Good morning readers. Thanks for coming by for a read.
I was thinking last night before I dozed off about what TV, movies and fiction have done for us that reality couldn’t. I concluded it all boils down to mythology and self definition. An attempt to bring little guys into a larger picture where, in fact, they don’t exist.
Consider this: Can you name a single person involved in the American Revolution below the rank of Colonel other than Paul Revere? Anyone between then and the War of 1812?
From then until the Mexican War you might recall Nat Turner and his brief slave rebellion, or Davy Crockett, Travis, Sam Houston, et al. The mountain men and the fur traders. Meriwether Lewis and Clark, the Kit Carsons, Bridgers, the Coulters and Joe Meeks. The wild and wooly.
And all the names from the lower paygrades you might recall from the Mexican War are there because they were colonels and higher during the Civil War.
Follow it right on through from then until the Wars and whatever else is happening today. Where the hell are the lower-paygrade heroes?
Well, the fact is, they were out there at the time. They were the outlaws, the killers, the people most successful at taking what didn’t belong to them away from the people it belonged to. The James Gang, the Daltons, Butch and Sundance, Billy the wossname, Kid, the Youngers. Buffalo Bill, wiping a species off the face of the continent so’s the trains wouldn’t be troubled by them and cow men could use the land for cows. Masterson, the Earps, Hickok. Steely-eyed killers.
The US needed the genre fiction, the film industry and television to clean up history. The country needed common people out there getting massacred by Apache, Lakota, Comanche, people with names. People below the rank of colonel with names that weren’t John Jacob Astor and weren’t just getting filthy rich and powerful from it all.
So you want the heroes of the west today? Well, there’s John Wayne. Henry Fonda. Steve McQueen. Jeff Chandler on the generic Indian side. Burt Lancaster. Gary Cooper.
All of whom also, by coincidence, became the heroes of all the other wars the US fought. Became the common men of history where none existed before. Winning the west from the people who owned it, whupping the Germans and Japanese, the Vietcong and NVA, the Chinese and North Koreans.
All those heroes, frequently below the paygrade of colonel, helping us to understand our great heritage. Because, after all, our heroes define us in ways we’d be too modest to define ourselves. Most of us ain’t all that successful at taking shit that doesn’t belong to us, individually.
At least those of us who never got higher than the rank of major. The aristocratic dynasties went to Washington but the heroes all came out of Hollywood.