Angel & The Badman

Angel & The Badman:

In 1947, a young man named John Wayne -- already the star of many movies, including the classic Stagecoach -- decided to produce a movie of his own. He also starred in it, as the gunfighter Quirt Evans. The movie's real theme was the beauty of the Quaker faith: the role of the gunfighter was first to serve as a contrast with the Quakers, and then, to be converted by them.

Quirt Evans [looking at a cross-stiched plaque]: Is that Quaker stuff?

Penelope Worth: Uh huh.

Quirt Evans: You mean that nobody can hurt you but yourself?

Penelope Worth: That's a Friend's belief.

Quirt Evans: Well, suppose someone whacks you over the head with a branding iron? Won't that hurt?

Penelope Worth: Physically, of course. But in reality it would injure only the person doing the act or force of violence. Only the doer can be hurt by a mean or evil act.

Quirt Evans: Are there very many of you Quakers?

Penelope Worth: Very few.

Quirt Evans: I sort of figured that.
The movie is a remarkable one, and deserves to be seen if you've not seen it. It is a Western in the old style, a black-and-white hat feature film, but it manages to use that model to provoke sophisticated philosophy. On the surface, Quirt Evans starts as a bad man, and turns into a Friend of Man; but, in spite of the film's pacifist message, it makes clear that there are deeper issues at stake.

For example, early in Quirt's transition, he rides up to talk to a selfish landholder who is restricting the Quakers' water rights. He uses no violence to convince the man to give them more water -- at least, no actual violence. He very plainly does, however, trade on his reputation, and the assumptions the landholder will make about what kinds of methods he would employ. What the Quakers could not accomplish, he accomplishes using their methods: but the nonviolent methods only work because of the implied threat behind them.

By the end of the film, Quirt has been transformed by the love of a beautiful young Quaker woman. He refuses to draw on the evil Laredo, in spite of the fact that it should mean certain death. Yet the film's message is true, at least in the film: Laredo's violence harms only himself, as the Territorial Marshal -- unseen but nearby -- kills Laredo with a rifleshot when the black-hat gunfighter draws. Because Quirt refused to attempt violence, he is not punished in any way; he rides off, not mounted astride a horse but in the back of a wagon, leaving his gun in the street.

The film ends with the Marshal watching the wagon ride away, and retrieving the discarded weapon:
Bradley: [the marshal picks up Quirt's gun] Hey, Quirt might need that!

Territorial Marshal Wistful McClintock: No. Only a man that carries a gun ever needs one.
The beauty of the Quaker faith, and its way, are the subject of the film. Yet the film is clear about the reality of evil, and more than that: it distinguishes between three different types of moral violence. There is the kind the Quaker model can and ought to help, the violence of Quirt Evans, which arises from recklessness and selfishness and an insensitivity to love. There is the kind that the Quakers cannot help, the violence of Laredo, which is in love with its own cruelty. And there is the violence on which the Quakers survive: the violence of the Marshal.

Unspoken but obvious is the fact that, except for the marshal on the hill, evil would have triumphed. Quirt can go and live his new life of peace, rejecting anger and violence, because the Marshal rides the territory to defend it from evil. It is not clear that the Quakers mind whether they live or die; expecting heaven, they may go to their grave as if to bed. Yet, insofar as they live to serve as an example to us in this world, they do so because of the marshal.

It is not for the sake of art alone that I mention this movie today. Sadly, it has become relevant, through the example of another rifleman -- every Marine is a rifleman -- who laid down his gun for a life of peace:
We forgive those who consider us their enemies. Therefore, any penalty should be in the spirit of restorative justice, rather than in the form of violent retribution.

We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening non-violently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.

Tom Fox, Springfield, VA
Cassandra compares him with the case of a Muslim apostate, now a psychologist in California, Dr. Sultan. She draws the lesson that Tom Fox's beliefs were helpless in the face of evil, whereas Dr. Sultan's example may change the world.
Interestingly enough, Tom Fox was in Iraq to help Palestinian Iraqis against what he saw as an unjust American occupation. He refused to condemn, opppose, or otherwise speak out against Islam or the insurgency....

The irony of Tom Fox's death is that it shows that peace was not the answer either. Nor was silence. Or tolerance. All Tom Fox's enlightened tolerance gained him was an agonizing death at the hands of zealots who viewed his determination to forgive them as confirmation that Western culture is rotten to the core....

The other is Dr. Wafa Sultan, a woman whose voice, had she stayed in the land of her birth, we should never had heard. No one knows better than she the risks she takes by speaking out. And yet she does so anyway, in defense of that which is beyond price. Dr. Sultan is the West's answer to radical Islam: a living sword thrust into the beating heart of terror.

Out of darkness has come light, and it seems somehow all the more fitting that it should be a woman who dares to say, "You will not silence me and mine. Some things are intolerable."

