Gunfighter Nation concludes Richard Slotkin's three-volume study, which began in 1973 with the publication of Regeneration Through Violence, of the significance of the frontier in the American imagination. Looking primarily at pulp novels and films, Slotkin takes a painstakingly thorough look at the relationship between imagery of the West in industrial mass culture and U.S. foreign policy during the 20th century. Specifically, he looks at how the previous century's "frontier aristocrat" served as the model diplomat for America's agenda of economic imperialism from the Spanish American War to the "police action" in Vietnam.
As the U.S. gained international stature, the archetype of the frontier aristocrat articulated the goals and ideals of the American populace. But Slotkin shows how, as time progressed, the increasing irrelevance of the frontier myth on foreign soil foiled the prowess of the U.S. war machine. At the book's conclusion, in which images of the My Lai Massacre are juxtaposed against the final shootout of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, the contradiction between faith and experience becomes painfully evident. Gunfighter Nation delivers the satisfaction of a historian with the acquired wisdom to address directly the issues that inspired his lifelong work. --John M. Anderson
Examines the ways in which the frontier myth influences American culture and politics, drawing on fiction, western films, and political writing.