Today, I wanted to share a thought piece I recently submitted to Quora, which I wrote over the course of weeks in reponse to the question, “Is the United States going to finally collapse?“. This is something I wanted to answer because I’ve been pondering it myself for some time. Ever since the days of the Bush administration, I’ve been made aware of the fact that the US was behaving precisely like an empire in decline.
It goes by many names the world over. In Canada, Britain and Australia, we call it Remembrance Day. In the United States, it’s called by Veteran’s Day. In New Zealand, France, Belgium and Serbia, it’s known as Armistice Day. And to the Polish, it’s Independence Day since the end of World War I was also the occasion when their country achieved statehood.
Interestingly enough, the war that it originally commemorates also goes by many names. To those who fought in it, it was the Great War, but also the “War to end all wars”, as no one who lived through it could fathom that any nation would ever go to war again. And to those who have went to war again just 27 years later, it would come to be known as World War I or the First World War.
Regardless of the name, November 11 is a day when people the world over come together to mark one of the worst periods in our history, celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and reflect upon the terrible lessons that were learned. And while it is easy to look upon the world and imagine that we’ve learned nothing, I choose to believe otherwise.
When the world went to war in August of 1914, the news was greeted with general elation for those involved. In Berlin, Paris and London, crowds emerged to celebrate the fact that their nations were mobilizing against their enemies. In Canada, people readily volunteered to serve overseas and “fight the Hun”. The propaganda mills of every nation were running overtime, stoking the fervor of war, claiming rightness, and that God was on their side.
Four years later, few retained these romantic notions of war. Those who survived the carnage were known as “The Lost Generation”, and those born after the war entered into a world struggling to leave the memory behind and get back to normal. When war was once again declared in 1939, few were enthused, and the general attitude was one o fear.
In fact, part of the reason “Appeasement” – the strategy of giving in to Hitler’s demands, or accommodating Japanese and Italian expansion in Africa and East Asia – was permitted was because no one wanted a repeat of the last war. Even in the Axis nations of Germany, Japan, and Italy, the general public entered the war only reluctantly, convinced they had no choice and fearful for how it might turn out.
Six years, 70 million lives, 1600 cities, and several attempted genocides later, the victorious nations of the world once again came together with the common goal of lasting world peace, human rights and economic development. This was embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group.
Despite the prevailing mood that a new “Cold War” was already brewing between east and west, the word’s “Never Again” were spoken by people on all sides. After two World Wars and the near total-destruction of many nations, it was understood that the world would not be able to endure a third. Somehow, and despite the arms race of the latter of the half of the 20th century, peace would endure.
Lucky for all of us, the Cold War ended some two decades ago and the specter of World War III with it. While many wars took place during the intervening period and there were a few close calls (The Cuban Missile Crisis being foremost), a nuclear crisis was continually avoided because all sides understood that no one would emerge the victor.
Today, wars still rage in the underdeveloped regions of the world and even amongst the so-called “developed” nations – the rational ranging from fighting extremism to trying to foster nation building. Nevertheless, I can’t help but look back today and think that those who died and sacrificed so much taught us something invaluable and enduring.
Sure, the Great War did not end all wars, nor did those that followed it. But with every mistake, with every new sacrifice, with every new conflict, surely we have learned something. Were it not for the UN and the spirit multilateralism the prevailed after the Second World War, World War III may have been unavoidable, and might still be a possibility.
And while there were still wars between proxy nations during the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam taught us the futility of political conflicts, a lesson which helped end the Iraq War sooner and with less loss of life than would have otherwise been possible. These sentiments have since been applied to the war in Afghanistan and the drone wars, two more unpopular campaigns that are sure to end in the near future as well.
What’s more, the genocide of the Jewish, Roma and Slavic peoples all across Europe taught us the evils of ethnic cleansing and man’s capacity for hate, lessons which have helped us confront and combat genocide in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, East Timor and elsewhere. They have also forced us to contemplate genocides which have taken place on our soil, in Australia, Canada, the US and Latin America.
To look at the state of the world today, it is easy to grow cynical and say that we’ve learned nothing. But when you consider that fact that we no longer live in a world where total war is seen as glorious, where two superpowers are aiming nuclear-tipped missiles at each other, and where aggression and genocide are actively ignored or accommodated, you begin to appreciate what we have and who made it possible.
But most importantly of all, to say we’ve learned nothing is to disrespect those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not to mention those who came home forever changed and scarred. For these veterans, servicemen and women, and people who risked life and limb to ensure that war would bring peace, that people would remain free, and that greater evils would not be allowed to prevail, saying “it was all in vain” renders what they did for the rest of us meaningless.
