George W. Bush, Meet ‘Twelve O’Clock High’

By Diane Alden

The NewsMax Years #38
Still ON TARGET: September 15, 2000

OK, Beltway Republicans, stop crying in your beer over the poll numbers. Go rent or buy a movie that you and the Republican candidate need to see, to assimilate, and most of all to emulate. The movie is the wonderful 1949 classic war movie “Twelve O’Clock High.”

Of course, the Academy Award winner “Braveheart” should be in the suitcase you pack for campaign travel tucked beneath your undies.

That movie should be viewed at least twice a week for inspiration for all candidates and their staff. The Republicans better start remembering that Al Gore is the weasel replacement for Edward Clinton Longshanks a la “Braveheart” fame.

After all, this is a battle between different visions for America, or at least it should be. It is a battle about turning more and more to socialism and fascism OR turning to an era that will force government to be the servant rather than the master. It is a battle about whether or not we will remain a free people. In any event, the movie is good viewing as a morale booster.

There is another movie, however, that takes place closer to our own time.

The Mission

Human beings sometimes need a plan or even several plans to accomplish their goals. But every plan needs a leader to bring it to fruition. Oftentimes leaders need to go against the grain and, for the good of all, assume a persona that is not characteristic or comfortable for them.

I am taking a big leap and assuming that the goal of the Republican Party is to win elections and make changes in big government. Silly me, I used to believe they might even return us to some semblance of the original Bill of Rights. My assumption may be incorrect, and I am sure I will hear from many of you that I AM incorrect.

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that GWB is the best of all possible conservative candidates. Furthermore, let us recognize he is a battle commander faced with the ugly job of trying to get elected to the highest office in the land. Additionally, he is held responsible for trying to raise the morale of the entire dispirited population. Add that to the fact he must bring about a massive change in a corrupt system while adding a modicum of respectability to the White House.

Let’s also assume for a moment that a string of Republican victories would give us one more chance to make a course correction in the socialist drift of the country. If we were really fortunate, the election of conservatives would permit us one more attempt to recapture the Bill of Rights, downsize government, and tame the bureaucratic beast that is eating us alive.

In learning how to accomplish our goals and to aspire to leadership, let us slip “Twelve O’Clock High” into the VCR and pretend that GWB and his inner circle and the beltway crowd will sit still long enough to watch and learn.

Filmed after the end of WWII, the remarkable black-and-white movie is only in part a war movie. But it is more than that. In fact, it is being used by organizations from corporations to the military to clarify the role of leaders and leadership and the success of the mission and goals.

“Twelve O’Clock High” gives us a glimpse of how a great leader operates to accomplish certain goals. It is also a defining movie about the factors that create a winner and a winning team.

The movie starts with a distinguished-looking man, played by the late Dean Jagger, looking into a window in a London antique shop sometime after the war. He sees a beer stein cast in the likeness of a winking Robin Hood. The next thing you know, Dean Jagger as Harvey Stovall is standing outside the deserted Archbury Airfield, contemplating the past. The music begins, so summon up the strains of Yale’s nostalgic school melody, the “Whiffenpoof Song”: “We’re poor little lambs who have lost our way, baa, baa, baa.”

Through the good graces of movie magic and Stovall’s memory, we are transported to 1942 where B-17s are returning from a low-level bombing mission over Germany. Maj. Harvey Stovall is in uniform as adjutant to the base commander. He is an older officer, once a lawyer, now by happenstance in a job he is not particularly happy with.

The 918th is known throughout the command as the “hard-luck” squadron because so few of the men come back from their missions. In addition, the missions are usually duds.

Despite all this, the men of the 918th greatly respect their commander, Colonel Keith Davenport. Davenport thinks his unit’s failures are the result of impossible missions dictated by headquarters, which he believes places too many demands on his men.

Because of the failure of the unit and the rising death count under Davenport’s command, the general staff in the person of General Pritchard decide to send in the “A” team. Enter the great actor Gregory Peck. When the movie was made he was only 35 years old, but he carried the authority and chutzpah of a much older man. Peck as Brigadier General Frank Savage is a nice, intelligent, pleasant guy – just like the man he is about to replace.

