It seems silly to talk about a movie to describe serious issues. I understand that. As my collegiate best friend, and current Air Force officer used to very wisely tell me, "Movies aren't scary. Real life is scary." Still, more than eighteen years ago, he and I sat in a movie theater in Tallahasee, Florida and drank mugs of beer and watched Brave Heart on the big screen for the first time. It meant something to me in a very visceral way. I'm not Scottish, I'm not English, I'm not Irish, and I have no genetic lineage that traces back to those cultures and even if I do, I don't care in the slightest. I've never researched it. I'm American and that is far superior to any cultural legacy that has ever existed as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, that legacy is waning because those we used to call our countrymen have more ideologically in common with those who live in North Korea, than they do with the colonialist Americans who demanded their natural rights be respected.
Still, the exploits of old Europe matter to me, because they mattered greatly to America's founders and our nation learned principled lessons from these cultures and their histories, and took the sacrifices of poor farmers against rich immoral rulers and the blood soaked lessons of government and liberty, and made brilliant principled decisions and enshrined them into law after great risk. The sacrifice of the greatest generation, those who fought the American Revolution, created something important, imperfect without a doubt, but easily the crowning achievement of history. But principled law requires principled people to value and defend it.
Most in my generation are unaware. They were too busy trying to find a job, or too lazy to study history and care, knowing that they were in America and that meant they could have whatever they wanted by virtue of birthright. They just didn't know about the sacrifices that came before that gave them that leverage, and weren't raised in an environment to develop the principle required for America to remain so comfortable. Their kids also have not learned those lessons, since their teachers are not much better than their parents, and they are distracted by digital nonsense beyond any other generation. Now we see the illusion of automatic prosperity for the chimera that it is. Prosperity requires principled and moral people.
But watching Brave Heart, fictional or not, about Scottish people who just want to grow food and live their simple lives, ruled by a foreign power and by those among them wishing to amass more power, ruled by those who lie for a living and who murder and rape people, and who rally armies made of the working poor, who pretend to represent their countrymen while exploiting them... well, it resonates with me. It should resonate with every American.
In my nearly eighteen years of military service since that day when I celebrated the courageous resistance of tyranny on the silver screen near the Florida State University campus, I have come to know most every single character in Mel Gibson's movie in real life. I say most, because I've not met them all.
But I am familiar with the poor uneducated "commoner" who has kids without thinking, happy to just have a menial job, and the professional English soldier who just does what he's told, and the "noble" politicians and military officers who lie and betray for a living, and the King who is only interested in power and has no problem loosing arrows on his own countrymen as well as his adversary in order to advance himself. It's almost funny today to see how those in the trenches are starting to understand the picture of how little they matter to those in power, while their senior "leaders" do nothing to stop the barrage of friendly fire headed toward their own troops.
In my time I have seen the immoral commoner do wrong and justify it, knowing it was wrong, by stating they had a mortgage or a credit card payment. I've seen multiple do so. But the enlightened officer class have a more "intellectual" justification. I've seen several officers justify their blatantly illegal actions by pointing to American history, and rationalizing that it has always been this way, pointing to the internment of American men, women, and children into concentration camps under FDR in the 1940s, and other such historical sins as if to say because tyranny has existed in America and American government has acted wrongly before, then they are willing to advance tyranny and to violate their oaths to the Constitution in turn. I have, of course, seen several senior officers and appointed and elected politicians do the same, responsible for ordering the tyranny that my "peers" un-dutifully advanced (while punishing me for refusing to follow), without any regard for their professional allegiance to the Constitution and the rights of the citizens who pay them.
The rationalizations are disgusting, and reminiscent of 1930s Germans just begging for outright tyranny.
What makes me the most sickened are those who try to have their cake and eat it too. Those who know they've done wrong, but try to justify it. Amateur politicians. They are the Bruces' of Brave Heart who pretend that some father figure above them tricked them into doing wrong, tricked them into betraying their countrymen, smart enough to know they are traitors, but too cowardly to do the right thing. "All men lose heart, all men betray" they might say. They will tell their betters as the Bruce did, "if you end up with enemies on both sides, you're a dead man." They calculate, they scheme, and they pick their battles which is to say they choose not to battle. They just talk a good game. They want to pretend they are heroes and they will profess the right opinions vocally, but when they are put in the hot seat where action matters rather than words, they fail. Their guilt and shame does not change their failure. Action is the only thing that matters.
