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September 24, 2004

Hadleyville, Iraq, 2004

It's been a long time since I watched High Noon, but now it seems especially appropriate. I'm not sure Hollywood could make a film like this today. To make my point for me, here's the description of the film from the first site I checked for a cast list:

The story of a man who was too proud to run.
High Noon

I beg to differ.

It's the story of a man who isn't afraid to make a unilateral stand, even in the face of universal pacifism. It's the story of a man who knows you can't run in the face of terror; terror will follow you. It's the story of a pragmatic and wise man, who does fear his enemy, but knows the enemy must be faced now, at a time and place of his own, not the enemy's, choosing.

Against him stands even his wife of one hour, who is a Quaker, and who threatens to leave him if he won't leave with her and leave the town to the returning terrorist. For that's what Frank Miller is, a terrorist. As one lady puts it in church, a decent woman couldn't walk on the street even in daylight, and no one wanted to raise kids in the town.

But Marshall Kane had put together a coalition of townfolk who worked together to put Frank Miller behind bars, at least until some authority far away in Texas saw fit to pardon Miller. That's the problem with trying to stop terror with law and order tactics. Terror knows no limit and and does "correct" itself. And leaving terrorists alive is asking for some idiot who doesn't feel threatened to let the terrorists go, most likely to once against practice their beloved terror.

Now, Frank Miller is arriving on the noon train. He's sworn to kill Kane, and the townfolk, in one manner or another, think everything will be okay if Kane will just leave town. They don't imagine it could go back to the way it used to be. They believe that they can appease Miller if Kane will just stop trying to confront him. Frank Miller knows: as long as Kane is alive he is a threat. Men that stand in the face of terror are those who end terror. Terror must first eliminate those, before it can go back to its lovely practice of casual terror.

Kane had, in fact, turned in his badge and ridden out of town with his new bride, before he realized he couldn't run. Miller would come after him. If he ran now, he'd always be running. He'd become just another terrorized victim, and there would be none to end the terror. The time to face down the common (though many townfolk considered themselves the friends of Frank Miller) enemy was now. That would be best not only for him, but for his wife, and for the town, even if he didn't articulate it fully in exactly this way.

When he took up his badge and gun again, and sought men to form a posse to defend the town, one man offered his help. A boy of 14 offered also. In the end the Marshall turned them both away, the boy because he really didn't understand and would be little help, the one good man because it was obvious he was afraid when he found out it would be two against the gang.

Kane's deputy tried to impose demands on his aid. He resigned when Kane refused his demands. In the end he tried to prevent Kane from facing Miller by attacking him with the intent of sending him unconscious out of town. The Marshall was forced to beat down what should have been his ally before he could even face the real enemy.

When the Marshall seeks even in the town church for help, saying flatly, "I need help," after much discussion, the pastor, Dr. Mahin, says:

The commandments say 'Thou shalt not kill,' but we hire men to go out and do it for us. The right and the wrong seem pretty clear here. But if you're asking me to tell my people to go out and kill and maybe get themselves killed, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I'm sorry.
And while they all appreciate what the Marshall has done for the town, how's he's been the best Marshall they've had, and may well be the best Marshall they'll ever have, they will not stand at his side. The wise thing, they say, is for him to leave town. His presence is what creates the danger. Frank Miller is coming to town because of him.

When Mrs. Kane asks why the Marshall won't go, Helen Ramirez answers, "If you don't know, I cannot tell you." There is the defiition of duty. The Marshall must do what needs doing beause he's the one who knows the need, he's the one who can perhaps fulfill that need, and he's the one who cannot live with knowing the need remains unfulfilled. He can try to explain it, but those who don't themselves see the need viscerally just can't understand. If they don't know, they cannot be told.

"I don't care who's right or wrong, there's got to be a better way to live," the new Mrs. Kane insists. But there can only be a better way to live if someone faces and deals with terror. In the end she herself discovers this truth. She both confronts terror, and is terrorized. Miller uses her as hostage to force Kane into the open. Of course, the promise to let her go if Kane comes out into the street is not kept. Mrs. Kane only escapes Miller's clutches by joining Kane in further action, she claws his face and uses that to pull away far enough that Kane has a clear shot.

Then the grateful townfolk abashedly emerge. The boy pulls up a wagon for them. Marshall Kane hands his wife up onto the seat, then slips off his badge and drops it in the dirt.

I don't think I need to draw the parallels to our current situation too closely. I suggest you watch again, if you have seen it, with the current issues facing our country (and indeed the world) in mind. If you haven't seen it, you must.

Do we want to live in a "town" where decent women can't walk the streets in daylight, like in areas of France with high populations of Muslims, or in towns where it isn't safe to bring up kids, like in Beslan?

Watch it, then think about who would make the better Marshall, and who is playing the ambitious, but not dutiful, deputy.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing."
--Edmund Burke

Posted by dan at September 24, 2004 11:12 PM | TrackBack

Excellent comparison! We'll watch it again.

Posted by: Linda Teekell at September 28, 2004 10:10 AM
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