If only her courage were a universal value.
I think Mr. Fox was participating in bad philosophy, by not distinguishing between the service of the soldier, bound by a code to defend the noncombatant as much as to pursue victory in his cause, and the murder of the terrorist, who seeks the death of the innocent at the first moment it becomes useful to him. This is a failure, I think, even within the Quaker tradition: pacifism still must distinguish between those who are wrong although they are trying to help, and those who are wrong because they love evil. The failure to do so is not devotion to a higher truth, but closing your eyes to the truth. It is a truth that they were told to expect:
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear."
Yet I will not go so far as others have gone, and say that the Quakers were wrong. I do not think that. I think the Quakers represent something true and beautiful, but which I do not understand. Chesterton wrote of what such truths are like:
I have found Europe and the world once more like the little garden where I stared at the symbolic shapes of cat and rake; I look at everything with the old elvish ignorance and expectancy. This or that rite or doctrine may look as ugly and extraordinary as a rake; but I have found by experience that such things end somehow in grass and flowers. A clergyman may be apparently as useless as a cat, but he is also as fascinating, for there must be some strange reason for his existence. I give one instance out of a hundred; I have not myself any instinctive kinship with that enthusiasm for physical virginity, which has certainly been a note of historic Christianity. But when I look not at myself but at the world, I perceive that this enthusiasm is not only a note of Christianity, but a note of Paganism, a note of high human nature in many spheres. The Greeks felt virginity when they carved Artemis, the Romans when they robed the vestals, the worst and wildest of the great Elizabethan playwrights clung to the literal purity of a woman as to the central pillar of the world. Above all, the modern world (even while mocking sexual innocence) has flung itself into a generous idolatry of sexual innocence -- the great modern worship of children. For any man who loves children will agree that their peculiar beauty is hurt by a hint of physical sex. With all this human experience, allied with the Christian authority, I simply conclude that I am wrong, and the church right; or rather that I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes all sorts to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate. But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates, I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. The best human experience is against me, as it is on the subject of Bach. Celibacy is one flower in my father's garden, of which I have not been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it any day.
This is the point of departure for me from Wretchard's account, which like Cassandra's contrasts Tom Fox with Dr. Sultan. Yet I depart from him although I agree with every word of his argument, which is subtle and beautifully wrought:
I knew a man once who rushed to church in tears of gratitude over the fact that he didn't have to kill someone. It was at the height of Ferdinand Marcos' power and his secret agents were taking a tremendous toll of the underground. Two men in this mans' cell had disappeared. The first had taken a Greyhound-type bus to the Cagayan Valley and had never gotten off. Another had gone by outrigger from Luzon to the island of Mindoro, where it was said, he had been killed on a beach upon landing by a .45 pressed to his nape as he walked unsuspectingly on the sand. The suspected betrayer was a small, bucktoothed man with almost childish enthusiasm for basketball, given to hysterical fits of laughter. But he was certainly the informer and had to die before he betrayed a third. As it happened, someone else killed the informer and man whose job it was to shoot him was everlastingly grateful that God had arranged for the cup to pass away. Someone else had done the deed and he could go from out the darkness of the Marcos dictatorship with only sweet memories upon his soul.

The question that always bothered me was whether that person -- or any man -- had any right to expect someone else to do the dirty job for him. Can we ever simultaneously acknowledge the necessity of a deed and the absolute immorality of doing it? That in a nutshell is the Problem of Evil: that evil exists and that by and by we will have to face it. The question Tom Fox should have posed is "how do you stand firm against a car-bomber headed straight for a schoolbus?" And if you say, "shoot to save the children" ask yourself if it ever justified to be glad that God had sent someone else to shoot the bomber and go hell in your stead.
What I think it is necessary to believe is that there are Quakers for a reason, and that reason may be Quirt Evans: the young man, of good heart but reckless life, who might be rescued by their example. There may be some other reason. Like the apparently useless cat, there is something likewise beautiful about it; if we do not understand, the flaw is in us. It may be they have been told a truth we have not heard.

But likewise, it may be that we have been told one that they have not. The West has room for Quakers and Marshals alike. Wretchard asks whether it can ever be right to expect someone else to do the dirty job for you. I answer that it is not a question of whether it is right or not to expect it: it is not clear that the Quaker would ask, and in any event, the marshal volunteered.

The Quakers of the movie would not have wished Quirt to use even his unvoiced reputation for violence to pursue their interests, but that does not mean that they must refuse the water. They didn't ask him to go, any more than they asked the landholder to come and dam the stream.

I have chided the Christian Peace Teams for failing to make a distinction between those who are wicked, and those who may be wrong in spite of good intentions -- I do not say they are wrong, and in fact believe them to be right, but the Quaker faith holds them to be wrong. We who stand on the other side must also make a distinction, between those who want to destroy us, and those who we think are wrong but who are trying likewise to defend us in their way: to look after our souls, to spread kindness in the world. These are not the enemy, not even if they stand in the way.

It may be, in fact, that we need them. Not all of us, but some of us: perhaps some future Quirt Evans, who has done his duty in defense of the West, and finds himself hurt by it. I have known such men, especially veterans of Vietnam, and surely many of you have also. The Friends may have a home for some where, amid a people who refuse violence in any form, they can find a kind of peace we do not know in the rest of this world.

For that alone, the marshal is glad to stand between them and what evil he can. Why not volunteer to dare Hell, as Wretchard says, protecting a kind and innocent people as you would protect a beloved child?

That is what warriors are for. I do not know precisely what Quakers are for; but I am sure there is a reason.

No comments: