncing his parents, his God, his country and the Marine Corps for having created his original circumstances. . . . I have met hundreds of veterans whose lives were changed with a terrible finality by their service in our nation's wars. When I think about all the dignified, courageous people I have met in those hospital stays, sometimes I feel so proud of them that I honestly could cry. And after seeing the disservice that this lauded Hollywood lie does to them, I wanted to. (Richard Eilert)

32) Oliver Stone is a punishing director. . . . He uses bombast, overkill, bullying. His scenes, and their ironic juxtapositioning, explode like land mines. (Sheila Benson)

33) Stone has gifts as a filmmaker, but subtlety is not one of them. In essence, he's a propagandist, and, as it turns out, the least representative for his point of view. Stone wants desperately to effect a radical transformation in his audience. But it's this panicky drive to convert us to his way of thinking that undermines Stone's message. (Hal Hinson)

34) It's inconceivable that Ron Kovic was as innocent as the movie and his 1976 autobiography on which it's based make him out to be. Was this kid kept in a bubble? At some level, everyone knows about the ugliness of war. . . . Of course Ronnie's country lied to him. Part of growing up is developing a bullshit detector. . . . Ron's virginal high-mindedness makes him the perfect patsy for a before-and-after movie. What's in between is Vietnam and the rise of the anti-war movement. (Pauline Kael)

35) Stone's movie yells at you for two hours and twenty-five minutes. (Pauline Kael)

36) Like blacks, women, workers, and others whom New Left historians rescued from the dungeon of passive victimhood, Stone’s Kovic rises above the historical forces that crippled him to become an agent of historical change. As indeed New Left historians had, and still have, Stone has an obvious political agenda—he wants to “fix” the real Vietnam experience in public memory. (Jack Davis 2)

37) He [Stone] wants viewers not to simply witness or contemplate his film’s images. Born prods the audience to feel the trauma of Ron Kovic and of Vietnam rather than imagine or identify with it. Stone encourages viewers to experience history not on an intellectual level but on an emotional one, as he and Kovic experienced the Vietnam era. (Jack Davis 4)

38) Both men [Kovic and Stone] understood that the tragic truth of Kovic’s story did not require embellishment. Kovic has been philosophical about truth telling, insisting that movies and literature have "the responsibility to instruct, to teach, to portray truth so effectively that those who read it or watch it on the screen are not the same again and are so deeply moved that when choices are to be made, correct choices are made, and when decisions are to be made, correct decisions are made" . . . Born’s Kovic is the death messenger delivering the unbearable news about the Vietnam experience to the American public. (Jack Davis 6)

39) Stone films Kovic's failure to fulfill America's myth of the heroic warrior so as to intensify his and the audience's confusion and shock. . . . Consequently, Stone makes us share Kovic's sudden panic at feeling overrun, his gradual realization of his mistake, and his frantic confirmation of having murdered a fellow patriot. (Don Kunz)

40) In a torrent of self-loathing and self-pity, Kovic acknowledges the trauma caused by his condition: I am twenty-one and the whole thing is shot, done forever . . . and now I am left with the corpse, the living dead man, the man with the numb legs, the man in the wheelchair, the Easter Seal boy, the cripple, the sexlessman, the sexlessman, the man with the numb dick, the man who can't make children, the man who can't stand, the man who can't walk, the angry lonely man, the bitter man with the nightmares, the murder man, the man who cries in the shower. (Fran Shor)

41) Lacking the phallic power conveyed by the patriotic penis, Kovic questions the meaning of those myths and authorities that previously convinced him of the innocence and the glory of America, the right and might of the U.S.A. As one counselor of Vietnam Vets was to assert: "The Vietnam veteran participated in the historical experience that broke down the mythology of America's 'right and might.' The irony, of course, is that breaking down that mythology required Kovic's broken-down body. (Fran Shor)

42) In the film the Vietnam veteran's physical emasculation symbolized psychological, political and spiritual impotence as well -- all ironic consequences of seeking manhood through duty to God and country. (Don Kunz 3)

43) “The ‘genre of work’ of the World War II combat film—personal sacrifice for a greater cause, the cooperative warmth of a team effort, and ultimate victory over an external foe—cannot be sustained in Vietnam” (Thomas Doherty 254). -- The more I think about this quotation, the more I think Stone successfully broke the mold for a Hollywood war movie without losing any of the cinematic quality that takes away from the movie's impact. Had Stone been unsuccessful in his portrayal of Vietnam with his unique vision, the movie would not have had such a profound impact. This quotation immediately reminded me of Saving Private Ryan. The movie—although brilliant—verbatim fulfills each of these movie stereotypes. Private Ryan, who we do not see until the end of the movie—is the fourth of four brothers who fought for their country in World War II, and is the only one of the brothers to not die (sacrifice) for his country. Tom Hanks leads a handful of troops as the team selected to find the last Ryan brother. Practically the entire movie harps on the way the team leans on each other to endure the war. The movie ends with a segui to our victory in the war. Born on the Fourth of July portrays war in almost the opposite way. While Tom Cruise sacrifices himself for a greater cause, the entire movie portrays his individual struggle during and after the war, and the sense of isolation and loneliness he feels after the war. Kovic’s struggles come to a head at the end of the movie, where he is ejected from Richard Nixon’s acceptance speech. Despite all of this, Stone is still able to both create an accurate portrayal of the Vietnam War and create a movie of high entertainment value. (Andrew Tye, Lehigh University)

