In the film "Tombstone," lawman Wyatt
Earp, his brothers, and his friend Doc Holliday confront a
violent outlaw gang. But Doc has tuberculosis – of which he will die at age 36
– and should be resting. A member of the posse asks Holliday why he’s doing
this. Doc replies, "Wyatt’s my friend." The man says, "Hell, I’ve got lots of
friends." Doc replies, "I don’t." Here we have the first part of the Doc
trouble comes, it’s not how many friends you have that counts – it’s what kind
of friends they are.
This is relevant to what we call "coalitions." Some members
of the coalition in Afghanistan send only a few hundred troops. Even worse,
some of these troops do not patrol at night, do not go into "hot" zones, and
fire only when fired upon. That is, even if they spot a Taliban leader, they do
nothing if they aren’t fired upon first.
This concept of a "coalition" accords more with the posse
member’s idea of friendship than with Doc’s. The concept is so broad that it
includes all acquaintances except actual enemies. It bears no relation to
loyalty. On the other hand, we have the Brits. They accord more with Doc’s concept
of friendship – those are there when we really need them, even if they are in a
Then we have so-called "friends" who get us into trouble,
not out of it. Take the situation in Libya. The Europeans, especially the
French, urged military action against Qaddafi’s bloody regime. But because of
decades of military decline, they are too weak to take on even this third-rate
power, so yet again they depend on America to do the heavy lifting. As Mark Steyn
observed, "You can have massive welfare or a credible military, but not both."
Europe found this out years ago. We have yet to discover it – but if we
continue on our present course, we will be forced to confront this sad fact.
But back to "Tombstone." Wyatt Earp is challenged by Johnny
Ringo, an unstable killer. Earp knows that Ringo is faster on the draw, yet
feels honor-bound to meet him. But as Ringo is waiting at the appointed place,
who should show up but Doc Holliday.
Ringo insists that he has no quarrel with Holliday. Doc
reminds him that they challenged each other. Ringo protests, "I was only fooling
about." Doc replies, "I wasn’t." They proceed with the gunfight, and Ringo
comes out second best. Here we come to the second part of the Doc Holliday
matters of life and death, the first thing to decide is whether the person is
serious or just pretending. And if he is serious, it is best to be careful.
It is wise to decide whether the other party is serious, but
it is essential to decide whether we
are serious. Sending young people into a life-and-death struggle without being
really serious about it is a sin – and even worse for a government, it is a
mistake. Half a war is an oxymoron.
It is impossible to have half a gunfight. Johnny Ringo
wasn’t serious about fighting, but Doc was. It takes only one side to make a lethal
fight. If the other party isn’t serious, he can lose just as badly. The
runner-up doesn’t get a silver medal; he gets six feet of dirt.
The United States has engaged in several armed conflicts since
World War II, but we haven’t unequivocally won any of them. In part, this may
be because our very existence hasn’t been threatened since World War II. But in
part, this may also be due to the fact that in none of these conflicts did we
formally declare war – so we did not fully understand we were in a war, and
were not really determined to win.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war,
but it does not specify any words to be used. It could be argued that when Congress
approved the use of military force in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Gulf War, in
Afghanistan, and in Iraq, in effect Congress declared war. This makes sense
logically, but not psychologically. The purpose of declaring war is not only to
let the world know, but also to let ourselves
This is similar to taking the oath when one joins the
military or becomes a public official. The purpose of the oath is to make the
solemnity of the obligation crystal clear to the person undertaking it. The
purpose of a formal declaration of war is to make the gravity of the act
crystal clear to everyone, especially to those in charge.
Movies, like all art, are not meant to provide a precise
picture of reality, but to reflect and clarify certain aspects of reality.
"Tombstone" did not teach us exactly what happened during the gunfight at the
OK Corral. It did something far more important. It showed us the value of true
friends, and it emphasized the difference between being deadly serious and
merely fooling about.
The world has changed remarkably since the days of Wyatt
Earp and Doc Holliday. But some things haven’t changed at all. The value of
true friends hasn’t changed, nor has the importance of recognizing them and
treating them accordingly. This lesson we seem to have forgotten, one might
hope temporarily. Our best friends through two World Wars, Korea, the Gulf War,
Afghanistan, and Iraq are the Brits.
And how has President Obama treated the Brits? On entering
the Oval Office, he removed
the bust of Churchill the Brits sent us after 9/11 and gave it back. He
Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He gifted
Queen Elizabeth with an iPod, and Brown with a set
of DVDs of movies – DVDs which could
not be viewed on European players. Similarly, Obama snubbed
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but bowed
before the Saudi king.
How long would Wyatt Earp have lasted in Tombstone, if he
had insulted Doc Holliday but shown weakness before Johnny Ringo and his outlaw
gang? How long would he have lasted, if he had been unable to distinguish
between people who were serious and people who were just fooling about?
Like it or not, we have been cast in the role of Wyatt Earp.
We too have reluctantly put on the badge of lawman in a lawless and dangerous
world. We too have many faults, as do our friends, and we have done things in
the past of which we are not proud. But despite these faults, we alone have the
capability to stand up to the outlaws.
The question is this: Like Wyatt Earp, do we also have the
courage and steadfastness to stand up to outlaws? Or, unlike Earp, are we so
busy apologizing for our faults, and so occupied with distancing ourselves from
our friends and being submissive to our enemies, that we have no time left for
In answering this question, we would do well to recall the
Doc Holliday Principle. After all, he was our best friend.
Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: email@example.com.