Like any normal human being, Savage wants to be part of the whole and get along with his fellows. He understands, however, that the needs of the squadron, the war effort, and the men involved do not need a nice guy at this point. Thus, General Frank Savage begins sacrificing his own needs in order to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the battle, the war, and saving as many people as possible in the process.

In one of the greatest scenes in movie history, Savage and his driver Ernie are parked outside the gates of Archbury Field. The two men talk and joke and exchange pleasantries.

Savage smokes a cigarette and the smoking of that cigarette is the visible symbol of the transformation that takes place, a metamorphosis more complete than Dr. Jekyl to Mr. Hyde. He takes a few puffs, breathes some fresh air, and you understand that he realizes this is his last bit of freedom. He finishes the cigarette, then throws it on the ground. At that moment he seems taller and harder. The soft edges and corners are gone; he now calls the driver Sergeant. Thus, the transformation from pleasant, affable, nice guy to the iron-tailed General Frank Savage takes place in an instant, but it is total and complete.

Savage moves into this sloppy, dispirited bomber group and begins a campaign to shape these sheep up. On the way he is looked upon as an uncaring officer, an almost cruel man, as he makes enemies of his own men – with the exception of Major Harvey Stovall. The character of Stovall evolves into Savage’s Greek chorus. He comes to understand and finally to explain who Savage is and what he is trying to do.

Savage wins Stovall over to his tough, hard-nosed stance by asking the right questions about the squadron and what exactly it is trying to accomplish. Stovall’s dawning recognition is a pleasure to watch as he comes to understand the greatness of Savage the man, his vision, and his goals.

The general continues to demand excellence from his men and works them nearly to death. At one point a large number of them put in for transfer – then change their minds when they observe the success of Savage’s hard-nosed tactics.

All of a sudden they discern a leader who has saved many of their lives and given them what they needed most: the ability to become a self-actualizing, cohesive unit, to succeed on the mission. Savage takes the time to explain the mission to one of his fellow officers why they must do things they often don’t understand, including tough choices that create success, winning the war and saving lives.

As it happens, Frank Savage has a recognizable vision to offer. He knows what he wants and where he wants to take this bunch of men and why. Despite the fear of failure and unpopularity, he stays the course.

He sees into the future and has a grasp on the fact that the bomber group’s actions are not just directly tied to the next mission, but to the winning of the war. Savage really believes that his unit will play a critical role in the outcome of that larger mission.

Of course, in the end he has sacrificed his personal needs and health in order to effect a greater good.

But by then those in his command, whom he had scorned and whipped into shape, had become leaders themselves, capable of doing the job and winning the battle and the war.

The point is George W. Bush needs to find out what vision he has for America and promote it. Then he must go after the enemy, and that enemy is the left in the person of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. Since he will get no help from the press, and in fact they are his enemy as well, he must spend the money on ads and promote the vision while ripping into both enemies.

Unfortunately, at the moment that vision seems to be Al Gore and leftist lite. He is doing what Bob Dole did, not making any waves and moving left on the issues.

His advisers tell him to be “compassionate” and a squishy-cuddly person people can lean on. However, the soft corners and edges do not do GWB justice. No matter who says softness attracts women voters, forget women voters for the moment.

Women also want a man who knows what he is about. What is more important, America needs a man as president who knows what he is about. Even women are not so brain dead as to ignore the qualities of leadership that set a person above the pack. Movie heroes and great men don’t acquire success by portraying pansies.

In order to win, GWB is going to have to make waves. Might as well start with a tsunami on a grand scale. Sit outside the gates of America; smoke that last cigarette and transform. Let the word go forth that the press will no longer be granted interviews, or the time of day for that matter, because the mainstream press is not interested in presenting both parties, the world, its people, or the election campaign fairly.

Buy a half-hour and explain this to America. Finally – say the words that have desperately needed to be said by somebody. No more whining, no more equivocating. Rather, in General Savage manner tell the press they stink. That you will not cooperate as they lie, spin issues and bend the truth to the American public. The entire United States knows the press lacks objectivity and is unfair. America has little respect for the mainstream press. They just need to hear it from the general.

Furthermore, GWB needs to add that no Republican who wants to remain in the good graces of his administration will cooperate with the press unless they want the cold shoulder in the future. No Republican should participate as an enabler while the 4th estate of government acts in the treacherous manner of the mainstream press the last 35 years.

