In those days, the most common boy’s game was Cowboys and Indians. Now I have nothing against Indians. Unfortunately they lost, despite putting up a brave fight, a fight that was a lot more ruthless than waterboarding. No Geneva Convention in those days [bold mine-DL]. Did they get a bad deal? Yes, but their bravery is remembered in the many school teams named after them. Were I of Indian heritage, I would be proud to be so honored. ~Gary Horne

As it happens, I have nothing against kids playing Cowboys and Indians, and I think objections to these mascots and team names are misguided. That said, perhaps one reason (though I grant it may not be the main reason) why there are fewer Westerns today is that there is some greater acknowledgment today that the forcible displacement and, in some cases, extermination of whole tribes as part of inexorable westward expansion involved quite a lot of tragedy and suffering, and that our countrymen were responsible for much of this. Therefore, it might not be the sort of thing we want to valorize and celebrate after patting ourselves on the back for being so good as to pay tribute to the virtues of people whom our ancestors either forced or wiped out. Imagine for a moment someone saying today, “Now I have nothing against Armenians. Unfortunately they lost, despite putting up a brave fight, a fight that was a lot more ruthless than waterboarding. No Geneva Convention in those days….” Aside from belittling the moral gravity of torture and minimizing the importance of providing protections for captured combatants, what is the purpose of such statements, except to wink and nod at the brutality of the past and implicitly to try to make light of modern injustices? If you find torture outrageous, how much more would you be troubled by a history filled with greater ruthlessness? If you prefer to ignore torture, is there any kind of brutality that you wouldn’t be willing to ignore? We don’t need runaway presentism and endless exercises in passing judgment on our ancestors according to modern standards, but the fact that non-combatants were massacred on both sides in our frontier wars isn’t something that should make us all indifferent to or supportive of modern wartime excesses.

One of the key elements of a traditional game of Cowboys and Indians was the conviction that one side obviously represented civilized norms and the other did not, and to the extent that the other side was given any credit it was in the role of the proverbial “noble savage”–the one who is now honored, so to speak, by being made into an athletic mascot. Of course, this is the conceit of apologists for war crimes in every generation: we are bringing light to those in darkness, even if we are doing so in brutal and unjust ways, or we are overcoming forces of darkness. That is, even when we are uncivilized and savage ourselves, we are never the savages–that is the role of the other side. If children absorb this lesson without qualification, I can actually see something harmful in it, and that can’t be dismissed as nothing but political correctness. (For what it’s worth, political correctness today, if majority opinion is any indication, would dictate that we approve of torture of suspected terrorists and that we embrace any other extraordinary measures used to fight terrorism–P.C. is not merely a multiculturalist or liberal phenomenon.)

Horne continues:

The boyhood game of Cowboys and Indians is not about violence or racism, it is an allegory about good and evil. To play the cowboy was to be brave and triumph over evil [bold mine-DL]. To me, this seems to be an essential lesson for a child to learn. I know of a mother in California who would not allow her son to play with any kind of toy weapon, much less a cowboy fighting Indians. I think her son will grow up to be a man incapable of standing up against evil, who will shrink at the approach of the next bully, and undoubtedly vote Democrat.

Leave aside the lame put-downs at the end. Ah, you see, it’s just an allegory–all is well. Horne doesn’t seem to see that he has just wrecked his own cause. As a harmless game among boys, who could really object to it? As an allegory of good and evil, in which the Indian is made quite clearly to fill the role of evil, it seems to me that Horne gives the game a grim significance that it never had for a lot of people. At the same time, his defense rings hollow. The game isn’t about violence? Of course, violence is at the core of the game, as Horne himself is insisting a moment later. Standing up to evil, resisting the bully–Horne means learning to be willing to fight and even to kill when necessary. The key value of the game, according to Horne himself, is to teach boys how they should be willing to inflict violence against evil men, who, of course, always happen to be identified as being on the other side.

If the game actually taught kids that “we” can do no wrong, that evil is always somewhere else and can be defeated through the use of violence, it would be time for that game to go. Fortunately, I don’t think it represents most of what Horne says it does. Of course, all of that was Horne’s introduction to a series of extremely tired remarks about relativism and diplomacy, which I can’t be bothered to answer.