Tag Archives: John Wayne



Hollywood is adding to US foreign policy woes at an incredible rate. No less than four current movies are causing upsets in various parts of the world.

“The Interview” has received a lot of attention.   I have not seen it and would have had no interest in seeing it, if North Korea’s paranoid regime hadn’t flipped out over the movie, blaming the US president personally for its showing. (When you’ve grown up in a country where the “Dear Leader” decides everything, it’s not surprising that people think the US president plays the same role in America!)

The movie revolves around a comedic attempt to assassinate the leader of North Korea. Along the way it makes fun of the more comical aspects of the regime.

As the US has never had good relations with North Korea anyway, Pyongyang’s anger can largely be ignored. But other movies are also a problem.

“American Sniper” has been labeled racist by Muslims who see the conflict with ISIS as a continuation of the clash of civilizations between the “Christian” West and the Islamic world. The movie tells the true story of the US military’s greatest sniper, who killed over 200 people during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As all his victims were Muslims, he, therefore, must be a racist. Don’t look for logic – it’s not a strong point with people who grew up in the Middle East.

“Unbroken” is also a problem, this time with the Japanese. Conservatives in the country are upset over the way Japan’s troops are portrayed in the film, which again is a true story, telling the story of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini’s experience in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in WWII.   It’s not the first movie to depict the horrors of life in a Japanese POW camp.   They had no respect for prisoners as their own military culture taught that fighting to the death was preferable to surrender.

The truth is the truth. No apologies need be made for “American Sniper” or “Unbroken”, assuming they stuck to the truth.

Even “Exodus” has been quite controversial, thousands of years after the event. My wife and I didn’t like it. Nor did the Egyptians who said it was “inaccurate,” that Jewish slaves did not build the pyramids and that the depiction of ancient Egyptians was not accurate. Although the depiction of the plagues was interesting and imaginative, and Christian Bale played a convincing Moses, the parting of the Red Sea and receiving of the Ten Commandments were much better in the 1956 version, when special effects were more primitive.   Perhaps the downplaying of the commandments reflects changing societal attitudes in the interim decades.

In Egypt, ‘Censors objected to the “intentional gross historical fallacies that offend Egypt and its pharaonic ancient history in yet another attempt to Judaize Egyptian civilization, which confirms the international Zionist fingerprints all over the film,” the statement said.

The ministry said the movie inaccurately depicts ancient Egyptians as “savages” who kill and hang Jews, arguing that hanging did not exist in ancient Egypt. It said the film also presents a “racist” depiction of Jews as a people who mounted an armed rebellion. The ministry said religious scriptures present Jews as weak and oppressed.

The statement also objected to the depiction of God as a child, which also drew criticism in the West.’  (Seattle Times, December 28th)

Hollywood has always had a problem with religion, rarely depicting biblical events with any degree of accuracy. “The Ten Commandments” (1956) was one of the better biblical movies, with considerable input from Josephus.

But Hollywood has also had a serious problem with history. I cannot think of any historical movie made in Hollywood that was 100% accurate. “Braveheart” has been labeled the most historically inaccurate movie ever made, with 87 historical inaccuracies, according to one website. Another Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot” got the prize for the fourth most inaccurate movie in history. Amongst other things, the movie depicted British soldiers burning down a church with people in it. The film was set during the Revolutionary War.   British soldiers have never burned down a church full of worshippers, never at any time in history. If they did, they would be court-martialed and severely punished. But it made for great entertainment!

Mel Gibson defended these movies by saying, “We are not in the business of teaching history. We are in the business of providing entertainment to make money.” (The quote is a paraphrase heard on NPR many years ago.)

At least he was honest. Perhaps his anti-semitic rantings owe their origin to the same ignorance of history!

Hollywood has always had a problem with history.

Exactly a century ago next month, what is considered the most influential movie in American history, premiered. “The Birth of a Nation” was an anti-black, pro-KKK movie that led to riots in cities across America. The film was set during the Civil War and Reconstruction and blamed African-Americans for the problems that plagued the US during this period. The NAACP tried to get the film banned. The movie was the first motion picture screened at the White House, then occupied by President Woodrow Wilson.

