On page 404 of The Final Days, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein depict a conversation between White House Chief of Staff (under President Richard Nixon) Alexander Haig, and White House Counsel for Watergate J. Fred Buzhardt. They are discussing whether or not Richard Nixon will commit suicide under the pressures of the Watergate scandal. Haig fears that Nixon might, whereas Buzhardt doubts that Nixon will, saying that Nixon was a tough and a religious man.
In this telling of the conversation, Haig brings up a movie in an attempt to shed light on the situation:
“Haig said the President was a battered man, strained to his limit.
He compared Nixon’s behavior to that of Captain Queeg, the erratic naval
officer in The Caine Mutiny. Queeg had been relieved of duty
by his second in command because he was unable to function as his ship
swirled out of control in a typhoon. Buzhardt thought the analogy
argued against a suicide. Queeg was a fighter. He had fought to the
It’s easy to look at this interaction about Captain Queeg and to ask,
“Who cares?” How is Captain Queeg even relevant to Richard Nixon’s
situation? Nixon is not Captain Queeg, but is Richard Nixon.
But my impression is that reference to movies, TV shows, and books
occurs often when people try to understand and to navigate their way
through real life. You’d think that people would see this as a no-no,
realizing that stories are fictional and do not always portray things as
they really are.
In some cases, though, people might be inspired by something they see
on television to go out and to try to make the world a better place.
On page 8 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein refers to a white
minister from Boston who went to Selma to help out with the Civil Rights
movement. He had just watched the movie Judgment at Nuremberg,
which was about people doing nothing while the Nazis committed their
atrocities. He decided that he would not sit back on the sidelines
during one of the greatest struggles for justice in the twentieth
century, so he went to Selma. Unfortunately, he was beaten to death by
local thugs. He took his stand, and his stand was righteous. But his
own life was not the sort of happy ending that one often sees in
stories. But he may have known the risks when he went into the
Canons on the right and canons on the left
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