44) There was a togetherness, just as there had been in Vietnam, but it was a togetherness of a different kind of people and for a much different reason. In the war we were killing and maiming people. In Washington on that Saturday afternoon we were trying to heal them and set them free. (Ron Kovic, qtd. in Shor)

45) In that long run, our choice is not between myth and a world without myth, but between productive revisions of myth -- which open the system and permit it to adjust its beliefs (and the fictions that carry them) to changing realities -- and the rigid defense of existing systems, the refusal to change, which binds us to dead or destructive patterns of action and belief that are out of phase with social and environmental reality. (Richard Slotkin, qtd. in Shor)

46) If we are to transcend and transform patriotic militarized masculinity for good, and not just temporarily, we must take seriously Kovic's dedication to challenging those myths, with our bodies and our minds. (Fran Shor)

47) To say I can relate to what Ron Kovic or any of the other veterans went through would be naïve and insulting to them. Therefore, I cannot speculate on what was going through his head. However, what hit me deep, as I am sure with others, was the treatment of the soldiers as they returned to what was supposed to be a place they knew as home, a place they just risked everything for. It disgusted me seeing how Kovic was treated whether he was in the hospital, with friends, or at home. More so, a pivotal scene to me was the reaction the family had when Kovic told them he killed their son/husband. This was one instance where I would understand anger towards him yet the family was rational about it. Though they stated they would not forgive him, they recognized what he had been through and showed respect for what he had done. As demonstrated in Stone's JFK it is important to consciously think for yourself but thinking for yourself is not enough. Once conclusions are made it is important to be rational about your reaction, and certainly blaming the troops for fighting for freedom is not a rational reaction. Using this knowledge and as our troops come back from Iraq, my only hope is that history does not repeat itself. (Jesse Stehouwer, Lehigh University)

48) Even though I could understand the frustration of a "nonsense" war, I could not understand the way people treated the returning soldiers. They were disrespected, spit on, and silenced. I could never imagine being a soldier, risking your life, and coming back to a hateful country. It is cruel and unfair. After watching this movie, I realized that even if I don't agree with a war, I will ALWAYS support the troops who are risking their lives everyday. (Jena Viviano, Lehigh University)

49) I have never experienced war on a first-hand basis and, as a result, this movie caused me to think a great deal about the way we view and justify war back home and how different our reaction is depending on the result of the war. The very opposing viewpoints of the war troubled me very much and I began to feel very angry towards those protesters who seemed to show no appreciation for the brave men who served our country. In reflecting on my knowledge of the Vietnam war, I realized that because of the lack of patriotism and celebration upon the troops’ arrival home, it has never been a topic that was openly discussed in my family. After class on Thursday, I was talking to my parents and asked them about their experiences during Vietnam. I was amazed to hear that their combined story mirrored Stone’s depiction of the conflicting viewpoints so well. My mom shared that her eldest brother was so against the war that he threatened to move to Canada during the draft. He absolutely refused to go and felt no duty to serve his country or fight in a war that he was not supportive of. On the other hand, my father had two older brothers who both served in Vietnam. As a traditional catholic, American family, they trusted the government and knew that if they were called upon to serve, that it was their duty to go. I then asked my father if they ever discussed the war afterwards, when his brothers were back home, and he said very rarely. His one brother will say very little and show no emotion and the other will chuckle and respond sarcastically, as evidence of his felt failure. In trying to relate to each of my uncles, I realize now that my anger towards those who were not supportive is somewhat hypocritical. Not to say that I don’t appreciate those who have served and are serving in Iraq (because I admire them greatly), but I have definitely distanced myself from the reality of the war, taking an opposing viewpoint. Because of my personal beliefs, I admit that if a situation arose where I had been called upon, I would probably react very similarly to my mom’s brother in refusing to participate in something that I don’t believe in. For me, Born on the Fourth of July facilitated conversation with my family about Vietnam, and more importantly allowed me to accept the opposing viewpoints, which I at first was so troubled by. (Kelley Higgins, Lehigh University)

50) When Kovic's own war movie goes tragically wrong, his moral confusion is couched in the ethical terms of Production Code cinema: "He'd never figured it would happen this way. It never did in the movies. There were always the good guys and the bad guys, the cowboys and the Indians." For Kovic, and a good many of his fellows, Hollywood becomes as much a villain and betrayer as the military. (Thomas Doherty)

51) But just as Vietnam broke up America's perfect war record, the Vietnam combat memoir contributes its own permutations to a venerable literary tradition. One might observe, for example, a presentation of self that tends towards isolation and catatonia, a prevailing bitterness in tone, a surrealist sensibility, and a rock 'n' roll heart. However, one quality announces itself immediately. For the Vietnam narrator, the process of disillusionment is as much an insight into media as morality, the sudden recognition of the difference between on-screen and in-country combat. (Thomas Doherty 255)