Deeds, not words.
The reality is that, like William Wallace, those who care about their liberty and doing right by their neighbors are few and far between. Only an idiot would be unable to recognize that it comes down to a choice between living a vulnerable life as a free American who can be cut down at any moment, or living as an obedient slave who gives up their freedom and integrity, while professing great "opinions" in a coffee shop or online to mask their true character. But it's not about professed opinions, right or wrong, but rather the real value is found in principle. Principle matters, not just picking the right opinion as if choosing from a salad bar. Politicians are masters at voicing popular opinions and defending them. But principle is what matters, getting to the root of values. Principle takes deep thinking, something that is not reinforced by time spent in a fantasy football league.
There should be no toleration at all for fascists within the military ranks, yet they are overwhelming in number giving voice to their affinity for unchecked government and their intolerance for the rights of those they swore to protect. They are everywhere and I have heard their limp justifications. I have seen them lash out in their attempt to justify their cowardice and their failures as public servants. I have tried to have an effect on them, but unfortunately I have failed. Character cannot be compelled or taught in the moment.
My time in public service is quickly drawing to a close. I am returning in weeks to the beaches of Florida to serve my last two years before mandatory retirement. I thankfully will be able to spend time at Florida State University to complete my twenty year military journey, to close the loop, and to finish up where my service started. I am looking forward to being done with my burden of service, at which point I too can consider myself rather than an oath to do right by those who, in all honesty, don't deserve my efforts. I will continue to do as I have sworn to do, to protect the rights of those who pay me, but I am looking forward to no longer having that obligation since the American people have no real concern for their rights, and certainly not for the sacrifices others have made to secure them. I'm looking forward to the burden of my oath fading like the Florida sun over the horizon, as I enter a private life where personal sacrifice is no longer required by duty.
The movie theater I sat in as a youngster, with dreams of serving my nation and defending our Constitution, is closed and no longer exists. Similarly, the American citizenry no longer cares for their constitutional rights, suffer NSA spying every day and a government that assassinates American citizens without due process of law, encounter theft through asset forfeiture, and have to endure an increasingly militarized domestic-army police state that murders the most vulnerable basket-carrying villagers among us (on camera no less), while the American villagers find the King's men not guilty of any crime.
"Look lively, Sergeant..."
Americans are an occupied people, no less than the villagers of this movie doing their chores with the King's men among them. Today, the occupiers don't wear the orange robes of the English, but they still wear the body armor, it's just a little more effective these days. And they don't need to look in your wife's basket as she carries the laundry, instead they look through your private communications and store them on servers. Some things have not changed though. The King's men still brutalize and kill the villagers today with near absolute immunity, and the people still pay the governor his taxes to fund their own occupation. I can't blame the villagers looking out for their families, but the treason of the King's men today, without a shred of character or appreciation for America, absolutely infuriates me. Because they took an oath to defend the rights of their neighbors, not serve a king.
"If I can live in peace, I will," said William Wallace. That is a choice that cannot be made by a military officer, police officer, federal agent, or judge worth his or her salt, as public servants cannot pick and choose their battles while in public service. Especially not those of us employed to wield the tools of lethality. Not so in private life, and I am eagerly looking forward to that chapter of my life soon beginning.
Still, even then I will grab a brew or two, assemble any good Americans I can muster, tell war stories about decimating the enemy and saving Americans in combat, getting shot at and feeling the blast wave of an enemy mortar that wasn't quite close enough, and I will celebrate with my few countrymen the true character of America found in our Constitution and our bill of rights. And we will toast those who laid down their lives, as the very few who can truly understand what such a sacrifice actually meant. We few will celebrate America.
We few will celebrate. We extremely few.
We few are vastly outnumbered in our own country. Like the King said, "If we can't get them out, we'll breed them out." And they most certainly did. But those few of us Americans who remain, who have the scars of faithful public service rather than the silver tongues and trophies of cowards in uniform, we will celebrate America. The first round is on me for a battle well fought.
But until that day, which looms so close before me but is still so distant, to the front I dutifully go armed and ready for the next battle.