Thursday, April 30, 2015

Print The Legend

As you may recall, in the classic John Ford western "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", the man who became famous for shooting Liberty Valance wasn't the man who actually shot Liberty Valance.

When he tries to explain this to a bunch of journalists at the end of the picture, one of them replies:

"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact...print the legend."

I was reminded of this recently while reading about the fabled charge up San Juan Hill, in the Spanish American War.

Did you know that a company of black Buffalo Soldiers fought their way to the top of the hill either well before or at precisely the same time as Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders? (Historians disagree on the exact timing.)

I didn't.

Their white commander called them the bravest men he ever saw.

I didn't know that either.

But when you see the pictures celebrating the famous charge, there's the Roughriders, that strange amalgam of Harvard toffs and western shitkickers, and there's Teddy with that crazy look in his eyes. And not a single black face in sight.

Now, I'm not saying that Teddy and his boys weren't brave, too. I'm just saying....well, you know what I'm saying.

(Curiously, the 'hero' of the film, the man who did shoot Liberty Valance, did it from the side, at night, out of a dark alley, while Valance's attention was elsewhere...hmmm...makes you wonder about the nature of some kinds of heroism, don't it? John Ford was a complex man.)

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