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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, February 16, 2015

THE OTHER BAND OF BROTHERS

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers"
Its the next day.  Yesterday, at high noon, Frank Miller and his gang rode into Hadleyville to kill Marshall Will Kane for arresting Frank and sending him to the gallows.  Saved by a legal technicality, Frank returned to fulfill his vow to kill Kane.  Kane, with the help of his lovely Quaker and pacifist bride Amy managed to stop and kill the gang, saving the town from their vengeance.
Now, the town leaders have had a meeting, and they call Marshall Kane into the church building.
"Will I think you all know how much we appreciate your work as marshall for Hadleyville, and how you stood up for law and order," began Judge Mettrick.  The other men all nodded and murmured their agreement.
"Thank you sir," replied Will.  Never a man of many words, he was unsure what the council wanted, and would much rather have been back in the arms of his very appreciative and proud wife.
"And we think you've done a good job for a long time in the office of marshall.  Its because of this that we think you should step down, take some time off."
Kane gazed at the men's smiling faces.  Some of them seemed a bit forced.
"For your good, you see, you and your young bride.  We all know how Mrs Kane felt about the whole... ordeal yesterday."
In the silence that followed, dust drifted across the sunbeams coming through the plain glass of the church windows.  In the distance, the sound of Cooper building coffins for the gunmen echoed in the valley around Hadleyville.
"Perhaps you might want to visit family, you know.  Travel a bit.  You never did take that honeymoon," prompted Mayor Henderson.
"You have a way of making a man feel unwelcome," said Kane, quietly.
"Its not that, its just... this town has seen enough violence, you understand?" Harvey Pell said.  He still was bitter that he'd never been chosen as Marshall, and quit as deputy when Kane wouldn't leave and let him take over.
"We'd just like to be a nice peaceful community and, well you kind of remind people of the troubles we've had.  And that gun you use so well."
"And often," added Mayor Henderson.
"Will, let's put our cards on the table," said Judge Mettrick.  "We'd like to move on from the past, become a more modern town.  This town has no future with gunmen in it, and well, Kane, you sort of remind us of that past we want to move away from."
"There never would have been this recent trouble anyway if you'd not stirred it up, Kane," said Mayor Henderson, head bowed, staring at the table in front of him.  "You have to admit that, those men wouldn't have come to our town in the first place if not for you."
Kane looked at the trio of men opposite him and wordless, stood up and walked to the door.  He turned on a heel slowly, unpinned his star, and threw it onto the table the men sat at, contept etched on his features.
Just outside the door, the man who'd preceded him as marshall, now aged and grizzled, was leaning against the wall.  "You made them hold their manhoods cheap," was all he said.
At the end of the actual film High Noon, Kane throws his star in the dust at the feet of the townsfolk in contempt at their cowardice and fury at having his wife have to betray her faith to help him because none of the men in the town would.  But this is a very plausible and likely alternate ending.  It happened in the old west more than a few times: the very men most heroic and necessary to save people were turned on.  The very skill they displayed to save them was too frightening to have around, and the memories of the blood shed too unwelcome.
In the magnificent Shakespeare play Henry V, the king makes his famous "St Crispin's Day Speech" in which he tells his men that their few numbers actually are to their advantage and glory: 
If we are mark'd to die, we are e'now
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
...
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
He makes the case well: die here, and few have died... but live and win, and the few become heroes for all time, honored and held high as brave above all others.  The phrase "band of brothers" comes directly from this speech and was so beautifully and perfectly used in both the Stephen Ambrose book and the HBO miniseries about the men of Easy Company.
Yet there's the reverse of the medal, as it were.  The opposite side of the coin.  Those men who at home feeling weak and less for not having been part of that band of brothers, unless they are truly noble and good, unless they are men of virtue and honor... they'll be a bit resentful and angry.
Every hero reminds a coward of his nature.  Every great deed makes those who held back look smaller and lesser.  And a small man is often unable to bear this comparison.
Which is why we have someone such as Michael Moore attacking a soldier such as Chris Kyle.  "Coward," Moore called him.  Racist, others did.  Terrorist, murderer.  By comparison someone like a soldier putting his life on the line to save others and do deeds of greatness make the mean and the small clearly so by contrast.  In the dim twilight and haze of ordinary life, such "men without chests" as CS Lewis puts it can seem ordinary or even great in their own way.  But when the stark light of danger, crisis, and disaster shine, the truth is clearly seen.
There are a few responses one can have to this revelation: grow up, grow better, mature, become stronger and better men is one.  Run and hide until the trouble goes away is another.  And go on the offensive to attack those who make you look bad is a third.  And this is increasingly common today, particularly when you can hide away at a keyboard and strike without fear of retaliation.
A tweet, a blog post, a facebook comment and you've struck back at those who make you feel small.  You can gain a following, and feel important, meaningful, less cowardly and pathetic.  Michael Moore went on to imply he was the better man because he tried to prevent the Iraq war entirely.  Why, imagine how many lives would have been saved!
We live in a time when the victims are blamed regularly, when the alternative is to stand up and fight.  Within hours of 9/11, some stood up and cried "well we had it coming, after all!"  
"How dare we fight back against aggressors and terrorists," they said.  "All that does is make them angry."  I might get hurt too, they whimpered to themselves.
This reaction isn't uncommon or new.  The noise, frequency, and regularity of it is unusual, though.  In the past, people who were willing to stand up and shout their cowardice and hate for the heroic and noble were rare and usually insane.  They might feel or think it, but they would keep it to themselves, justly fearing reaction.  
Today they feel safe with the bravery of being out of range.  Anyone can be bold when they fear no retaliation.  Attacking the safe target is never bold or courageous, it is cowardly and comfortable.  Fighting on the internet with a keyboard is comforting and easy.
Its a sure sign of a decayed, safe, and easy culture when people have to try so very hard to find offense such as men sitting with their legs too far apart on a subway train.  But it is also a sign of a culture's collapse of virtue and honor when the craven are celebrated and the heroic attacked.
Part of the reason that a film such as American Sniper is so vilified by some is that it reminds people of what true bravery and difficulty is, of how some stand taller than the rest of us.  Some cannot bear that knowledge.  I've not seen the film.  I am very confident that most of the critics of the movie have not, either.  All they hate is what they beleive it represents and means for them.
But that's simply one symbol of the culture we live in today, one example.  It is not isolated or unique, only clear and easy to identify.  Because those who dare, make those who don't, hold their manhoods cheap.  And they outnumber the brave and the bold.

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