belief that America is destined to be a force of good in the world (Kagan and Kristol
III. Offense as Defense
The third factor of cowboy ethics is a belief in the right to anticipatory self-
defense. According to Cawelti, the sanitization of violence is an essential feature of
Westerns. The cowboy’s use of violence was justified, because violence was not only the
vehicle for conflict resolution, but also for protection of higher values: peace, law, and
domestic harmony (Cawelti 1974, 250). The “savage” in the Western – either an Indian
or an outlaw – was usually thought of as more violent than the cowboy hero (Cawelti rev.
ed. 1984, 53-54). In the traditional Western a very strong distinction was made between
good violence (perpetrated by the cowboy) and the bad violence (used by the villains in
pursuit of their evil aims) (Cawelti rev. ed. 1984, 15). One of the major organizing
principles of the Western “is to so characterize the villains that the hero is both
intellectually and emotionally justified in destroying them” (Cawelti rev. ed. 1984, 14).
The cowboy is seen as heroic, because “he has the wisdom to know when and against
whom to exhibit that violence” (Savage 1979, 32). Moreover, while the hero was usually
portrayed as very reluctant to enter into violence – if he had to fight, he used his fists, and
if someone shot at him, he shot back, but only to wound (Savage 1979, 33).33
Similarly, the Bush Doctrine follows a strategy of “offensive defense,” noting that
the United States would have to use any means necessary in order to protect itself from
33 It was the postwar cowboy who killed regularly, noted Savage (Savage 1979, 33). Of course, once the classic cowboy used his six-gun, his shootout skills were still glorified (Cawelti rev. ed. 1984, 15).