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Marshall Bush and...

Battle of Symbols

Marshall Bush And The Duke

On October 10th, President Bush announced the creation of a most wanted list of international terrorists, a roster of 22 suspects led by Osama bin Laden and several of his lieutenants. Mr. Bush (or perhaps more appropriately Marshall Bush) promised multi-million dollar rewards for their capture.

Leave it to a Texan to evoke the powerful symbolism of the American west when he tells the nation the terrorists are “Wanted dead or alive.” The old west symbolism is given weight by the creation of a page on the FBI Web site with photos of all the key terrorists wanted by America with price tags on them. The old wanted posters which used to be tacked to the sides of ramshackle wooden buildings in wild western towns now becomes posters “posted” in cyberspace.

Will other grand symbols of America’s cowboy past be called up to fire up the American posse? Perhaps so. In the article “Welcome Back, Duke” from the October 12, 2001 edition of The Wall Street Journal, former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan laments the absence of old style heroes in post-Clinton America. At the same time, she suggests “manly virtues” may rise from the ashes of September 11th.

"It is not only that God is back, but that men are back. A certain style of manliness is once again being honored and celebrated in our country since Sept. 11 … I am speaking of masculine men, men who push things and pull things and haul things and build things, men who charge up the stairs in a hundred pounds of gear and tell everyone else where to go to be safe. Men who are welders, who do construction, men who are cops and firemen. They are all of them, one way or another, the men who put the fire out, the men who are digging the rubble out, and the men who will build whatever takes its place."

Noonan’s current “certain style of manliness” is then linked to that grandest symbol of the American west in that ultimate cowboy in John Wayne. The perfect symbol for the difficult times. Noonan talks about the dominance of Duke’s symbol and then chastises groups that “killed” America’s grand symbol:

"I was there in America, as a child, when John Wayne was a hero, and a symbol of American manliness. He was strong, and silent. And I was there in America when they killed John Wayne by a thousand cuts. A lot of people killed him - not only feminists but peaceniks, leftists, intellectuals, others. You could even say it was Woody Allen who did it, through laughter and an endearing admission of his own nervousness and fear. He made nervousness and fearfulness the admired style."

Noonan misses the Duke but suggests he has returned in the symbol of the New York City firemen. “I think he returned on Sept. 11. I think he ran up the stairs, threw the kid over his back like a sack of potatoes, came back down and shoveled rubble.”

And, after the symbol of rescue, the symbol turns into one of revenge. The famous old cowboy now rides east towards the caves of Afghanistan. As Peggy Noonan puts it, “I think he’s in Afghanistan now, saying, with his slow swagger and simmering silence, ‘Yer in a whole lotta trouble now, Osama-boy.’ I think he’s back in style. And none too soon. Welcome back, Duke.”

Interestingly, a cartoon called “Passing The Colors” on the Rumor Mill News Web site provides a visual image of what Noonan attempts to capture in words. Unfortunately, the cartoon is no longer on the site but its hard copy print out sits in front of me as I write this. It is drawn by an unknown GI waiting to deploy for the Middle East and is composed of three oblong boxes which sit over each other.

In the back box of the cartoon, one can make out the faint outline on the horizon of New York City with the two World Trade Center towers rising high over the other skyscrapers of the city. Immediately to the left of them in the water we look across is the image of the Statute of Liberty. Imposed over the bottom right section of the box is another box containing a fireman bursting out of his cartoon frame and handing an American flag to a soldier in the top left box. The soldier steps out of his cartoon box to grab hold of the flag like one grabs hold of a baton in a relay race. The soldier says, “I’ll take it from here.”

The fireman and cowboy heroes of the cartoon on the Web merge into the rescuing and revengeful hero of Peggy Noonan’s John Wayne. One gets the impression that the “wanted poster” of President Bush is pretty close to all of this.

Perhaps not to be outdone in the “wild west” macho challenge of Bush, the a UPI story on November 5th reports from Islamabad, Pakistan that Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia proposed a duel with President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair against its Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Taliban Foreign Minister Maulvi Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil is quoted by Iran’s IRNA News Agency as saying:

"The Americans have launched propaganda that Mullah Omar has gone in hiding, so I will propose that Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush should take Kalashnikovs and come to a specified place where Mullah Omar will appear with the Kalashnikovs to determine as to who will run … Mullah Omar changes places because of security … He effectively runs affairs of the government as in the past."

Should Marshall Bush and Sheriff Blair ride into Afghanistan at high noon? If only The Duke was around to ride with them and John Ford was there to film it.

In mid-November, a little more than a month after Marshall Bush announced rewards and the formation of a posse to go after the terrorists, the western theme resurfaces with photos of special-ops forces on horseback in Afghanistan.
The posse continues to hunt for the bad guys deep in bandit country. The noose is tightening. “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

And on November 17th, the reward for Osama bin Laden sees a huge increase from $5 million to $25 million. The American radio messages about the reward was broadcast into Afghanistan by an airborne special operations forces radio station aboard an EC-130 aircraft code-named Commando Solo. They called on the people of Afghanistan to “drive out the foreign terrorists" and promised cash rewards for information on the location of Mr. bin Laden and eight other Al Qaeda leaders - indicating that the United States has gathered more information on the identities of Al Qaeda leaders still in Afghanistan than it has previously disclosed.

The script goes on and the symbolic battle continues with its cowboy theme. American symbols are called forth to kick some serious butt rather than just sell a few more tablets of heartburn medication.

Are they (and we) up to the task?

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Copyright © 2001 John Fraim