John Wayne's opinion of Native Americans.
September 4, 2005 5:55 AM   Subscribe

John Wayne's opinion of Native Americans. Did John Wayne say that, regarding Native Americans, "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves"? And, if so, where did he say this?

I've found this quoted all over the place (IMDB, forums, random quotation pages, etc) but cannot--anywhere--find an actual source for the quotation.Google gets me to the quotation (all over the place!) but never to the source. I've checked Snopes to see if it's an urban legend but haven't been able to turn up anything there either. I'd appreciate any help with this one!
posted by lumiere to Media & Arts (18 answers total)
Best answer: from here

The interview is reprinted in The Playboy Intervew (Wideview Books, c1981).
Here is the text of one answer about the Indians:
"I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that's what you're asking. 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." -p.269
posted by yeoz at 6:13 AM on September 4, 2005

yeoz-what a reprehensible thing to say or think, isn't it? Sheerly mercenary ethics. I happen to be sympathetic to the fact that white people from Europe colonized America and unfortunately managed to exact a vast human toll in the process, but I would never suggest that it was a matter of Indian "selfishness" as if that was a sin. Two ways of life collided, and the more evolutionarily fit way of life succeeded.

The triumph of VHS over betamax is no reason to claim that VHS was morally superior. Reproductive success has little to do with ethical uprightness.
posted by evariste at 6:32 AM on September 4, 2005

"Ways of life" are not more nor less fit; using a misunderstanding of biology to justify genocide is foul and repugnant, evariste.
posted by docgonzo at 6:50 AM on September 4, 2005

No kidding. You do realize that was Hitler's justification for conquering and annexing Eastern Europe and getting rid of the inhabitants, right? Does the word Lebensraum ring a bell?

Bangladesh is horribly overcrowded; from their point of view, where you live is laughably underutilized. Perhaps you wouldn't have a problem with their coming over and taking it away from you? Survival of the fittest and all that.

And for anyone who thinks, as John Wayne did, that the Indians were hardly utilizing the land, that's bullshit. Up north, beyond a line that runs through Maine and New Hampshire, it was too cold for agriculture and Indians were hunter-gatherers, but in the regions primarily colonized by the English the Indians practiced agriculture; in fact, one of the bones of contention was that the invaders' pigs and cattle were allowed to wander and eat the natives' crops, and when the natives killed the animals (after fruitless protests) that was taken as an excuse to kill and dispossess them. American history isn't an inspiring topic once you get beyond the John Wayne level of understanding.
posted by languagehat at 7:03 AM on September 4, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks yeoz! Given that the answer was found on a mailing-list dedicated to stumpers, I don't feel too bad about being unable to find it via Google. It's extremely helpful to have a source for this quotation.

For the record, I feel that attitudes like Wayne's are completely and utterly unacceptable. Unfortunately, it isn't too surprising to hear a statement like this from someone whose fame and career stemmed from a genre that requires believing in Cowboys vs. Indians and the assured triumph of Manifest Destiny.
posted by lumiere at 7:54 AM on September 4, 2005

Best answer: Hmm, also found an excerpt from the interview.

(And, another reply on that stumper's mailing list which indicates that the interview is also found on the playboy interview's cd-rom collection; which is this item on amazon, I think, if you need to buy it for whatever reason.)
posted by yeoz at 8:17 AM on September 4, 2005

Response by poster: yeoz - that's incredible. I can't believe the interviewer's question asking if Wayne felt any empathy with Native Americans provoked such a response. Thanks again!
posted by lumiere at 9:01 AM on September 4, 2005

those who have the habit of complaining loudly about Hollywood actors taking political stances are strangely silent when one mentions the Duke's appalling lesson in American History. it's hardly surprising though -- in this more politically correct days one is supposed to at least pretend to consider genocide as, well, impolite. but of course Mr. Wayne's ideas about the Indians unfairly occupying the white man's land were hardly uncommon in his day and age. just like Griffith's spooky vision of history was in Griffith's own day and age

Does the word Lebensraum ring a bell?

most people would probably tell you that it's the name of that little guy who ran with Gore in 2000
posted by matteo at 9:15 AM on September 4, 2005

docgonzo, evariste wasn't demonstrating any misunderstanding of biology. He (or she) also said "reproductive success has little to do with ethical uprightness."
posted by shoos at 11:33 AM on September 4, 2005

Wayne's response is not surprising, and it is only slightly more repugnant than Evariste's.
posted by sic at 2:12 AM on September 5, 2005

Attempting to describe human populations using measures of evolutionary fitness is a misapplication of a fundamental tenet of biology and reflects an ignorance of evolutionary theory, in my books.

And since by "my books" I mean the various ten-pound evolutionary biology textbooks and the hundreds of articles I've read in the field, I'm right.
posted by docgonzo at 10:39 AM on September 5, 2005

No. You're incorrect.

