An outspoken hawk during the Vietnam War, Wayne co-directed and starred in the Pentagon-subsidized propaganda picture “The Green Berets.” Duke denounced antiwar protesters, reportedly saying: “As far as I’m concerned, it wouldn’t bother me a bit to pull the trigger on one of ’em.”
Wayne was, in reality, a draft dodger. America’s archetypal soldier was in fact a chicken hawk. He was a cheerleader and champion of militaristic patriotism and combat he had never experienced. Wayne had “other priorities” during WWII—achieving superstardom (and saving his neck) was more important than defeating fascism. Much like Vice President Dick Cheney, who sought numerous deferments during the Vietnam War, Wayne was the quintessential war wimp.
According to Pilar Wayne, her husband “would become a ‘superpatriot’ for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home” during WWII. Like Wayne, the current crop of GOP chicken hawks are great actors, overcompensating for their previous patriotic failings (draft dodging, etc.) by sounding the jingoistic battle cry for a new generation of working-class sons and daughters to go to war. Or, as George W. Bush did in a priceless moment of Hollywood flourish, dressing up in a flight suit to declare a failing and deadly war in Iraq a “mission accomplished.”
William Manchester, in his memoir of his World War II combat experiences, Goodbye, Darkness, writes that when wounded Marines saw Wayne's image on the screen, they booed and threw things at it. The Marines knew the truth about John Wayne. Wayne may have been a great actor, but he was not a hero--and nothing should ever let us forget that. We see the echo of Wayne's hypocrisy in the current crop of Chickenhawks--and nothing should ever let us forget that, either.