With that in mind, I’m very happy to announce that next year, in April of 2014, my family and I will be visiting Europe to witness the Centennial of World War I. While we’re there, we will be visiting the grave sites of those who died overseas, several battlefield from the First and Second World War, and will bear witness to one of the greatest historic events in our lifetimes.
My father made the trip once before and remarked with awe how to people over there, the wars are not something that are commemorated once a year, but on a regular basis. But next year, it is expected to be especially poignant as people from all over the globe converge on Flanders to pay their respects. I expect it to be very eye-opening, and you can expect to be hearing about it the moment I get back!
A sober and reflective Remembrance Day to you all. Peace.
Last time, my list was already going kind of long with everyone from Alucard to Private Vasquez. So I thought I might make a second installment and include all the people I couldn’t, and break the mold a little by venturing outside of the world of science fiction. But as usual, the only real criteria is sheer badassness, those people who went above and beyond at kicking ass, keeping their cool and staying alive when all around them was dying or exploding! So here they are, the other badasses who deserve recognition for all their awesomeness!
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ‘em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory.”
These are the words that soldier, surfing enthusiast and notorious badass Lt. Col Bill Kilgore is most remembered for. A seminal character is the 1979 epic war film Apocalypse Now, Kilgore was the commander of the an Air Cavalry brigade that was responsible for getting special agent Capt. Benjamin L. Willard and his PT Boat escort up the Mekong River. This he did by assaulting a company of Viet Cong that was controlling the mouth of the river, flying in low in attack choppers to the tune of “Flight of the Valkyries” by Wagner, blowing the shit out of everything, distributing death cards on the corpses of the enemy, and then ordering his men to surf on the breaking waves!
That’s right, in the midst of enemy fire, he disembarked on the Mekong Delta and told his men that it was either “fight or surf”. When told that this was too risky, Kilgore replied simply that “if I say it’s safe, it’s safe!” He would also remark in the midst of it that “Charlie don’t surf!” Loved by his men and feared by his enemies, Kilgore combined balls, daring, eccentricity and wry humor into one package. As if this wasn’t enough, Kilgore seemed to lament the fact that one day, the war would end. And why not? With no asses to kick and no death to defy, men like him would surely run out of things to do and die from boredom.
And as Willard himself remarked in his journal, Kilgore had a certain aura about him, as if nothing could touch him. Yes, given his indifference to explosions and bullets’ ability to miss him, Kilgore could only strike audiences as crazy, invincible, or some odd combination of both. But given his reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kilgore survived the war and went on kicking ass until the day he died. I’m sure there’s even shrines somewhere along the Mekong river that are dedicated to him!
Man, demon hunting has been growing in popularity in recent years! And with more and more heroines taking to the stage, its also been getting a lot sexier! This is especially true of Bo, the an ass-kicking vixen of Lost Girl and a leather-wearing succubus to boot! Much like her male peers, Blade and D, she is a supernatural being with mixed origins who uses her abilities to help those in need. Largely, this consists of hunting other supernatural beings who prey on the innocent and just like to stir shit up. In addition to her leather getup, her weapons of choice appear to be traditional in nature, crossbows and blades rather than guns.
Working with the only real friend she’s known since discovering her true identity, Bo and Kenzi run a sort of Fae/Human detective agency where they investigate paranormal events and learn more about the world she comes from. In the course of learning about her true origins, Bo is brought face to face with the Fae world and its particular struggles. After being told that she must choose between “the light or the dark” of the Fae world, Bo chooses instead to remain neutral and fight for humanity, largely out of loyalty to her friend.
In time, she meets and develops relationships with other beings, like the wolf-shifter Dyson, who holds down a day job as a police detective, and a human doctor named Lauren. These relationships, in addition to the nature of her job, allows Bo to keep one foot in both worlds, which seems to be the natural resolution to her predicament (i.e. having “lost” her humanity years before).
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
Just as Ellen Ripley taught never to come between a mother and her child, Mills taught us never to come between a father and his daughter. Yes, with the release of Taken in 2008, we were all indebted to Liam Neeson for proving that a retired father-figure can still be the biggest badass on the block! Within ninety-six hours of learning that his daughter had been kidnapped, Mills flew to Paris and took down an entire Albanian mob ring and all those involved in their human smuggling. And part of what made it so damn cool was how effortless he made it look!
