One of my very favorite quotes is the following.
Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood. – George Patton
At first blush, many who read this quotation may think it is an overstated celebration of some antiquated notion of manhood.
But I tell you it is not.
I am old enough to know, sadly, that when push comes to shove most people – even those who talk big about principle and what they would do in defense of principle – lilt and retreat from conflicts that have even the slightest possibility of costing them anything of substance.
I’ve seen big men with big ideas and high estimations of themselves become very, very small when things get ugly. I’ve lost friends over it. I’ve been abandoned to my own devices when I’ve found myself on the just side of an unwanted fight. This has occurred in both my professional and private life.
An example would be the following:
Looking out of the window from the bar I see a friend being attacked by two men. My long-time, “close” friends raising beers with me also see the happenings. I get up from the table and make a dash to assist. Lots of punches, kicks, and scrapes later, the attackers flee. I get my wits about me, wondering why the four of us had such a hard time chasing off the two attackers. I take an inventory of our troops. I look back at the bar. And there, in the warmth and safety of our local watering hole sits someone I considered a brother.
Three of us return to the bar, bloodied and aching. I never looked at my dear friend the same way. Why? Because he was/is a coward. And when push came to shove, literally, he sat on his hands and watched. He covered his hide. He lathered himself in yellow.
It was a horrible realization for me. There were men in the world who were not men at all. There were men in the world who I presumed were men who would be great men in battle – who like me would rather die than be shamed. I was wrong. The vast majority of men I know are weak, untested, not worthy of my allegiance.
These may sound like the boasts of a person with an overinflated sense of toughness. But they are not. Anyone who knows me knows I would rather die than be bullied. I would rather die than be intimidated. I would rather die than be silent. I would give my life for Principle and Truth.
Some of these same people – the ones who know this about me – say I can at times be “too intense” or that I am “too harsh” or that I should just “let it go” in order to keep the peace. That I am “making a big deal out of it.” That I “shouldn’t get so riled about” this or that.
But I know a little bit about being alone in a fight. I know a little bit about the value of one man standing up for what is right and good. I know a little bit about feeling isolated, alone, compromised, and seemingly without recourse.
It is a dark, dark, awful place. But I know about that place. I know it very well. It has cost me dearly. And it has cost my family dearly – my wife and my children.
If you have not had your life, livelihood, house, family, peace on the line for being bold enough to take a Principled Stand – with full knowledge of the potential downside – then you cannot understand what it means to be in that place.
If you have turned away a friend, coworker, or even a stranger who asks for (or is in need of) your solidarity in a battle for their life, career, property in defense of what is Right and Just… even if it is likely to cost you dearly with no possibility of return… when defeat and reprisal is likely, then you know plenty about cowardice.
These difficult people who make a fuss and stand up for what is Right and Proper… to the tune of becoming Martyrs – literally or figuratively in the Public Square – these people are Heroes.
These are the people who we owe our comfort to.
When a man is drowning, some people look on in horror, some capture it on video. Another man is diving into the freezing water. He is not reckless, though he imagines his wife and kids thinking so. But the thought of being an on-looker or remaining behind the safety of a camera causes him greater fear.
I don’t know Patterico but in a very small way. I don’t know RSMcCain at all. I don’t know “Aaron Worthing” from Adam.
But I do know that I am proud to know what kind of people they are.
I want to be proud to know what kind of person you are too.
Some things are worth dying for, after all. Those same things very well make life worth living.
I’d rather die than be a coward.
Memorial Day – how will you be remembered?