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The US, Europe, "High Noon" and the Axis of Evil

Robert James Woolsey, Jr. has a close relationship with Stanford, where he received an AB with great distinction in 1963. He later served (1972-74) on the Board of Trustees and is a member of Stanford Associates. He went to Jesus College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and received his law degree from Yale in 1968. He has held several Washington posts, one as director of the CIA (1993-95) It is important to note here that he served with the US Army (1968-70) and was Undersecretary of the Navy (1977-79), and has held many defense-related posts. In sum, he has an unusual knowledge of international affairs, with stress on military matters.

In view of this background, we should not be surprised by his article in Opinion Journal (2/25/02), forwarded by Paul Simon. It is entitled "WESTERN CIVILIZATION:.Where's the Posse? It's high noon for the civilized world. Let timorous Europeans go home to their kids.". It deals with European disapproval of the policies of President Bush. It opens: "Paris, Berlin and Brussels are unhappy with the United States. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine has called President Bush's axis-of-evil characterization of Iraq, Iran and North Korea "simplistic." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the U.S. was treating Europeans like "satellites." And the normally sensible European Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten called Mr. Bush's approach "absolutist" and "unilateralist overdrive". Mr. Patten excepted, much of what is going on here is that many generally leftist members of the European elite have craws in which plain talk gets stuck--they gagged on Ronald Reagan's characterization of the Soviet Union as an evil empire and they are gagging again now".

Mr.Woolsey develops this theme and then adds a comparison with a popular movie I have not seen:

"Life is imitating art here--the particular piece of art being the classic Western of half a century ago: "High Noon." In the film, the marshal of the small town of Hadleyville, Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper), has just stepped down from his job and gotten married. As he is leaving town with his new bride, played by Grace Kelly, he learns that the gang leader who once dominated and terrorized the town has been pardoned by the governor of the state and is arriving on the noon train to meet his old gang and return to power. After a few minutes of indecision, the marshal decides to return to town over the strong objections of his pacifist wife. He starts to organize a posse to protect the town.

But as high noon nears, it becomes increasingly clear that the good citizens of Hadleyville, who had helped the marshal clean the town up years before, can now produce only a cornucopia of excuses: "If the marshal's not here there won't be any trouble--it's just personal trouble between him and Miller [the gang leader]"; "the politicians up north caused the mess--let them deal with it"; "what will they [potential investors] think if they read about shooting in the streets?"; "I'm no lawman, I just live here."

Most poignant is the scene between the marshal and a longtime loyal deputy who backs out of helping as noon approaches because he is worried about his young children. "Go on home to your kids, Herb," says the marshal, and goes out to face the gang alone. Only the marshal's new wife, who at first had left him, returns at the last minute and helps him prevail against all odds. For a small Quaker lady who hates guns, she does quite well: one kill and one assist. As the townspeople realize he has won and come out of hiding to congratulate him, the marshal looks at them sternly, drops his badge in the dirt, and he and his wife drive away.

Many other Europeans will find excellent models in the film to help them perfect both their excuses for inaction and their condescension toward their protector. Fred Zinnemann, the director of "High Noon," knew this moral territory well--as a refugee from Austria he had seen all the techniques for rationalizing appeasement and the deadly consequences of not challenging evil regimes before they can wreak total havoc.

"Ah," anti-American Europeans reading this very piece this morning will likely respond, "you see how the Americans idealize the impulsive Wild West cowboy and his unilateralist approach to dealing with the world. How naive. How droll." Like the U.S. today in moving against the axis, the marshal in "High Noon" was trying very hard to be multilateral--he desperately wanted a posse. He just had no takers. What the marshal was unwilling to do is to give up doing his duty just because everyone else found excuses to stay out of the fight.

Go on home to your kids, Europeans. Go on home to your kids. And then start praying that when it's over we won't drop our badge in the dirt".

This unusually strong language from a lawyer-scholar indicates the feelings which this situation has aroused among some Americans. Born in Oklahoma, Mr Woolsey is defending the reputation of the Texan president. Yesterday, the French Ambassador to the US, Francois Bujon de L'Estang, addressed a New York audience. The first question asked was what he thought of the president's remark about the "Axis of Evil". In a discreet, diplomatic way, he replied that he did not like it. Clearly we are back to de Gaulle's attitude toward the US-led NATO. I am no great admirer of de Gaulle, but France is not alone in making this criticism. I can see both sides of this problem, but I would advise the US to show not only resolution but prudence. I wonder what the Quaker Herbert Hoover would have thought of the gun-toting Quaker wife. But I don't think Hoover liked the movies. Perhaps Tim Walch can check on that.

Ronald Hilton - 2/25/02