After spending years honing his skills with the CIA, a job which eventually cost him his job and custody of his daughter, Mills quit his job and moved to LA to be closer to her. However, things went awry when his daughter decided to take a trip to Europe to follow U2 on tour and ended up being kidnapped by a bunch of sex-slave traffickers. Thus the very thing that cost him a life with his daughter would allow him to bring her back home safe and sound! Not only was he able to deduce the identity of her kidnappers from a single phone call, he was also able to determine who amongst the authorities were on the take from them, where the bad guys safe houses were, and who they were doing business with. Not bad for an old man!
Awesome, especially when you consider that it was all an act so that he could find out which amongst them was the guy he had a phone conversation with. And once he knew, he says so cooly, “You don’t remember me? We spoke on the phone two days ago. I told you I would find you.” Then proceeds to take them all out with his bare hands and their own guns! Oh, and that torture scene afterwards, where he hooks up Marko to the power grid? It was so good, I feel the need to quote his opening threat in full:
“You know, we used to outsource this kind of thing. But what we found was the countries we outsourced to had unreliable power grids. Very Third World. You’d turn on a switch – power wouldn’t come on, and then tempers would get short. People would resort to pulling fingernails. Acid drips on bare skin. The whole exercise would become counterproductive. But here, the power’s stable. Here, there’s a nice even flow. Here, you can flip a switch and the power stays on all day.”
Bad-Ass! If only Mills and Ripley could get together and make a baby, that kid would be the safest, most badassed kid in the world!
“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?” One of the most quoted lines in Hollywood history. You almost forget that the man saying it was threatening to blow the head off some thug with an empty .44 magnum. And this was after he single-handedly foiled a bank robbery. Yes, this scene not only made Clint Eastwood’s career, it also immortalized Inspector Harry Callahan as one of the baddest dudes of all time!
Working for the SFPD, Inspector Callahan became the template for an entire generation of movie cop. Nicknamed “Dirty” because of his reputation for crossing boundaries in order to get the bad guy, Callahan was also a man of deep principles who believed very strongly in what he was doing. Always, his weapon of choice was his trusty .44 magnum service revolver, a gun that is notorious for packing an incredibly punch! Though he might use other weapons in the course of duty, or just his bare hands, the magnum was always the gun he is seen wielding in iconic images.
Often condemned by higher ups and authorities for being a “rogue” or “loose cannon”, he was in fact the kind of guy who only broke the rules – including his own – when it was absolutely necessary. And when it came right down to it, his rough exterior hid a semi-tortured soul that longed for a world in which life was simpler, people were civil, and no one committed grisly crimes. But as long as they still did, he was prepared to whip out his gun and shoot them up!
Sounds like a cliche now doesn’t it? Well, that’s because Eastwood established it as a household theme! Callahan was, for all intents and purposes, the original bad-boy cop, willing to bend, grease and even break the rules in order to take down the criminal psychopaths and avenge the victims of violent crime. But always, he loved what he did, and was a hell of a lot more committed than the pencil-pushing bosses and red-tape bureaucrats who complained about his methods! (Whoa, speaking of cliches!)
The man who put the hard in Die Hard! Unlike most of his peers, Detective John McClain of the NYPD was good at taking down bad guys not because of his big brain or super human fighting skills, but because of his raw, unrelenting determination. Relying on a cop’s instincts, a strong sense of duty and the desire to protect the ones he loved, McClain triumphed over criminals and terrorists through persistence and his refusal to just roll over and die. Basically, he was like an itch they couldn’t scratch, slowly driving them mad until they lost all control and died in a fiery explosion or a spectacular fall.
A veteran cop with the NYPD, McClain established his reputation as a badass by taking down twelve terrorists in LA who decided to celebrate Christmas by seizing control of a multinational corporate building and taking its employees (including his wife) hostage.
This reputation was further cemented when, on the following Christmas, a bunch of paramilitary goons decided to hold an airport hostage so they could fly a Central American war criminal in safely and then ferry him away. His third stint involved stopping a former East German infiltration expert-turned mercenary who also happened to be the brother of Hans Gruber (his first victim) . Last, but not least, he managed to foil a bunch of cyber terrorists who chose July 4th to stage a massive heist involving “fire sale”ing the US economy and all its utilities. Again and again, McClain brought them down by enduring endless beatings, running around, and getting there just in time to screw up some element of their plan.
In this way, McClain did demonstrate a sort of subtle genius by being able to get under the bad guy’s skin. In all cases, the criminals he was dealing with were adept at planning and manipulation, relying on fear, feints and bluffs that would make their opponents play into their hands. Intrinsic to their plans was a sense of control, ensuring that all things went according to schedule so they could get in and get out without being caught. By putting himself at the center of things and constantly gumming up the works, McClain robbed them of this control, thus making them act rashly and stupidly until their plans unraveled. But of course, the bad guys were always on the verge of getting away when McClain finally did them in, ensuring that things stayed suspenseful until the end.