52) By suggesting that Ron's patriotic response has been preprogammed, Stone offers a new interpretation of one of Kennedy's most famous lines. Just as Stone had done, Kovic answers the call to help roll back the Red tide of communism in Vietnam. Stone devotes only seventeen minutes to Vietnam scenes, but in that time he accomplishes what consumed two hours in Platoon: he exposes the audience to the heightened fear and tension, the confusion and chaos -- not to mention the bloodshed, slaughter, and evisceration by automatic weapons -- on the battlefield. Stone wants to draw the audience into the accelerated pace of the fire fight. He accomplishes this with swish pans, hyperkinetic shooting, glare shots, and an aural track of deafening, clashing sounds. No revisionist history book can so completely and graphically demolish the cultural image of war as glamorous and exciting. (Jack Davis 11)

53) Maybe history does happen to historians more than we care to concede. Perhaps we should not simply intellectualize history, know it only as something that happened, but understand it as an experience. . . . No matter how much historians fiddle with the narrative or how in-your-face they make classroom lectures, they will never command the reach and resonance of a Stone film. (Jack Davis 15)

54) Black humour . . . is vital to the soldier, who uses it to play down the horrors of war, but it is not something which can be shared with civilians. (Anne Shewring)

55) The battle experiences of the veteran make him unable to respond to the rhetoric of the domestic front. (Anne Shewring)

56) In The Men, Norm Butler, the intellectual among the veterans, resists taking up the reins of so-called normal life: "I don't want to be rehabilitated, readjusted, reconstructed or re-anything. And, if you don't mind, I don't want to take my proper place in society" . . . . We see that for Bob in Coming Home it is clearly the war which leaves him speechless. "Why don't you talk to me about it? I want to know what it's like," says Sally, his wife. "I don't know what it's like," Bob replies. "I only know what it is." (Anne Shewring)

57) Writing what Moore calls, "a book of truth" about Vietnam that stays within "the limits of historical inquiry" is impossible because Vietnam is a "mystery of events" whose history is interior and not available to scientific historiography -- in Herr's phrase, it is a "secret history." (Peter McInerney)

58) Questions about the authenticity and meanings of facts about the Vietnam War tormented interested observers and participants in the conflict while the US Military was firmly engaged there during the ten year period 1964-1973. An American Voter or potential enlistee could not know for certain what should be believed -- statements by military officers and government spokesmen who claimed the US Mission was strategically legitimate and potentially a success, or reports by journalists and political scientists who claimed the opposite. (Peter McInerney 191)

59) The text [speaking of Kovic's narrative] is a gift from the grave of a living dead man, and is designed to explode like a firecracker in the faces of American readers. (Peter McInerney 198)

60) The soldier is glad to be home, but he comes home angry. . . . In the early months of 1919, the writer Waller talked with a great many other demobilized soldiers on Chicago streets. Although he had felt something of the service-man's rebellion, he was astonished as any civilian at the intensity of their fury. They were angry about something; it was not clear just what. The writer questioned many of them, but found not one who could put his grievances into understandable form. But there was never any mistaking their temper. They hated somebody for something. (Anne Shewring)

61) Indeed, the need to talk to someone who really understands is a recurrent theme of the veteran experience. In many cases, this can only be another veteran because no one else can empathize. A Vietnam veteran describes feeling "dislocated" when he got home, "as if the war had changed him and he could no longer get through to anyone who hadn't experienced it." In the veterans' hospital, what he most wanted to do was "talk to somebody." (Anne Shewring)

62) According to Hollywood, one of the compensations of war was the warmth of male camaraderie, the communal connections of brotherhood, shared danger, and manly regard. But as has been widely noted, the experience of the American soldier in Vietnam was a singularly solitary one. . . . The Vietnam warrior's story is one of individual survival, not of group solidarity, still less a battle for discernible ideological or military objectives. (Thomas Doherty 259)

63) Torturing Kovic are the two unintentional sins he committed in Vietnam, the slaughter of a family of Vietnamese citizens, women and children, and the killing of one of his own men. Together, the acts encompass the two main victims of American policy, the host-country nationals and the young Americans themselves. Paralyzed by enemy bullets and tormented by guilt, Kovic is, at times, quite insane. (Thomas Doherty 262)

64) To be fully rehabilitated in post-Vietnam Hollywood cinema, the warrior must repent his past misguided patriotism. Unaccountably, the emotional and intellectual passage Kovic underwent in life and articulates in the memoir finds no equivalent in the film, which gives precious little to explain his 180-degree change of heart. The gung ho marine who has enlisted for two tours of duty, endured paralysis, suffered pain and humiliations at the hands of the Veterans' Administration, and found misunderstanding, apathy, and hostility on the homefront -- all endangering nary a doubt -- snaps to antiwar attention in the space of a jump cut. (Thomas Doherty 265)