Friday, August 31, 2007
Mack Bolan: American Hero by George Koukeas
George Koukeas' insightful article covering Mack Bolan was sent to us by a Gold Eagle fan recently. Check it out below:
Years ago, I read and enjoyed Ayn Rand’s novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s characters were unconventional and talented. I never thought I’d find another book, let alone a series of them, that featured another unconventional hero.
Then I discovered Don Pendleton’s Executioner novels. The hero this time around was Mack Bolan.
Like Howard Roark and John Galt, Mack Bolan also possesses a gift. He is an ex-Vietnam veteran whose talent is for warfare, strategizing, and resourcefulness. By attributing this gift to his character, Pendleton presents Bolan as a “beat-the-odds” American soldier who has philosophical musings in-between battles.
Bolan’s personal courage, integrity, and commitment to his mission surpass his contemporaries. Most of all, his unconventional sense of morality leads him to fight a literal one-man war against the Mafia.
In his first adventure, War Against the Mafia (1969), a 30-year old Bolan returns home from Vietnam for the funeral of his family — victims of a Pennsylvania Mob outfit. When Bolan discovers the true extent of mafia corruption in America, his soldier’s sense of responsibility motivates him to fight the mafia as a means of protecting our country.
The mafia eventually responds by playing rough. Because Bolan cannot back down without betraying his moral and patriotic values, he wages a highly offensive, proactive war.
Hence, Bolan’s moral sense places him on a path that defies society’s legal conventions. Because the mafia’s power and influence have immunized its members from legal prosecution, Bolan takes the law into his own hands in order to destroy the mob.
Doing what Rand did for Atlas Shrugged’s “pirate,” Ragnar Danneskjold, Pendleton provides a good man with a moral justification for fighting criminal violence violently. Despite this justification for his actions, the cops try apprehending Bolan for “vigilante” activity.
Bolan, then, not only executes offensives against ruthless mafia thugs but also has to elude police that pose a threat to his life and mission. Nevertheless, Bolan never fires upon cops (or civilians) and is motivated primarily by compassion for victims and not by hatred of the enemy.
Though Bolan goes “solo” on his missions, he is sometimes assisted by helicopter pilot Jack Grimaldi, Federal cop Harold Brognola, and other interesting secondary characters.
Like Rand’s fiction, Pendleton’s 38 Executioner books are sprinkled with philosophy. Pendleton explores the deeper meanings of life and, what he called, the “metaphysics of violence” (i.e. why violence exists in the world and what its role is).
On one level, Bolan’s conscientious battle against crime represents one of the series’ morals about life: that life is most meaningful when a person meets, struggles through, and defeats life’s challenges.
Though he experiences in microcosm the tragedies of war, Bolan’s psychological strength and conviction enable him to persist in his war and maintain his humanity. This is one of the series’ elements that I as well as many readers relate to: The Executioner stories are an analogy for overcoming life’s challenges with a commitment to values, without becoming callous or bitter towards life.
Pendleton, through Bolan, seems to argue that because life is sacred, it is worth the struggle. The fact that Bolan finds meaning in his experiences and prevails through perseverance and commitment serves as an inspiring lesson. Unlike the philosophical comprehensiveness of Atlas Shrugged, Pendleton’s philosophy is expressed in “pieces” spread across 38 books and revealed through the same character.
The Executioner stories reveal Bolan’s effectiveness in restoring Justice. In the long-term, Bolan succeeds — as an individual — where most legal bureaucracies have failed. Likewise, Galt and Roark also demonstrate the power of the individual.
Other similarities exist between Pendleton’s and Rand’s characters that further illuminate Bolan’s character. For example, Dagny Taggert, in Atlas Shrugged, mistakenly views Francisco D’ Anconia as “unprincipled” before discovering they are on the same side.
Similarly, federal cop, Hal Brognola, tries shooting Bolan on sight as a dangerous “criminal” before being won over by Bolan’s nobility. The two men become allies in fighting crime and develop a deep friendship.
Furthermore, just as Howard Roark inspires Dominique and Gail Wynand to change their views on life, Mack Bolan has a similar effect on the other characters in the series.
After completing his 38-book series, Pendleton trained other writers to continue Mack’s adventures. Eventually, Mack Bolan moved from fighting mafia criminals to fighting Communist Russia in the 1980s. Today, Bolan fights America’s war on terror.
Some of the writers Pendleton trained have a good grasp of the character while others make semi-erroneous characterizations. Some of the better writers have stand-out books, such as Line of Control (2003) and its sequel Breached (2003), that present Bolan as accurately and as grandly as Pendleton did.
Newcomers to the series who want a good understanding of who Mack Bolan is would enjoy these books. Or, even better, look for Don Pendleton’s original series in used bookstores.
George Koukeas is a freelance writer based in Colorado who has written for magazines, websites and the occasional newspaper. He is currently working on a series of articles focusing on Frontier history and related tourist spots in the West.
at 7:16 PM