Say in no uncertain terms, “If I am elected your president, it will be a cold day in hell before anyone from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post or any other truth-bending rag is given anything but a basic one-paragraph handout. No more inside information from any Republican or staff member or there will be hell to pay.

Forget Katie, Diane, Barbara, Oprah and the rest of the airheads. These fuzzy-headed reporterettes will get nothing but an occasional PR report IF they ask, in writing, in triplicate. In other words, no interviews from my family or me – any time.

Barbara can forget an hour with the president and his wife – ever. Oprah can have Al Gore and Tipper on her show in a great post-election national weep-athon. Diane Sawyer, who asked GWB last week about the “rumor” he was dyslexic, can interview Hillary and Bill forever, as fewer and fewer people pay attention to the drivel coming out of her empty elitist head.

Then Bush must stop worrying about the spin the media is going to put on the newfound courage. Don’t even bother to wonder what they will say or how they will report on the issues, because you already know. Stop endless second-guessing and any concern that you may offend the press, when in fact they need to be MIGHTILY offended.

Republicans need to come up with the big bucks for ads that show no mercy and tear into Gore-Clinton and all leftist Democrats at all levels of government. The press is going to call whatever conservatives do “mean spirited” or “negative” anyway. The mainstream can make a big deal out of the word “rats” so might as well go for broke and give them something really outrageous to ponder. If they want to take a poke at Republicans, might as well give them something solid to swing at.

Being nice or accommodating doesn’t cut it with these guys. The Republicans are not going to make friends in the media, and oddly, when they try, it backfires. In 1994 I don’t remember retrenchment on issues for the sake of favorable press, I remember men and women running for office who were sure of their goals and at the very least were not afraid to voice them. Republicans won, and they won big.

Then came the 1995 government shutdown and the media began doing what they do so well, which is blaming Republicans. PBS and the rest dragged out the bureaucrat who wouldn’t get Thanksgiving dinner because she wasn’t working. The subsequent Republican retreat was one of the biggest since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

The media discovered that the GOP could be persuaded to come around to a leftist agenda by threatening them with portrayal as mean, nasty people, capable of starving little children and elderly ladies.

Bill Clinton could have his way, and the Republicans hoped he wouldn’t turn his wrath on them. So what we have gotten since then is a bunch of Republicans treading water as government grows exponentially and becomes more incompetent and destructive of freedom. We finally got Dr. Frankenstein Clinton, and his assistant IGORE, creating and embellishing an out-of-control monster.

So I say, for what it is worth, Frank Savage, i.e. George Bush, come out, come out, wherever you are. Toss the cigarette and along with it the nice guy you are, and morph into the visionary leader that America needs and in her heart really wants.

Call it like it is. Al Gore, the Clinton administration and the whole bunch of Democrats are socialist with fascist tendencies. Life in these United States will get pretty grim if Al Gore is elected president. Start quoting from his gosh-awful book, “Earth in the Balance,” and remind people that when the cost of their fuel oil goes up by 40 percent this winter, they can thank Mr. Gore. He and the rest of the nutty environmental left are the primary reason U.S. environmental policies have become positively insane. The bunch of them, with Al Gore as fearless leader, are the major reason the federal government has adopted these foolish policies. The results of their foolishness will create energy shortages, cost people their fortunes and their lives, even while killing endangered species and burning the forests they supposedly care about.

The soft edges GWB has adopted in order to attract women, keeping his head low and agreeing to whatever Al Gore and Clinton demand, is madness. GWB, for the sake of the battle, the war, the future of the country, become the tough fighter pilot, our Frank Savage, and stand tall.

At that point, even if GWB and the Republicans go down to defeat, they will have stood up like men. They will have exhibited the kind of leadership that will survive the historical test of time. They will make us proud.

As a real-life World War II hero, General George Patton, put it, “Fortuna favet fortibus.” Fortune favors the bold.

The Savage Vision

George W. Bush was a fighter pilot. He is an officer and a gentleman. He can do a Frank Savage.

He and the Republicans should look at the various presidential success stories, from Teddy Roosevelt and his cowboy way to Ronald Reagan and his cowboy way.

