I Owe John Wayne an Apology

Michael H. Glantz

21 July 2004

I Owe John Wayne an Apology

President Bush has been making statements right out of the old western frontier days, when dealing with American foreign policy in the Middle East. This has not gone unnoticed by the print media. For example, an article in the Christian Science Monitor was entitled "More John Wayne Rhetoric Infuses Politics." The article referred to the fact that Bush has used such challenging phrases as "bring 'em on," "smoke 'em out," and "dead or alive," all in reference to terrorists in general and Islamic fundamentalists specifically. His go-it-alone, bullying (some say macho) attitude is reminiscent of the Old West and of the myth of the American cowboy mentality. This conjures up images of the rough-and-tumble cowboy movies for which Hollywood became well known in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

I was not alone with my initial knee-jerk feeling that Bush was sounding a bit like John Wayne. Each cowboy produced by Hollywood seemed to have his own trademark: Lash LaRue had his whip; Tom Mix had his 10-gallon white hat; the Lone Ranger had his mask, and so forth. John Wayne was the tough-talking, swaggering cowboy who fought for justice and did not back down in the face of lawlessness. He was as clever with words as he was with his guns.

Similar sentiments about John Wayne can be found in the media worldwide. By chance I came across comparisons of Bush's comments and those of John Wayne in German, Spanish, and Italian. Here is an example of one comparison taken from the Internet (www.crisispapers.org/essays/henry-george.htm):

George Bush appears to be stuck in the fifties and sixties, with the John Wayne and "the Sands of Iwo Jima" - "Good vs. Evil," "you are either for us or against us." War to George Bush is a glorious spectacle as one watches brave men fight the evil-doers and die for glory - as one watches all this from the safety and comfort of the theater seat, or of the Oval Office.

Several political observers and humorists have comments on the apparent cowboy-like mentality of Bush, especially when they write about his foreign policy, sort of a bullying attitude, and a "take our policy or leave it." Bush has personified the "America first" attitude and the belief that America has the right to do as it wishes in the world. Bush had already turned his back on the global warming problem when he lost no time after taking office in 2001 to reject the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement designed to work toward slowing down the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Such a buildup is known to lead to an increase in global atmospheric temperature. This outright rejection of the Kyoto process angered America's European allies, whose governments and publics are considerably more concerned about the prospects of global warming and their potentially devastating impacts than is the Bush administration. America generates the world's largest share of greenhouse gases, and many of Bush policies have been anti-environmental at the global as well as the local level. The administration has been pro-auto industry, pro-energy corporations, anti-energy alternatives, and has sought openly, as well as surreptitiously, to weaken environmental legislation that has been on the books for decades.

Aside from the partisan political aspects of specific policies, the tone of the Bush team has been one of arrogance. For example, it is a matter of record that the Bush foreign policy team went into Iraq with force and in essence thumbed America's nose not only at the UN system, but also at several of America's NATO allies. We put together what has been referred to as "a coalition of the willing." The fallout of all this open disregard for diplomacy in international politics has been America's isolation from the international community, scorn for our Wild West approach to coalition building at a minimal level, and a major loss of leadership and respect for America worldwide.

If all this is true, then why apologize to John Wayne? As noted earlier, I too have been guilty of having referred to Bush's approach to international politics as the John Wayne approach. I felt that Bush was purposely imitating what he considered to be John Wayne's style. In Wayne's movies, being hard-nosed and persistent in the name of justice got him his victory.

Now that the dust has settled, and now that we are chest-deep in an Iraqi quagmire despite the handover of governance to Iraqis, I started to reconsider what actually happened in the old John Wayne movies: the tough talk, the seemingly know-it-all attitude regardless of situation, country, or time period in the movies. I recalled many of the bar fights, the range wars, and problems with cattle rustlers in which Wayne had been involved in these movies. Originally, I compared Bush to the John Wayne character when Wayne had become part of a barroom brawl: chairs flinging, bottles crashing, fists flying and, of course, the obligatory smashing of the mirror on the barroom wall. But was that really John Wayne?


For the most part, John Wayne did not start the bar fight or the range war. In fact, it was usually a sidekick who would get into a fight because of having been teased by a sharp-shooting gunslinger. The sidekick was usually either clueless or arrogant. Invariably, the sidekick would start the fight, and then it became Wayne's responsibility to protect his friend, along with truth and justice, from harm. John Wayne was, for the most part, on the side of law, order, and justice. Bush appears to have been acting more like the sidekick than like John Wayne.

Having come to this realization, I now believe that what the "coalition of the willing" needs is a John Wayne.

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