Paul Newman Knew How To Deal With Hamas

A little-known film from the 60s taught us how to deal with jihadists unworthy of civil treatment.

Before we can learn how to deal with terrorists, we need to be able to identify whom they are, because the Obama Administration either doesn’t seem able to, or it favors them. In the context of this essay, we’re limiting the discussion to violent Islamic supremacists who kill noncombatants.

The next step would be to elect a president of the US who can cut it. This one cannot. He doesn’t have a clue. But Paul Newman understood exactly how to treat terrorists. At least the character he played in Hombre had.

Hombre was a small budget, 2 hour-long western that premiered in US theaters in January 1967. Wikipedia calls it a “revisionist western.” It was distinguished from others in the western genre, revisionist or not, by its producers and renowned cast. The script was written by Elmore Leonard and Irving Ravetch, based on a novel by, you guessed it, Elmore Leonard. And directed by Martin Ritt.

As I said, the dozen main cast members were outstanding in their field. The protagonist was John Russell, played by Paul Newman. Russell was the top cop in the Apache police. Fredric March was Alexander Favor, a government bureaucrat whose function was to administer the Indian reservations. Barbara Rush was his wife, Audra Favor. Diane Cilento plays opposite Newman, as Jessie Brown, the manager of the boarding house that Russell just inherited from his father. And Martin Balsam, with Spanish accent and makeup to appear as stage coach driver Henry Mendez. The bad guys are played by Richard Boone (Cicero Grimes), Cameron Mitchell (Sheriff Frank Braden), David Canary (Lamar Dean) and Frank Silvera, as the “Mexican Bandit”, his perennial role as character actor in many films.

At first blush, Hombre seems like a conventional “good guys vs. bad guys” action western. But that’s deceptive. The script is spartan, as was Newman’s performance, as a no-nonsense white man, who was adopted by the Apaches when he was young. Newman portrays Russell in a minimalist way, with little affect, unlike the pretentious white characters. While the plot isn’t novel, the dialogue turns out to be exceptional, assuming you can catch its subtext. But that subtext, as I interpret it today, wasn’t discernible to the casual viewer of the late 60s, and possibly not even today. Because while you may have noticed, for example, that this was a film sympathetic to American Indians, or that Paul Newman was given all the snappy lines, those lines were a fine tutorial on the best way to treat evil people.

Spoiler Alert

I’ll need to set up the plot first. Wikipedia has a nice plot summary of the film:

In late 19th-century Arizona, an Apache-raised white man, John Russell, faces prejudice in the white world after he returns for his inheritance (a gold watch and a boarding house) upon his father’s death. Deciding to sell the house in order to buy a herd of horses–which does not endear him to the boarders who live there or to the caretaker, Jessie–Russell ends up riding a stagecoach with Jessie and unhappily married boarders Doris and Billy Lee Blake leaving town.

Three others ride with them: Indian agent Professor Alexander Favor, his aristocratic wife Audra and the crude Cicero Grimes. Upon discovering that John Russell is an Indian, Professor Favor requests that Russell ride up top with driver Henry Mendez.

The stagecoach is robbed by a gang led by Grimes, who knew that Dr. Favor had been carrying money that he stole from the very Apaches whom Russell grew up with. Grimes rides off, taking Mrs. Favor as a hostage.

Russell manages to shoot two of the outlaws–one of whom is Jessie’s lover, sheriff-gone-bad Frank–who have the stolen money in their saddle bags. He insists that Dr. Favor give the recovered money back to him. The bigots he rode with now appeal to Russell to lead them to safety.

Russell’s instincts to protect the group clashes with their naïve and “civilized” attitudes to save the Favors, especially when Grimes and his remaining gang offer to trade Mrs. Favor for the money. Their pity for Mrs. Favor’s life eventually outweighs the knowledge that Grimes is using her to bait a trap. Russell gives the money to Billy Lee, asking him to take it back to the Indians from whom it was stolen. Russell descends from the group’s hideout with saddle bags that he pretends are full of the money, while Billy Lee stays in the hideout and aims a rifle at one of the outlaws. Russell cuts Mrs. Favor loose and she slowly makes her way up to the group, but by the time Russell throws the saddle bags to Grimes Mrs Favor has collapsed at a point where she is obscuring Billy Lee’s target. In the ensuing firefight, although Russell is able to kill Grimes, Billy Lee is unable to prevent an outlaw shooting Russell dead.

