President Obama’s recent ten-year commitment to Afghanistan (until 2024 and beyond) put me to mind of a line from The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), the classic Western starring Clint Eastwood. Eastwood plays the “outlaw” who just wants to be left alone in the aftermath of a brutal civil war. But another character, the vicious Captain Terrill, wants to pursue and kill all the Confederate irregulars who had fought against the Union. In hot pursuit of Eastwood and a wounded confederate, Terrill rejects the idea that the killing will stop once the final two “outlaws” are dead.
“Doin’ right ain’t got no end,” Terrill coldly says.
That’s our government’s attitude in a nutshell: “Doin’ right ain’t got no end,” especially when the “right” involves killing outlaws. No matter how many we kill, there’ll always be more to find. And in the brutally imprecise process of rooting them out and killing them, we’ll make many mistakes and harm many innocents, thereby creating many new enemies — and many more men like Captain Terrill.
Like Terrill, our government’s actions and attitudes have conspired to create a forever war, a score-settling exercise against outlaws that serves to perpetuate terror. We’re trapped in a cycle of violence that’s very much of our own making. We believe we inhabit an implacably hostile realm that supposedly hates us and our freedoms too, and by believing it, we make it so.
This neurotic state recalls a science fiction novel, Deathworld (1960), which I read as a teenager. Its author, Harry Harrison, imagined a world where the flora and fauna are relentlessly hostile to a certain band of can-do colonists, who reply in kind with Spartan-like warrior intensity and murderous brutality.
As impressive as these warriors and their death-dealing technology are, their actions merely beget more violence. Until an outsider visits and sees the situation for what it truly is, the colonists cannot perceive that it’s their own fear and violent natures which are driving their enemies to attack. Unless they change their implacably hostile mindset, their ultimate defeat is inevitable because their actions spawn new enemies and endless violence everywhere.
As the United States exercises its global power in the name of winning a war on terror, we are creating a death world of our own making. As long as we continue to believe we’re “doin’ right” in fighting an open-ended (and seemingly endless) war, Captain Terrill’s words will continue to render a harsh and endless judgment.
“Doin’ right ain’t got no end” – a tragic meme for a death world of our own making.