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Hullabaloo


Monday, April 14, 2008

 
The Manly Wimps

by digby

I've been thinking about torture all week-end which naturally led me to think about Glenn Greenwald's new book, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics which is being released today.

It's not that the book is about torture, but it is about the Republican psyche, in particular about their weird cult of masculinity, which is what leads to over-the-top notions of violent necessity in dealing with national security. Great American Hypocrites expands on some themes that we've all be discussing for eons here in the blogosphere and Glenn pulls it all together, as only he can, in a damning portrait of the swaggering, hypocritical phonies who have been running this country for the past seven years.

I'll be writing about the book all week, but I wanted to start out with Glenn's first chapter, in which he dissects one of the greatest examples of Republican hypocrisy ever -- John Wayne, the patron saint of American conservative manliness (and creator of the image that Ronald Reagan simply assumed out of whole cloth) was a draft dodger. In World War II!

In fact, conservative icons Wayne and Reagan were among the few Hollywood stars who didn't enlist for overseas duty, instead staying here at home playing heroes on the big screen, making big bucks, growing their careers. Others, like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Clark Gable all sacrificed during those peak earning years --- as did millions of other Americans --- to fight the Nazis.

What Glenn picks up is how that affected their psyches:

Despite (or because of) his fanatical combat avoidance during World War II, john Wayne would spend the next forty years of his life strutting around as though he were some sort of uber-patriotic war hero. He became as well known for his far-right, pro-war political views as he was for his acting career. In 1944, he helped found the right-wing Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, eventually becoming president.

Not only in films, but particularly in politics, he deliberately held himself out as a symbol of manly courage and resolute strength. And perhaps most reprehensibly of all --- given his own history --- he was often found leading the demonization of those Americans who opposed war, and especially those who did not want to fight in combat.

[...]

Worse still, after World War II, Wayne repeatedly and viciously attacked various films for being allegedly anti-American or insufficiently reverent of America. In one interview, he complained: "high Noon was the most un-American thing I have ever seen in my whole life. the last thing in the picture is ol' Coop [Gary Cooper] putting the Unites States Marshal's badge under his foot and stepping on it. I'll never regret running [screenwriter and Communist] Carl Forman out of this country."

Wayne's boast that he ran Foreman "out of this country" references the fact that, in the 1950's, Wayne became a fervent and paranoid anti-Communist McCarthyite. He actively assisted the House Un-American Activities Committee in its effort to ferret out suspect Communist sympathizers in Hollywood.


I'm sure by now that you can see where this leads. The same psychology that took hold of men like Wayne and Reagan, both of whom became the leading conservative icons of the past fifty years, is what grabbed conservative Vietnam avoiders like Bush and Cheney. It's a psychology that you don't find much among real military types (although it does happen --- Generals like Curtis Lemay and Jerry Boykin do exist.) As obvious as it seems, men who fetishize warrior values and fail to live up to them, often feel they have something to prove. That's at least partly how we wind up with people sitting around a table calling Colin Powell a wimp for timidly mentioning that torture might not be a good idea.

Glenn's book goes far beyond the exploration of this conservative masculinity obsession, but that's at the heart of his thesis and I think it's as good as anything we've seen to explain these people. They are not good at the things they purport to believe in and it leads them to overcompensate with violence and behave hypocritically in every aspect of their lives. This internal dissonance and unwillingness to admit their own failures leads to psychopathic responses like torture and to a general inability to govern and lead the country effectively. We've seen it too often to discount it. These are damaged people.

As we go forward, we should remember that we have recently had a new generation exposed in the same ways. The 101st Keyboarders are the George W. Bush and the Dick Cheneys of the future and there are a bunch of them. When faced with what they themselves consider to be the crucible of their generation --- the war against "Islamofascism" (or WWIV) --- they know that they failed to step up under their own terms. It's a recipe for future bloodletting.

I can't recommend the book highly enough. It's worth it for the dissection of John Wayne's myth alone, but the entire book is fascinating and fun to read. I'll be talking about other aspects of it throughout the week, so stop by and discuss it if you've read it. And buy it if you haven't. You won't be disappointed.





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