Certain cultures have demonstrated exactly that certain ways of life are more 'evolutionarily fit' in that they (Western Culture, primarily) have largely out competed or exterminated competitor cultures.

This is not a justification. It is an observation. How many hunter-gatherers do you know? Not many, I'd hazard to guess, even though as recently as about 20,000 years ago the vast majority of humans were hunter-gatherers. Those who practiced agriculture, and settled into cities have simply found a way of life that IS in fact more 'evolutionarily fit' than being a hunter-gatherer.

There is no implied assumption of racial or cultural superiority there. It's simply what has happened. In essence, the cultures that came from Eurasia have inherited a way of life and a suite of biological tools (cattle, wheat, beans, rice, poultry, etc...), i.e. a 'culture,' that native cultures largely did not have access to or understanding of. The fact that Eurasian cultures have largely wiped out, outcompeted, colonized or converted the vast majority of hunter-gatherer cultures should prove that in fact they were more fit, or at least were more successful.

Guns, germs and steel, in other words.

Of course genocide is unethical. It doesn't change the fact that it happened, or that there are reasons both why it happened and why it was so successful, which has shaped our world into what it is today.
posted by geekhorde at 1:26 PM on September 5, 2005

I don't think "evolution" means what you think it means.
posted by languagehat at 1:30 PM on September 5, 2005

The fact that Eurasian cultures have largely wiped out, outcompeted, colonized or converted the vast majority of hunter-gatherer cultures should prove that in fact they were more fit, or at least were more successful.

More successful at what? It's not like there was a plague that the Europeans survived due to their military agression.
posted by bingo at 2:03 PM on September 5, 2005

Sorry languagehat. I thoroughly respect your opinion on many matters (I even link to your site on my blog). But on this I think you're incorrect.

Also, Bingo, successful at outcompeting other cultures.

Look at the earliest prehistorical evidence. Modern homo sapiens have been doing just this type of thing since at least the Neanderthals. And to pretend that human behavior, i.e. 'culture' lies outside the bounds of the evolutionary process is just stupid.

And, of course, human behavior could also have an impact on the evolutionary process, obviously.
posted by geekhorde at 11:14 PM on September 5, 2005

Your use of the word 'outcompete' is conveniently vague. There is a difference between the kind of survival when 'there can be only one,' and the kind of survival when A destroys B without needing to. Yes, A has 'survived' but only because A was agressively violent and B was not. It doesn't indicate superiority, and it certainly doesn't indicate any degree of more 'evolution' lacking in B.
posted by bingo at 4:48 PM on September 6, 2005

I'm not saying anything at all about superiority, a concept, by the way, that is not at all implied in evolutionary theory.

I'm simply talking about adaptation and fitness to particular environments. There's nothing vague about it. As you put it, A was aggressively violent. But, even if A had not been (and by A I assume you mean Eurasian cultures with their suite of biotools and cultural adaptations) particularly violent, they would still 'outcompete' hunter gatherer societies. And have. Look at how the Dobe Kung have been boxed in by cattle herders.

Hunter gatherer societies exist, typically, at a much smaller population density, largely because agriculture allows us to have a much LARGER density of population. When you have a large expanding society with herds and fields that require more room for their cattle (or sheep or goats or whatever) and their plant crops, that comes into contact with a much smaller society of hunter gatherers, there is GOING to be conflict. And history has shown us that 9 times out of 10, the hunter gatherers lose.

Why do they lose?

It's not because the Eurasian cultures are 'superior,' which is what I think you're accusing me of thinking. It's because their 'culture' or system of tools, memes, biotools (crops and animals, and weeds, too) is ruthlessly efficient at creating many many more agriculturalists (and say what you want about our society not being agricultural, when was the last time you foraged for food?) than hunter gatherer societies are at producing more hunter gatherer.

It's really all about population density.

Humans (and most primates) are violent by nature, to a greater or lesser degree (depending upon the individual, obviously, but I'm talking statistical realities here). When you factor that in with the impact of culture/technology upon population density, then I think the outcome is sadly inevitable, based on statistics alone.

And A didn't destroy B (if by B you mean the hunter gatherer Native American societies) without needing to. The current suburban/urban/rural agricultural civilization that exists in North America could NOT have existed without the extinction of a whole way of life. I'm not at all saying that that justifies it. I've got ancestors that walked the Trail of Tears. I'm sure I've also got ancestors who probably killed quite a few Native Americans (although my dad's line were Quakers in the early history of the US).

But I am beginning to suspect that there are certain inevitabilities when it comes to what some may call the more predatory aspects of 'human nature.'
posted by geekhorde at 7:09 PM on September 6, 2005

While this isn't 100% on topic, check out the interview that you can find at the end of older copies (VHS) of The Searchers. There is an embarassingly politically incorrect bit with Nathalie Wood and John Wayne talking about Native Americans.
posted by Corbienest at 1:38 PM on August 25, 2006

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