Vive la Révolution: Our Love/Hate Relationship with Violent Rebellion

This is a post I first started thinking about writing after the protests in Ferguson last year, a post I should have written then. Why I didn’t, I’m not entirely sure; but I do know that I should have and I didn’t, and for that I am ashamed. Because whatever the reason, it’s inexcusable. In these moments, silence is inexcusable, silence is consent. Now, just a few months later, history is already repeating itself, and I will stay silent no longer. As an American, as a human being, I cannot.


picture via X

“Thugs”, “animals”, “revolutionaries”, “heroes”; who gets these names? Who gives them? A young man with a broken spine is all but forgotten in the smoke of a single burning CVS. Cries of anguish go up for vehicles in flames and smashed store windows, resounding judgment raised against the citizens “destroying” their city, drown out the lamentations for a city destroying its citizens. Outrage fills social media that people could ever react violently to anything, much less to the wounds caused by oppressive, harmful historic socio-cultural systems whose predatory claws dig into the flesh of today’s prey even still. These claws don’t drip the tax dollars of the wealthy colonists denied representation in their governing bodies, they drip the blood of young people killed on their own streets. They drip mothers’ tears.

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Is a Revolution Without Bending a Revolution Worth Having?

(Here there be spoilers for all of The Legend of Korra. You have been warned, you giant babies.)

First, let’s take our conversation out of its context. I’m a sworn enemy of decontextualization, but we’ll fix it, I promise. Imagine that you haven’t seen the spoiler warning above, or read the title of my piece. Now, imagine that you live in a different country. Things have been strange lately; there was significant political upheaval a generation or two ago. However, it seems that affairs have re-normalized somewhat. People are going about their lives; industry has resumed what seems like normal function. Now, I’d like you to imagine that people are disappearing. Imagine that they are being taken from their homes in the middle of night, never to be heard from again. Imagine finding out that this is largely orchestrated by the powerful and secretive force tasked with protecting your country’s head of state and executing their will.

Mohammad Mossadegh

Mohammad Mossadegh

Some of you will note that this is very much like the situation that led up to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown in a coup d’etat orchestrated by the CIA and MI6 (yes, Americans, we did this). This allowed for the Shah of Iran and his military puppet government to rule in an absolute monarchy. Under his rule, with the help of SAVAK, a secret police agency tasked with domestic and external law enforcement, Iran held thousands of political prisoners. Many of these were intellectuals, dissidents, and revolutionaries. You’d agree that something must be done about a situation like this, wouldn’t you?

Now, imagine for a second that instead you lived in neighboring Iraq, where child soldiers fought in the armed forces as recently as a decade ago, facing punishment for any refusal. Certainly you’d agree that forcing children as young as twelve into armed service is among the most heinous of crimes. It’s the sort of thing that warlords in the developing world do. It’s the sort of thing that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and UNICEF have whole campaigns to stop. Its association with Timothy McVeigh aside, the quotation goes: “the tree of liberty must, from time to time, be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Thomas Jefferson said that.

tumblr_inline_n84kt8yusw1s7csahSo, now that I’ve buried the lede about six fathoms deep, let’s recontextualize. What I’ve described is not dissimilar from what we discover the Earth Queen is doing in Book 3 of The Legend of Korra. She’s kidnapping the new airbenders, people as young as Kai, and forcing them into her airbender regiment, where they are beaten as a matter of course. Put another way, Hou-Ting is kidnapping children, torturing them, and forcing them to become soldiers. She does so with the entire force of the Earth Kingdom at her command, to say nothing of the rather impressive Dai Li. There’s no legal recourse to stop her. But, certainly you’d agree that this is unacceptable and that something must be done.

That’s pretty deep stuff for a children’s show. I raise these points because in Book 3, Legend of Korra essentially asks the same questions that it did in Book 1 with the Amon and the Equalists: If a system is or leader is fundamentally corrupt, unequal, or oppressive, to what lengths can or should one go to abolish it? Continue reading