Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Sunday, March 9, 2003
OLD WEST VS. OLD EUROPE
It's About Courage, Indepence: "Come Back, Shane"
You say we're cowboys like it's a bad thing
Those who oppose war with Iraq from foreign heads of state to homegrown anti-war protesters employ a common expression of contempt for the American war effort. America, they sneer, is acting like a "cowboy."
A mock interview with Saddam Hussein conducted by a European intellectual is written to show, in one news report's summary, "what out-of-control cowboys the Americans are."
A recent New York Times article explains that to some Europeans, the "major problem is Bush, the cowboy." Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., agrees, saying that America must not "act like a unilateral cowboy."
These smears imply that the heyday of the cowboy in the Old West was a lawless period when trigger-happy gunmen shot it out with reckless abandon and brute force reigned.
But to most Americans, the cowboy is not a villain, but a hero. What we honor about the cowboy of the Old West is his willingness to stand up to evil and to do it alone, if necessary. The cowboy is a symbol of the crucial virtues of courage and independence.
The original cowboys were hard-working ranchers and settlers who tamed a vast wilderness. In the process, they had to contend with violent outlaws as well as warlike Indian tribes. The honest men on the frontier did not wring their hands in fear, uncertainty and moral paralysis; they stood up to evil men and defeated them.
The Texas Rangers a small band of lawmen who patrolled a vast frontier best exemplified the cowboy code. Whether they fought American outlaws, Mexican bandits or marauding Comanches, they were generally outnumbered, sometimes by as much as 50 to one. It was said of them: "They were men who could not be stampeded." For example, when Ranger officer John B. Armstrong boarded a train in pursuit of the infamous murderer John Wesley Hardin, he was confronted by five desperadoes.
Armstrong took them on single-handedly, killing one and capturing Hardin.
In describing their independence and courage, Ranger captain Bob Crowder said: "A Ranger is an officer who is able to handle any situation without definite instructions from his commanding officer or higher authority."
The real-life courage of such heroes has been properly memorialized and glorified in countless fictional works. The "Lone Ranger" television show, Jack Schaefer's classic novel, "Shane," and dozens of John Wayne movies, among others, have captured the essence of the Western hero's character:
His unshakeable moral confidence in the face of evil. It is this vision of the cowboy, not the European slander, that Americans find inspiring. That's why, when President Bush said of Osama bin Laden, "Wanted: Dead or Alive," most Americans cheered.
The only valid criticism of Bush, in this context, is that he is not true enough to the heritage of the Lone Star State. When the Texas Rangers went after a bank robber or rustler, they didn't wait to ask permission of his fellow gang members. Yet Bush is asking permission from a U.N. Security Council chaired by Syria, one of the world's most active sponsors of terrorism.
Today, the terrorists responsible for blowing up our cities are far more evil than the bandits and gunmen faced by the heroes of the Old West. To defeat them, we will require all the more the cowboy's virtues of independence and moral courage.
Even as our European critics use the "cowboy" image as a symbol of reckless irresponsibility, they implicitly reveal the real virtues they are attacking. European leaders assail Americans because our "language is far too blunt" and because we see the struggle between Western civilization and Islamic fanaticism in "black-and-white certainties."
They whine about our "Texas attitude" and whimper that "an American president who makes up his mind and then will accept no argument" is a greater danger than murderous dictators. In short, they object to America's willingness to face the facts, to make moral judgments, to act independently and to battle evil with unflinching courage.
These European critics are worse than the timid shopkeeper in an old Hollywood Western. They don't merely want to avoid confronting evil they seek to prevent anyone else from recognizing evil and standing up to it.
Texas Ranger captain Bill McDonald reputedly stated: "No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that is in the right and keep on a-comin'."
If America fully embraces this cowboy wisdom and courage, then the Islamic terrorists and the regimes that support them had better run for cover. They stand no chance in the resulting showdown.
Gene Autry's Cowboy Code
1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents and his nation's laws.
10. The Cowboy is a patriot.
c. Autry Qualified Interest Trust
Andrew Bernstein, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute (www.aynrand.org/medialink) in Irvine.
One could write a book in response to this nonsense, but a few comments will have to suffice:
>> But to most Americans, the cowboy is not a villain, but a hero. <<
Most Americans think Indians were savages. Most Americans don't know when the Civil War or WW II happened. Most Americans can't name the 50 states. Etc. Get the picture?
>> In the process, they had to contend with violent outlaws as well as warlike Indian tribes. <<
As we've seen since 9/11, people become warlike when someone attacks their homeland. But most tribes weren't warlike. So who exactly "contended" with these peaceful Indians enough to decimate their lives and threaten their very existence?
If not the cowboys, then whom? Because it's a fact that someone tried to wipe out America's first inhabitants. Was it the saloon keeper? The schoolmarm? Who?
>> The honest men on the frontier did not wring their hands in fear, uncertainty and moral paralysis; they stood up to evil men and defeated them. <<
Presumably Bernstein means the "violent outlaws" and "warlike Indian tribes" in the previous sentence when he refers to "evil men." Yes, darn those evil Indians for being so warlike. For evilly opposing the white man's God-given plans to destroy them. Didn't they realize it was the white man's Manifest Destiny to overrun the continent? It said so right there in the Bible, or somewhere.
>> In describing their independence and courage, Ranger captain Bob Crowder said: "A Ranger is an officer who is able to handle any situation without definite instructions from his commanding officer or higher authority." <<
Custer and the other Army men who massacred innocent Indians would've made good Rangers.
>> In short, they object to America's willingness to face the facts, to make moral judgments, to act independently and to battle evil with unflinching courage. <<
Warlike cowboys killed peaceful Indians. Oops, there's a fact for Bernstein and other Americans to face. Let's see them face it.
As for Bush's courage, it doesn't take much courage to order troops to bomb a country from afar. Nor does it take much courage to dodge the draft by enlisting in the National Guard to avoid lifting a weapon in combat. It's hard to distinguish Bush's "courage" from someone else's cowardice.
>> They don't merely want to avoid confronting evil they seek to prevent anyone else from recognizing evil and standing up to it. <<
Actually, Europeans would like to confront the greater evils: Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, North Korea, nuclear proliferation, environmental destruction, AIDS, etc. And not waste thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars on a lesser evil. Especially an evil with no connection to 9/11.
>> If America fully embraces this cowboy wisdom and courage, then the Islamic terrorists and the regimes that support them had better run for cover. <<
Yeah, that conquering cowboy/Manifest Destiny approach has worked so well for Israel. Let's emulate it so we can be as safe as the Israelis are.
As for Gene Autry's code of conduct, "President" Bush has violated at least six of the 10 items (the first six) by my count. See America's Exceptional Values for more on Bush's hypocrisy and lies.
More on the definition of "cowboy"
Brokeback Mountain was "an attempt by liberal city folk to 'out' the cowboy mystique."
"The term 'Cowboy' was invented in Hollywood."
"[I]t's obvious he's getting all of this from Hollywood, not history."
Potter: "Are 'real' cowboys brutish, trigger-happy and recklessor are they honest, compassionate heroes?"
More on the history of cowboys
Kit Carson: first cowboy hero?
Straight shootin' with the Duke
America's cultural roots
America's cultural mindset
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