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Citadel News Service
2 May 2011

John Wayne Westerns a window into postwar political culture

Cadet Leland Hart of Frankenmuth, Mich., presented original research on “The Civil War in John Wayne Films” during the regional Phi Alpha Theta national honor society for history meeting held April 9, at Francis Marion University. Hart’s research explores how the Civil War and race relations are treated in several civil-rights era John Wayne Westerns.

"The practice I gained writing abstracts, editing, and presenting were quite valuable," Hart said. "Not only was I able to present my findings in front of an interested and educated audience, I was also able to listen and learn as others from all around the Carolina’s did the same."

Citadel Professors Sean Heuston and Kerry Taylor helped prepare Hart for the conference. Hart, who plans to pursue graduate studies in history, was also the recent recipient of the History Department's H. L. Gary Award, for outstanding work in European history.

Hart’s paper examined three Civil War films starring John Wayne as a window into postwar political culture. Director John Ford’s “The Horse Soldiers” (1959), Howard Hawks’ “Rio Lobo” (1970), and Andrew McLaglen’s “The Undefeated” (1969) explore the cause of the Civil War, its racial dimensions, and—perhaps most prominently—the Civil War and western settlement. Hart argues that the Civil War in these films distracted people from the important job of settling the West, that they ignored issues of slavery and race, and that the characters on both the Yankee and Confederate sides have much in common.

By analyzing the Civil War themes presented in each of these films, Hart hopes to begin new discussions of lesser known films starring John Wayne. The attitudes and ideals presented by such films, he said, can aid historical understanding.

“Critiquing these films in this manner can complement the work already extant regarding Ford, MagLaglen, and Hawks, and can help analyze historic American attitudes regarding the Civil War.”

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