The Lesson of the Film

The subtext I referred to occurs at various points in the movie. So get this picture: After Russell kills two of the outlaws, the remaining two–Grimes and the Mexican–are chasing the stage coach passengers, who are now on foot. Russell is leading them to safety, through the desert, carrying the money bags Grimes tried to steal from Alexander Favor. Grimes has Mrs. Favor as hostage.

Now, for those very instructional scenes in the film. I’ll mention first, the two minor ones.

The first one occurred during a pause in a shoot out, with Russell, Billy Lee Blake, and Henry Mendez holding off the pursuing bad guys, Grimes and the Mexican. The Mexican offers to turn over Mrs. Favor in exchange for the money. Russell declines the offer. Frank Silvera, as the Mexican, pleads with Russell: “You mean you don’t want the nice, soft lady?!” Russell replies without emotion, “she’s nothing to me.”

What? How barbaric! Or is it? What lesson did Hamas learn after Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prison in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held hostage by Hamas for more than 5 years? They learned that kidnapping can be very profitable. Their tunnels into Israel were intended to facilitate that, plus to carry out attacks.

The second minor scene was when Mr. Favor tried to sneak off with the money bag and the water, and leave Russell and the other passengers to die of thirst. But Russell catches him before he can get away, and tells him to continue on his way, only without the water or the money. As in the first scene, when Russell declined the ransom demand (and guess what, Mrs. Favor was not killed), Jessie, played by Diane Cilento, expresses her disapproval.

As the modern analog of liberal sensitivity, Jessie explains to Russell that dispatching Favor to fend for himself is cruel and inhuman. And if that’s not enough, Mr. Favor gives a little speech intended to shame Russell as being greedy and callous: “…so, you’ll let me die.” Russell replies without displaying any emotion, “If you manage to survive, look me up. We’ll drink to your luck.” Russell wasn’t phased by the supposed pro-civilization reprimand, because–we are to assume–his morality, while harsh, was just and practical. Why extend humane treatment to one who showed none of it to other people?

At any rate, Russell’s group finds Mr. Favor a little while later, half dead from the elements, and this time Jesse insists–with a lecture about forgiveness–that Russell allow Favor to remain with them. And Russell did. But do you see the hypocrisy? Favor and his wife were systematically starving the Apaches, just to enrich themselves by embezzling food and resources intended for the Apaches. Didn’t Favor deserve to be treated the same way?

But now, the third scene best embodies the lessons we must take away with respect to terrorists.

This was when Russell and the group are hold up in a shack on top of a hill, with Grimes and the Mexican down below. They’re trapped without water, while Grimes has water from a well, and still holds Mrs. Favor hostage–who is now dehydrated and near death.

Next, here comes Grimes, played wonderfully evil by Richard Boone, walking up the hill alone. Russell and Mendez are inside the shack, peering out with rifles trained on Grimes. Is Grimes crazy? He doesn’t seem to think so. He’s waiving a white flag! That means truce, doesn’t it?

Mendez thought so. He politely listened to Grimes’ proposal to allow the passengers and Mrs. Favor to go free, in exchange for the money. While Mendez is asking some “what if” questions about the proposal, you can see an almost imperceptible smirk on Russell’s face, who was standing next to Mendez. Was Russell skeptical of Grimes’ veracity? Was he amused by the apparent naïveté of Mendez? Maybe both.

Then came the choice line you’ll never forget. Russell, consistently portrayed by Paul Newman with stone-face and with a flat toned voice, says to Grimes, “Hey, I have a question. How you gunna get down that hill?”

What?! If you’re used to the way good guys behave in westerns, your initial take would have been bewilderment: How else will he get down the hill? The same way he came up it. Wrong!

Stark, crystal clarity arrives at that moment. For you, the viewer, and for Grimes. You can see it immediately in Richard Boone’s eyes, standing there, still holding the white flag, realizing now how useless it is, as it dawns on him that the civil courtesy of a truce doesn’t apply to him. That Russell wasn’t going to let it apply to him. That Grimes didn’t deserve it, and shouldn’t have expected it in the first place.

Russell raises his rifle as Grimes pivots and runs down the hill, then rolls down it, as Russell manages to get off some shots that wound Grimes.

This moment was a recognition of reality rarely seen on film. Clint Eastwood, as Dirty Harry, saying “go ahead, make my day” was mere bravado. Whereas, this was far more important. Newman asking “how you gunna get down that hill” cut through the hypocrisy and pretense of the situational appropriateness of civilized behavior. Who are the good guys? I say they’re the ones who understand who deserves to be extended the good graces of civilization, and most importantly, who does not.

