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Clint Eastwood, Up Close, Somewhat Personal

Making sense of the sometimes anti-war Eisenhower Republican who sounds tough on the war on terror and occasionally "supported Democrats along the way."

9:06 AM, Feb 2, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Aiming for that master's degree in cinematic studies? How about a thesis on the politics of Clint Eastwood? (No doubt it's already been done.) But if you're trying to find a straight path from Dirty Harry to Letters From Iwo Jima, good luck. In last weekend's Wall Street Journal, Michael Judge interviews the Oscar-winning actor-director.

When it comes to war, [Eastwood] says, it's hard not to think about the "poor slob" fighting for the other side. In the case of the Japanese conscripts fighting on Iwo Jima, some were as young as 14 or 15, "sent to an island and told don't plan on coming back. You're going to defend your country because of all our philosophies. . . . I mean, that's a big request, but it happens in every country. . . .

"I was drafted during the Korean War. None of us wanted to go. . . . It was only a couple of years after World War II had ended. We said, 'Wait a second? Didn't we just get through with that?' An atomic bomb, the pacification of Japan . . . and here we are back in it again. . . . But everybody went. You objected but you went. You said, OK, this is what we're supposed to do."

(Eastwood ended up missing the war because of plane crash state-side, which he managed to escape from unscathed.)

With regard to his politics,

"I became a Republican in 1951, the first year I could vote. Eisenhower was running [for president] and we were all in the Army. He ran on the fact that he'd go to Korea [and end the war]. I don't know if that was anything more than a show, but he went there, and the Korean War did end." He then adds with a smile, like the easy-going Eisenhower Republican he is, "But I've supported Democrats along the way."

But what seems to consistently bother Eastwood is how quickly Americans have moved on from 9/11. (He mentions this in an earlier Esquire interview as well.)

After 9/11, I suggest, the country was unified, but that soon faded. "Yeah it did," he says. "A couple years afterwards everybody goes, 'Oh well, OK, that's over with.' And of course you can't do that. You've got to always keep that kind of memory alive, so it doesn't happen again."

The 80-year-old director then shares his concerns about the current war on terror: "'How many rights do you want to give to people who are trying to kill you just because you're you? . . . [Y]ou may be of a different religious sect, or you may be an agnostic, or you may be anything. But you're not one of them, so you're an inferior being. . . . Do you fight on 21st-century ideas or 17th-century, like the people who are against you?'"

Is he suggesting the West take a more ruthless approach to fighting terrorists? He doesn't say. It's tempting to think of the Hollywood icon as someone "on your side." The truth, of course, is more complicated. (At the very least, Clark says Eastwood is not nearly as intimidating in person as he appears to be on screen.)

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