In an age when few people read anything in depth, preferring to spend their time with electronic gadgets, including TV and DVD’s, movies are perceived as fact.   But they rarely are. If you want to know the facts, you have to read and do the research.

The 1960 John Wayne movie “The Alamo” was made with two historical advisers during production. One of them walked off the set saying, “there isn’t one minute of historical accuracy in this film” but it hasn’t stopped people watching it in the last 55 years.

Hollywood has a responsibility to strive for accuracy. It can be done. Good movies can be made while maintaining accuracy. “To Kill a King” is a prime example. This is a British movie about the English Civil War, the execution of the King and the subsequent Republic under Oliver Cromwell. The film was lauded by historians as the most accurate historical movie ever made.

Sadly, it’s hard to track down. Perhaps, after all, people are not interested in facts – they just want to be entertained!


assad_damascus_2011_3_29                john-wayne

Over thirty years ago, my wife and I lived in West Africa.  We travelled extensively in that part of the world.  Cameroon is one of the countries we frequently visited.  

We had American friends there, based in the capital, Yaounde.  The husband worked for the US Embassy.

On one of our visits he was telling us how his current job was to recommend which side the US should take in the Chadian civil war, which was raging in neighboring Chad.  The war lasted three decades before there was a semblance of peace.

My logical response was to ask why take any side?  My friend replied that the US always has to take sides.

Why?  What’s the compulsion that drives the United States to take sides in every conflict?  In reality, it comes down to the John Wayne Syndrome.

I never did like John Wayne movies, so I can’t claim to be an expert on them.  But it seemed to me that the tried and tested formula was there always had to be a clear good guy (white hat) and a clear bad guy (black hat).  This wasn’t just true of John Wayne movies – most Hollywood movies are that way – always have been and likely always will be.

That’s the way Americans like their movies to be – and their foreign policy.  The US must always support the good guys against the bad.

This goes right back to the beginning.

The American Revolution is often depicted as a conflict between the Americans and the British.  But that oversimplifies the reality.  The reality was that the Revolution, like all revolutions, seriously divided the country.  Revolutions typically divide a country three ways – one faction is the revolutionaries, another is those who want to maintain the status quo, and a third faction are those who just want to stay alive through the chaos.

This was the case during the American Revolution.  The vast majority of incidents involving fighting were between Americans, not Americans and the British.  Loyalists and Patriots battled it out.  Both wanted freedom – they just had different ideas of what freedom meant.

Syria also has three factions, those loyal to President Assad (the Alawites), the rebels (amongst whom is al-Qaeda), and those who are just trying to stay alive and feed their families.

What side should the US take?

Options are to support the thug/murderer Assad, or the thugs and murderers who comprise Al-Qaeda.  There is no prospect of democracy coming out of this.  Surely, we’ve learned that lesson during the past decade in the Middle East?

As regards chemical weapons, there is little doubt Assad has used them but so would the rebels if they took control.

It’s frequently said that Assad has used chemical weapons “against his own people,” but that’s not really correct.  His own people are the Alawite clan, who are only 12% of the Syrian population.  They were at the bottom of the social pile prior to World War One and owe their elevated status to the period of French colonial rule between the two world wars.  Perhaps this is why France supports US action against Assad, which gives them an opportunity to at least partially rectify the mistakes of the past.

In Assad’s mind, killing non-Alawites is perfectly acceptable.  This is the way tribal politics works all across the Middle East and, indeed, Africa.  Assad will never give up using chemical weapons if that’s the only way for him and his clan to retain power.

It’s hard for the US to understand this because it’s so alien to the American experience, simplified by Hollywood.  There are no good guys in this conflict.  There are only bad guys.

Complicating the matter further is that the US is increasingly seen as one of the bad guys right across the Middle East, especially after the way the Administration has handled Egypt and Syria during the last few weeks.

Washington is in a no-win situation with this one.