Of course, following that scene, Russell receives additional lectures on civilized behavior from Jesse and Mendez–not the first ones from those two.

Analog to Today

It’s pretty damn obvious! Just like the Mexican, who expected to trade his hostage for the money, or Grimes, who expected safe passage because he held in his hands a white flag of truce, after he threatened to starve the passengers to death, we have Hamas, receiving offers of a cease-fire that they have never previously honored, except when it’s to their benefit (i.e. a Hudna). Not long after they violate one cease-fire, another one is proposed, by Obama or the U.N. Idiots.

This is what prevails today as civilized behavior, as was lectured to John Russell by the film’s parallels to today’s liberals. And Muslim terrorists know how to play them. Was there any point in time in which Hamas feared being rendered pariahs for launching rockets at civilians, from civilian centers in Gaza–which are unequivocal war crimes? No. Hamas started this third war with Israel, expecting not only full support of the world’s anti-semite, “civilized” nations, but also relying on Israel’s moral qualms to abstain from targeting those civilian centers that Hamas cynically uses for military purposes. Or at least to warn Gazan residents–which necessarily tips off Hamas–that a strike is coming.

And none of Hamas’ apologists can articulate a reply to the most obvious, elephant in the room, questions: Such as, what possible military response to Hamas, by Israel, which would insure no civilian casualties, would be acceptable to civilized liberals? Or what possible concession by Israel would satisfy Hamas, whose own charter calls for the death of Jews worldwide?

In “Winning a Lose/Lose War“, Victor Davis Hanson holds up a mirror to the Left, and the reflection is ugly. You see hypocrites and cowards who apply outrageous double standards. Calling it the “Western illness”, he writes:

Postmodern Westerners are guilty about their affluence and leisure, but not to the point of surrendering them. They square the circle of criticizing what they are by projecting their self-animus onto Israel, a small, successful Western outpost surrounded by the less successful Other.

Timidity explains much of the Europeans’ easy damnation of Israel. Putin escapes the disdain accorded to Netanyahu, because Netanyahu governs a small nation and is predictably reasonable; Putin governs a large one and is predictably unreasonable. Trashing Putin might involve some risk; trashing Netanyahu brings psychological relief. If Israel were large and Netanyahu demonic, and if Russia were small and Putin Westernized and reasonable, then our cheap scorn would be leveled at Russia and not Israel.

There is no cultural downside in championing Hamas. The multicultural romance of the Other trumps even the endemic misogyny, homophobia, and religious bigotry of this particular Other. Seeing ourselves in Israel and not liking what we see outweighs the fact that Israel is tolerant, transparent, and free.

Newman’s John Russell harbors no such timidity. He’s not afflicted with the guilt of privilege or affluence. He learned from life’s lessons in a harsh world, where you justly and necessarily fight fire with fire. It’s the only way to prevent evil from flourishing.

As the great Andrew C. McCarthy often reminds us, you get the due process that is due you, and no more. And that you only receive those rights from the Geneva Convention to which you’re a signatory, and whose provisions you have honored in the past. Simply put, the humane protections in the laws of war are reserved to those who abide by them. That was always the intention. To ensure that your captured will be humanely treated, you treat the enemies you capture as humanely as possible. Conversely, you do not reward inhumane treatment committed by your enemy by extending humane treatment to them. It’s that simple.

But not to liberals. Liberals want to be loved, so they wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves. They portray themselves as the caring ones. The fact that their policy prescriptions fail is an incidental matter for them. Their goal is to display the posture of doing good. To pose as good guys. This pretentiousness can be seen among Beltway Republican incumbents. For example, jihadists do not obey the laws of war, and despite how Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham feel about it, jihadists don’t reciprocate when we inappropriately bestow such rights upon them.

McCain’s legislation in November 2005, for example–which required the CIA and other civilian intelligence agencies to comply with the Uniform Code of Military Conduct (UCMC) with respect to the treatment of captured enemy combatants–was the sort of political grandstanding custom-made to attract support from spineless politicians, and for low-grade political opportunists to propose and hustle before the public.

Why? Because you’re guaranteed that few legislators will wish to be labeled, “supporters of torture.” For that reason, the Senate passed the bill in a lopsided 90-9 vote. That same week, on November 18th, former CIA Director (under President Carter) Adm. Stansfield Turner, toured the cable talk shows plugging his new book, and calling Dick Cheney, “the Vice President of Torture.” President Bush was a bleeding heart domestically, but at least he demonstrated courage when dealing rationally with barbarians and their barbaric behavior.

