IV. My Way or the Highway
The fourth component of cowboy ethics is a willingness to act alone when
necessary. The cowboy is the American hero because he is a man who acts out of
conviction, bred with a sense of place, and loyal to those who put their trust in him
(Fields 2003, A19). For instance, in the classic cowboy movie High Noon (1952), Gary
Cooper plays Will Kane, a retired marshal ready to leave on his honeymoon with his
Quaker bride, when he learns that bad guy Frank Miller has been released from jail.
Miller, as Kane is told, is coming into town to kill him. Despite protestation from his
wife and the townspeople, Kane will not leave town; rather, he cannot for he must face
up to evil. In order to take out Miller the “diplomatic” way, Kane tries to round up a
posse to arrest Miller. He moves methodically to his allies, asking each one for help. But
each – for his personal reason – refuse. And so Kane must go at it alone, asserting the
need for preemptive violence to prevent atrocities, which he believes are certain to follow
Miller’s return (Slotkin 1998, 393).
Likewise, Bush’s unilateral implementation of action at the United Nations led
The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette’s national security writer Jack Kelly to compare him to the
lonely but brave Will Kane.39 “Bush’s U.N. speech on Saddam Hussein eerily resembled
the script of the greatest Western of all time, High Noon,” wrote Jack Kelly, comparing
opening with a relevant quote from Roosevelt: “Warlike intervention by civilized powers would contribute directly to the peace of the world” (Barry 2002, PNAC’s Presents Dangers).
39 Taken as a political film, High Noon yields a multifaceted analysis. This is hardly the first time a reference to High Noon linked the movie to U.S. policy decisions. In 1955, Harry Schein proclaimed High Noon to be “the most convincing and likewise, certainly the most honest explanation of American foreign policy” (Schein 1955, 316). In his analysis of High Noon, Gary Cooper was America; the town was the United Nations; the bad guys were Russia, China, and North Korea; and Grace Kelly represented pacifists everywhere.