Reagan was an affable, warm-hearted gentleman whom the press portrayed as bumbling. He got around it by paying for his own ads and staying the course as his own man; the cowboy in the White House was a success.

Even as he put his acting talents into high gear, got tough with the press and with the left and communicated his vision, Ronald Reagan was Frank Savage. He demanded and received most of what he wanted for this country. Speaking with passion, fire and vigor, he demanded the best from those around him and got it. When no one remembers the whiny Al Gore, they will remember “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” and the wonderful line, “I paid for this microphone.”

Reagan was an instrument for change in the course of history. He did not falter from his vision or his purpose. He used his acting skills to accomplish that feat.

Bill Clinton has done the same. A consummate political actor, he gets in character and plays it to the end, from the quivering lip to “I feel your pain,” a true actor whose actions belie his words.

Bush cannot impersonate Bill Clinton portraying Alan Alda. Bush has to pick a much tougher role and pretend, if that’s what it takes, that he is in charge and he knows this country is traveling down a dangerous road. The Savage vision is what is needed now.

I don’t expect that GWB will listen, because the beltway boys will advise him to remain dispassionate and on-message, and keep his soft edges. This might be attractive to a few brain-dead females and lock-step leftist union members; however, it does not cut it with thinking people or real men and women.

GWB ought to remember the primaries. He did not succeed UNTIL he got tough. He beat John McCain because he defended those who were his base after McCain attacked them. When he finally went after McCain he won, just like all good movie heroes do.

Consider the upcoming election as a scene from “The Quiet Man,” where John Wayne and his nemesis Victor McLaughlin have the most righteous fisticuffs ever seen on screen. Oddly enough, they end up best of friends.

In the primaries the two Republicans showed us warriors who fought like men, and Bush won. Bush is going to have to turn into Mr. Fighter Pilot, who is going to win the battle and the war for the good guys.

So take off the gloves, GWB, do the best John Wayne and Gregory Peck impersonation you are capable of doing. Start drawing blood and maybe in the process you will win the girl and take America back from the likes of Gore-Clinton. Remember that these two are Tweedledee and Tweedle-dummer, and have carried on the most duplicitous, corrupt administration in the nation’s history. They are personally responsible for balkanizing this nation as it has never been since the Vietnam War. Al Gore is vulnerable on that alone – never mind what the press says.

Thirty Seconds Over Target

The lesson from “Twelve O’Clock High” is the easygoing Colonel Davenport had no vision except to be a nice guy, merely someone his men could lean on. The squadron did not need a nice guy; they needed a leader. Success didn’t happen for them until they had fully committed to Savage’s tough vision. Under the Davenport command, people were running from duty. Under Savage they looked for and accepted duty. In so doing, they came to understand the higher purpose for themselves, their mission, and their country.

Even if Bush goes down in flames over target Al Gore, at least he will have offered America a real choice. Clarified the vision for America, rather than offering up more leftist police-state government, subjecting us to the eternal cold hearted soul destroying nanny-state. He will then be able to say, a la Ronald Reagan, “We did our best, we tried.” If he loses the election after that, the citizenry will truly have no one to blame but its own blindness, selfishness and stupidity.

Perhaps at that point, many Americans can get on with deciding whether or not they even want to remain a part of a country headed into a bad marriage between socialism and fascism.

Frank Savage feared failure, but carried on. He endured criticism and unpopularity, but carried on. He set himself up to take the hits, and in the end his vision and sacrifice carried the day. In the tough-love-leadership words of General Frank Savage, “It’s the commander, after all, it is his job, isn’t it?”

First published at on September 15, 2000. Copyright © 2000-2012 Diane Alden

The Moral Lib­eral Senior Edi­tor, Diane Alden, was one of’s most pop­u­lar and out­spo­ken pun­dits ( 1999–2008), and before that, a wonk for The Nevada Pol­icy Insti­tute. A former DJ in Geor­gia, Diane of late has been a weekly guest on the East Coast hit program, The Marc Bernier Show. Diane is loved for her quick sense of humor, cre­ative vocab­u­lary, inde­pen­dence of mind, and her pen­e­trat­ing analy­sis of a wide range of polit­i­cal, eco­nomic, and cul­tural issues.