“Doin’ Right Ain’t Got No End”

Bill McKinney as Captain Terrill in "The Outlaw Josey Wales"
Bill McKinney as Captain Terrill in “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

W.J. Astore

President Obama’s recent ten-year commitment to Afghanistan (until 2024 and beyond) put me to mind of a line from The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), the classic Western starring Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood plays the “outlaw” who just wants to be left alone in the aftermath of a brutal civil war.  But another character, the vicious Captain Terrill, wants to pursue and kill all the Confederate irregulars who had fought against the Union.  In hot pursuit of Eastwood and a wounded confederate, Terrill rejects the idea that the killing will stop once the final two “outlaws” are dead.

“Doin’ right ain’t got no end,” Terrill coldly says.

That’s our government’s attitude in a nutshell: “Doin’ right ain’t got no end,” especially when the “right” involves killing outlaws.  No matter how many we kill, there’ll always be more to find. And in the brutally imprecise process of rooting them out and killing them, we’ll make many mistakes and harm many innocents, thereby creating many new enemies — and many more men like Captain Terrill.

Like Terrill, our government’s actions and attitudes have conspired to create a forever war, a score-settling exercise against outlaws that serves to perpetuate terror. We’re trapped in a cycle of violence that’s very much of our own making. We believe we inhabit an implacably hostile realm that supposedly hates us and our freedoms too, and by believing it, we make it so.

This neurotic state recalls a science fiction novel, Deathworld (1960), which I read as a teenager. Its author, Harry Harrison, imagined a world where the flora and fauna are relentlessly hostile to a certain band of can-do colonists, who reply in kind with Spartan-like warrior intensity and murderous brutality.

As impressive as these warriors and their death-dealing technology are, their actions merely beget more violence. Until an outsider visits and sees the situation for what it truly is, the colonists cannot perceive that it’s their own fear and violent natures which are driving their enemies to attack. Unless they change their implacably hostile mindset, their ultimate defeat is inevitable because their actions spawn new enemies and endless violence everywhere.

As the United States exercises its global power in the name of winning a war on terror, we are creating a death world of our own making. As long as we continue to believe we’re “doin’ right” in fighting an open-ended (and seemingly endless) war, Captain Terrill’s words will continue to render a harsh and endless judgment.

“Doin’ right ain’t got no end” – a tragic meme for a death world of our own making.

2 thoughts on ““Doin’ Right Ain’t Got No End”

  1. I have lived through the terms of nine (9) presidents starting with Hoover and I must say that Obama has carved out the role of the worst of the worst. An educated man with no great vision for this country other than his own survival in office. A man elected on the promise to us of ” Hope and Change” who has reneged on both. Our first minority president elected with a real mandate from the people with his party controlling both houses of congress, something we were all very proud of. A man with vision would have fought to fulfill his lofty rhetorical promise to the country that elected him. It was clear what the people wanted and what the serious international and domestic economy needed. But he turned his back on that within a week of taking office by selecting a cabinet of the same old, same old who got us into the domestic and international mess..
    A man who has conned us as he codified perpetual war as a rational for robbing us of our democracy all under the rhetoric of “doin right ain’t got no end”.( but he has a more elegant way of saying it). Americans deserve much better and we must get it back.

    An addendum: Obama could have done this: Yesterday a woman got a mandate as President from the electorate in Chile after promising ‘hope and change’ and then doesn’t talk about ‘compromise’ with right wing forces that are strong. She talks specifics and lays down an aggressive agenda of real change. This is a woman in a machismo country that would make the right wing in our country look like Barbie doll partners. We must expect and demand more from our leaders, instead of accepting their feeble and false excuses.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/16/chile-election-michelle-bachelet-tax-education-reform

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  2. There are a lot of great lines from “The Outlaw Josey Wales” Another that is apropos to your excellent take is:
    Ten Bears: These things you say we will have, we already have.

    Josey Wales: That’s true. I ain’t promising you nothing extra. I’m just giving you life and you’re giving me life. And I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another.

    Ten Bears: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.

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