Tragically, his commitment to badassery and being in the wrong place at the wrong time cost him his marriage and pretty much alienated him from his daughter. It also led to a love-hate relationship with the bottle and a 401k that had seen better days. And though it seemed like time had run out on his marriage, John was ultimately able to rebuild things with his daughter, mainly because he saved her life! And, as predicted, she was pretty ballsy and tough herself. Guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree
Much like Dirty Harry, John Rambo is one of those heroes that has been imitated so many times over the years that he’s become somewhat of a cliche. However, if one were to dig deep beneath all the merchandizing, knock-offs, and half-assed imitations, one finds an original creation who was quite the badass indeed. And like most of Stallone’s roles, there was some real substance to this character before a series of sequels buried it under a mountain of cliches and repetitive plotlines.
Born to a Navajo father and Italian/German mother, Rambo enlisted in the army at an early age and was sent to Vietnam where he served two tours: one as a regular solider and another with the Green Berets. After being taken prisoner and tortured, he escaped and deployed one last time. After all that, Rambo returned to the US to find that people had turned against the war and hated him for being a veteran. This led to a severe case of PTSD and some serious trouble with the law.
In the original novel, Rambo was arrested, escaped from jail and became the target of a manhunt. This ended with his death in a secluded wood after he had taken down several officers and National Guardsmen. In the movie however, Rambo doesn’t die but surrenders, speaking of the horrors he’s witnessed and lamenting how he cannot return to a normal, civilian life. He then is taken to jail where he remained until the second movie came out.
In the sequels, Rambo finds a sort of resolution to his conflict by returning to active duty, again and again. Ultimately, it seems that the solution to his inability to reintegrate into a peaceful lifestyle is to embrace a life of violence, but for the sake of helping those in need.
His first redeployment (in First Blood, Part II) is to his old stomping grounds of Vietnam where he is tasked with rescuing POW’s who never made it home. His second is to Afghanistan, where Soviet forces have taken his old friend and mentor Col. Trautman prisoner and he and a bunch of mujaheddin warriors must break into the camp to save him. In the fourth and final installment, Rambo comes out of retirement one last time to help a bunch of missionaries who have been taken hostage by the military Junta in Myanmar/Burma. In every case, Rambo racks up the kills, relying on his trusty bow and arrow, M60, KBAR knife, and any machinegun he can get his hands on to eviscerate, carve, punch holes in or blow the bad guys away!
Yes, as I said, things got pretty cliche with this series, relying on the latest news sensation and the repetitive theme of an old warrior returning to what he knows to make the carnage seem emotionally accessible. But who the hell cared? If there was one thing Rambo was good at, it was kicking some serious ass and it didn’t really matter who’s it was! In the end, they fell by the hundreds, overwhelmed by his mighty arsenal and signature sneer!
What do you get when you cross a cowboy with a Federal Marshall? Why, Raylan Givens, of course! The star of the hit series Justified, Raylan Givens is a no-nonsense, gun-toting, wisecracking lawman who seems to have learned the art of law enforcement from guys like John Wayne and Dirty Harry. Much like his predecessors, he has a penchant for breaking the rules and pissing off his superiors in order to reign in the bad guys. But of course, no one can fire him because he’s just too damn good!
Born to a criminal family in Harlan County, Kentucky, Raylan joined the Marines in order to get away from the drugs, criminals and white supremacists that his hometown was known for. After becoming an expert in small arms and the quick draw, he enlisted with the US Marshalls and became a law man. Known for his accuracy, fast hands, tendency to wind up shooting people and signature cowbow hat, Raylan quickly earned the reputation of being a “cowbow”, both in terms of appearance and sensibilities. Naturally, he would be the first to say that he tries to resolve things peacefully, but somehow, violence keeps breaking out.
After a “justified shoot” involving an arms dealer whom Raylan told to leave Miami in 24 hours or risk getting shot on sight, Raylan was transferred back to his home state of Kentucky. Here, he found the county of his youth overrun by the Oxycontin trade, prostitution, and violence, often involving people he used to call family and friends. More often than not, Raylan is forced to reign in people who are much like him, people who he could have easily become if he had made slightly different choices (echoes of Garry Cooper there!).
