In recent months and especially since the latest California terror incident, I have noticed that John Wayne’s image keeps popping up on Facebook ( sometimes just in references to movies, which have enormously enduring appeal) but also attached to all sorts of other posts…

Wayne’s life was full of contradictions. He is the biggest “War Movie” star in American history, and never served in the military ( in World War II, they granted him a deferment for age and being married. He was browbeaten by Director John Ford to actually enlist, but kept saying ” after one or two more movies.” When he DID decide to join the newly formed OSS, he was accepted but the acceptance letter from “Wild Bill” Donovan went to one of his estranged wives who kept him from knowing about it).

He was a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian by ancestry who played an archteypal Irish fighter in “the Quiet Man” ( the IRA would not have approved, but wisely probably said nothing– “The Duke” was just too popular with the average Irish American)– and his taste in wives was for Hispanic women first and foremost, which later led to him taking the side of the Panamanians in the Canal debate that came along ( the first time he ever got hate mail and was accused of being a traitor).

Because maybe that was what John Wayne was all about: he was the embodiment of the Patriotic American, my country right or wrong, including whole hearted support for the Vietnam War and some statements such as this one in 1971, well after the death of Martin Luther King and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. (Playboy Interview)”

The “country right or wrong” attitude led him to say this:

I believe in white supremacy, until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people … I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from

[the Native Americans] … Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.[15]:289[57]

In the same Playboy interview, Wayne also responded to questions about whether entitlement programs were good for the country: unsurprisingly he ranted some about people on Welfare…and the liberal tendency to be” soft” on criminals, especially those who “spat in the faces of the police.”

Surviving lung cancer and the removal of a lung, he went on making movie after movie and winning an Oscar for “True Grit.” Well, Wayne had grit, all right, and later Soviet documents revealed that Stalin at one point contemplated having Wayne assassinated for being such an effective enemy of Communism. ( Of course, Stalin was by that time a complete paranoid whacko as his daughter Svetlana revealed in her books).

He also won the respect of a lot of Hollywood Democrats and kept going on making Westerns that are American Classics. ( He wanted the role of “Dirty Harry” but lost out to Clint Eastwood, who has more or less been Wayne’s heir and successor).

While totally mortal, the big ( 6’4″) muscular and sturdy man always somehow seemed to have an indestructible quality that few movie stars could match. He would always be there in times of trouble ” gathering the wagons in a circle” against the Indian attack, shooting it out with all and sundry bad guys, and working at being the symbol of a strong, basically indestructible America.

Maybe that sense of Indestructibility is what is making Wayne so popular again, and as a legend he has become something of a Father Figure for the “Real America”? ( One that is rather grimly macho, for instance, Wayne castigating Kirk Douglas for playing Vincent Van Gogh saying “there are few of us strong ones left”, and Douglas should not be playing a “sissy artist.”).

Some people, in a crisis, say “What would Jesus do?” It seems an awful lot of Americans still say in times of great trouble and fear ” What would John Wayne do?”

In that sense, John Wayne may be more the Father of our Country than some dim historical figure such as George Washington!