Bush and Cheney understood that we are dealing with an enemy that studies all of our published materials. They would study the UCMC and train their men to resist the stress and psychological tricks of our interrogators. Any interrogator will tell you that detainees who are prepared for the techniques and treatment they are to receive will usually remain noncompliant and yield no valuable information. Those who are not will more likely succumb to the interrogations.

Indeed, look what has happened. Obama emptied Gitmo and stopped capturing jihadists. He’s pulled back from surveilling Muslims. And the Boston bombing and other plots succeeded. Because jihadists understand that American liberals like Obama and McCain are afflicted with the aforementioned liberal conceit, and they play them like fiddles. The Muslim Brothers now advise our FBI! And the liberal rationale for this naïveté was that the world will love us again, especially with Bush gone. Well, not only does the world still hate us, they don’t respect us too. And it will get worse when a new series of liberal handwringing commences following the release of the Congressional report on “torture” conducted by the CIA.

The Western Disease in Foreign Policy also Prevails

The same liberal naïveté about Islam led Obama to pick the wrong side with respect to Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Turkey, Iran, and neglecting Iraq and Afghanistan. And that’s not even counting his missteps with China and Russia and N.Korea. The absurd idea was that if Obama would dismantle our military, the world will love and respect the US. Again, it’s all about posture for liberals; not results. But in reality, nations achieve good or bad things only through the power and influence of a strong military and economy. Now we have neither, and the world is in free fall crises.

Paul Newman played a “savage” in Hombre. But John Russell wasn’t a barbarian. He was innately rational and practical. No lawyer needed to explain the laws of war to him, because he understood justice. He just wouldn’t extend humane treatment to inhumane lawbreakers. He was no liberal who needed his ego enhanced by having people admire how civil he was.

A Pew Research Center poll of 1,805 respondents, conducted July 8-14, revealed that respondents considering themselves conservative Republicans supported Israel by 77 percent, compared to 68 percent of moderate Republicans. Among Democrats, 48 percent of moderate Democrats supported Israel, compared to 39 percent of liberal Democrats.

That helps explain why Obama sent Kerry to give Hamas a break from the Israeli assault the other week. A book can be written to explain why the left supports barbarians. But the fact remains that wars will not be won until belligerents are beaten into submission. And Hamas, and the population in Gaza that supports it, will not stop its aggression, because it’s not only tolerated, but excused, by the liberal Left. Obama is of that ilk, and supports the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s why he’s not going to let Israel win.

Peace is not the cessation of hostilities. It comes when one side beats the crap out of the other. Obama will not let Israel demilitarize Gaza. What Israel needs to do is resist Obama’s pressures to play by Hamas’ rules. Israel needs to throw out the rules and defeat Hamas. They need to ask Hamas, as Paul Newman asked Richard Boone, “how are you gunna get down that hill?”

Hombre ended very poignantly. John Russell finally gives in to Jesse. He tells young Billy Lee to return the money to the Apaches, and he walks down the hill to rescue Mrs. Favor. Perhaps he forgives Mrs. Favor. Perhaps he seeks atonement for his detachment from the hardships of white people? Perhaps he wanted to shame Mr. Favor and the so-called civilized white passengers who lectured him on humanitarianism. Perhaps he was the sort who loved humanity but couldn’t tolerate people? We don’t know. Russell doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. He ain’t no liberal. All we see is that he sacrifices his life to save hers.

One must not construe this as the liberal virtues prevailing upon Russell. Such acts are personal. They can’t be imposed as government policy. Such charity begins at home. Not through government by way of taxation, or other fiats from authority. The same applies to our war policies. When confronted with an enemy that does anything to win, we must reciprocate. Fight fire with fire. Talk to them in a language they understand, because they sure don’t understand or appreciate compassion. No group whose ethic is to die as martyrs can. Because there are no acceptable excuses you can offer your citizens for losing a war. That was true for WWII. That’s especially true for Israel today. That’s why this article is a dire warning for them. Today, Israeli war fighters are prosecuted for winning, and for losing.

As for one political solution, I will relate one last scene from the movie. After John Russell declines the ransom demand from the Mexican, and with concern that the group is placing their lives in the hands of this emotionally disengaged person, Jesse asks, “Tell me Mr. Russell, why are we following you?” Russell replies confidently and laconically, “Because I can cut it, lady.”

Conservatives predicted that Obama’s naïve foreign policy prescriptions wouldn’t cut it. We need a person whose temperament, courage and politics can cut it. Someone like Senator Ted Cruz.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001