Don’t ask me how I managed to forget Xena last time around! This iconic, heroine, warrior-princess, inspirational figure is someone without whom no list of inspirational badasses should even be written! So I amend my previous mistake, and include her here and now. I knew not what I did, please don’t send me hate mail. Moving on…
Xena is without a doubt one of the most popular heroines to come out of popular culture and fantasy/sci-fi in recent decades. Tough, smart, and sassed mouth, she is anything but prim and proper and has been generally known to kick some serious ass and look good while doing it. Whether she’s high-kicking, wielding that Chakram (throwing disc), slashing through bad guys with her sword, or just leering at people with those eyes, Xena is to badass heroines what AC/DC is to classic rock. In short, it’s dam hard to imagine one without the other! Originally appearing in the series Hercules as a villain, Xena went on to become his friend and lover and even earned herself a spin-off which did better and ran longer than its forebear.
Her own back story begins with her as a pirate and criminal, until she met and was double-crossed by a young, ambitious Roman officer named Julius Caesar (played by none other than Karl Urban). After surviving his brutal betrayal, she went to the East and joined some warlords, losing herself in revenge and violence until she tired of it and returned to the west. Here, she continued warring and raiding, until she met a demi-God named Hercules whom she initially tried to kill, but soon joined forces with him in order to defeat a warlord who had taken control of her army.
In time, she and Hercules had a love affair and she decided to change her ways. Nicknamed the “warrior-princess”, she soon teamed up with a young woman named Gabrielle who she taught to fight. Together, the two began roaming the lands of the ancient world, seeking out injustice and fighting for what was right. As she fights the forces of evil, Xena must also fight the forces of her own past, striving to resist the temptation to return to her old ways. Oftentimes, Gabrielle’s friendship and company prove to be the difference between resisting and succumbing.
Sounds cheesy, no? But it’s also pretty effective. In addition to being a hero to women and young girls everywhere, Xena’s relationship with Gabrielle has proven to be an inspiration to the lesbian community who claim that this powerful bond is a prime example of love which transcends gender norms or social mores. So in addition to her trademark war cry, disc-throwing and swashbuckling skills, Xena is a hero for being brave in a way that has nothing to do with ass-kicking or weapons. She is brave just for being true to herself and not giving a damn what anybody else thinks!
Okay, now that I’ve paid homage to all these badass icons, I think I got what I need to draw some tentative conclusions. Basically, it seems to me that all of them share certain characteristics that set them apart and make them so damn unforgettable. So if you want to be badass like them, you better start thinking about adapting some of the following to your repertoire:
- Roguish Personality: Whether we are talking about detectives, mercenaries, or freelance hunters, it seems that in order to be badass, you need to be willing to break the rules a little. Things like convention, regulations, and red tape are the kind of things that inspire annoyance, tediousness and the desire for you to do something outlandish and possibly reckless. Screw what other people think, you know what needs to be done and someone’s got to do it! If not you, then who?
- Strong Values: But it’s not enough to simply break the rules. There has to be a higher purpose to what you are doing to justify this disregard for procedure and discipline. Basically, you need to have a strong commitment to what is right and know the difference between simply following orders and doing what needs to be done. After all, people following orders led to some of the worst crimes and miscarriages of justice in history! You gotta see the big picture and circumvent those who don’t sometimes, otherwise shit can happen!
- Mad Skills: Whether you’re weapon of choice is a gun, a sword, some high-tech device, or just your hands and feet, you need to practice hard and be good at what you do! No hero has ever excelled by being lazy or neglectful of their basic fighting skills. You don’t need to be the best, mind you. Many a time you will confront someone who is more skilled than you are. But in these cases, your wits and your righteousness will overcome. Hell, you may even find yourself being rescued by a sidekick or someone you thought was against you. Heroes are good like that. They have friends and helpers where the bad-guys do not 😉
- Troubled Past: Let’s face it, all this ass-kicking and smart-ass talk can’t conceal the fact that you’ve got some demons! Hell, all heroes do. Perhaps you’re struggling with your past, perhaps you’re not 100% okay with where you came from. But whatever the case, you know that ultimate resolution will come only through confrontation. Only by facing those who best embody your fears and demons will you prevail over the darkness you hold inside. But don’t do it too quickly! Chances are, you’ll become boring once you’ve vanquished your enemies and found inner peace!
Well that’s my assessment at least. But of course, if you are a true badass, you aren’t going to follow MY rules are you? Of course not! So take what you will from these “guidelines” and find your own path to badassery. For no matter what people may tell you, badasses are all rugged individuals at heart. If everybody did it, it would cease to be badass wouldn’t it?