Just a few nights ago, I joined millions of Americans in watching the horrific reports about the killing of innocent children in the small town of Newtown, Connecticut. The senseless act of violence, while more reprehensible because of the young ages of most of the victims, seems like just another in a long line of unfathomable displays of evil. We are left at a loss to explain how our society has slipped so far toward the abyss and even the president could not summon the words to comfort us. I wonder what the Duke would say.
John Wayne was more than an actor and performer; he was the embodiment of all that is good about our country. Just the mention of his name produces images of bravery, loyalty, justice, strength, and patriotism. Whether he was facing overwhelming opposition like in the movie, Fort Apache, or overwhelming odds of having cancer in real life, Duke Wayne could be counted on to face challenges head on like a man. I wonder what the Duke would say.
Born in the heart of America in 1907, Duke experienced and lived through many of the great tragedies of the twentieth century. He was only seven years old when World War I began in Europe and eleven when the war concluded. He survived the hardscrabble years of the depression in the 1930’s only to face the challenges created by World War II in the 1940’s. John Wayne was no stranger to bad news or immune to the feelings of raw emotion such news creates. I wonder what the Duke would say.
Our country’s involvement in the Vietnam War had a great impact on Duke, in both his professional and private lives. As public support for the war waned, John Wayne’s support for the war increased. He was criticized for having the attitude “my country, right or wrong” and for being a “super patriot”. No matter the amount of criticism, Duke stood his ground on what he believed. He believed our country had made a commitment to protect a smaller friend from a bully and that we should honor our commitment. The idea of being committed to protecting the smaller and weaker was an integral part of being an American to him. I wonder what the Duke would say.
Just saying the words, “kindergartners have been shot”, brought tears to many of the seasoned newscasters reporting the loss of young, innocent lives yesterday. I believe Duke would have wept, too. But what would he say? First, I believe Duke Wayne would express a sense of outrage at the loss of the small and weak. He was very much human and like the rest of us, he would have been offended by the hatefulness of the act. Secondly, I believe he would have expressed pride in the bravery of the teachers and students who survived the attack. Duke was a man who believed in the old fashioned concept of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. Lastly, I believe Duke would have reminded us of the importance of hope for our future: “We must always look to the future. Tomorrow – the time that gives a man just one more chance – is one of the many things that I feel are wonderful in life . . . There`s a lot of things great about life. But I think tomorrow is the most important thing. Comes in to us at midnight very clean. It`s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we`ve learned something from yesterday.”