Evil That Lurks Within
by John Denvir
The New York Times reported
recently that the interim government in Afghanistan recently
released more than 320 Taliban fighters. Hamid Kazhai, the leader
of the government, dismissed his former enemies with the statement,
"Go home, and lead peaceful lives." I am struck by
the strong contrast between Mr. Kazhai's actions and those of
the American government towards John Walker Lindh, the Marin
teen-ager who went to Afghanistan and eventually fought with
the Taliban. While the Afghanistan government is wishing its
former enemies good luck, we are hoping to imprison young Mr.Lindh
for what might be 60 or 70 years.
think John Ford's great Western The Searchers can shed
some light on America's harsh treatment of young Mr. Lindh. The
movie centers around the charismatic but troubled character of
Ethan Edwards, played by that American icon of maleness, John
Ethan is a loner who returns
to his family in Texas after serving as an officer in the confederate
army. We are immediately drawn to Ethan because he embodies many
of the virtues we value in the American character. He is smart,
tough, and loyal. He's more a man of action than words, but we
sense that he dearly loves his family.
Shortly after Ethan's return
to Texas, his family is killed by a Commanche war party. The
only survivor appears to be his little niece Debbie who the Commanches
take with them. Accompanied only by the family's adopted part-Indian
son Martin Pawley, Ethan begins the long search to save Debbie
and take revenge on the savages who killed his family.
We learn a good deal about
Ethan during the search, which goes on over five years. We see
that he is the epitome of the resourceful American frontier hero,
relentless in pursuit of his goal. He's convinced he will succeed
because while Commanches will eventually stop, he never will.
But slowly our respect for his perseverance starts to diminish.
His need for revenge seems more and more an obsession like that
of the mad Captain Ahab with his whale. Once it becomes clear
that Debbie has become a wife to a Commanche chief, the goal
of rescue mutates into the need to kill her. Martin, who started
the trek to save Debbie from the Commanches, ends it by saving
her from her uncle's fury.
I think we can see some parallels
between Mr. Walker's plight and that of Debbie. It's true that
Walker was not abducted; he went to Afghanistan of his own will.
But he went on a religious quest to study Islam, not to attack
America. He had no connection to Osama bin Laden or the September
11 bombings. It was America's bombing which precipitated his
involvement in the war. He saw the Taliban as victims of American
aggression. Like Debbie, he found himself in the wrong place
at the wrong time.
I think the character of Ethan
has relevance to our government's treatment of Mr. Walker. Something
went wrong in Ethan when he found out that Debbie was not just
a captive, but she was a squaw. A man who started out on a courageous
quest to save a little girl finished it trying to kill her. Ethan
felt that Debbie's cohabiting with a Native American infected
her with evil. Ethan thinks that he can eradicate the evil by
killing Debbie, but the viewer recognizes that the evil against
which Ethan fights lies partly within his own tortured mind.
I should point out that at
the end of the movie Ford has Ethan relent and even finally save
Debbie. It's not a very satisfactory ending, probably motivated
more by John Wayne's star image than the logic of the plot. But
we can always hope.
Posted February 25, 2002
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