Real American Heroes….

Posted: July 9, 2012 in General
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And no I am not talking about G.I. Joe, military service members, police officer, firefighters, and countless other Americans who go above and beyond, putting their own lives at risk in order to save others.  I am not talking about those folks who react when a crisis happens, sometimes paying for their reaction with their own lives.  What I am actually referring to is America’s favorite guilty pleasure, the anti-hero, the person of amoral character who see the light and does good, the vigalante, the take no prisoners, give no quarter, laws be damned full speed ahead, get out of my way or get run over in the process, certified Hollywood action hero.  In all honesty America’s fascination with this type of personality goes many years beyond the Hollywood influence we are inundated with today.  It can be found as far back as pre-Revolutionary War legend.  A time when the verbal spreading of news and the change and exaggeration were used to create living, larger than life heroes out of real people.  In a sense Hollywood has even capitalized on this and made some very large-budget productions that were a melding of fact and legend, basing the general story on the real persons while creating them into something new and visually stimulating.

The fascination with larger than life legends goes back to prior to independence for Americans.  Folk heroes such as South Carolina’s Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, as well as Major Robert Rogers of Massachusetts.  Both of these legends got their start in American history fighting during the French and Indian War.  Rogers would later fight as a Loyalist against the colonies in the Revolution, while Marion would embed himself as the Father of Guerrilla warfare for his tactic as a SC militia leader against British forces.  In a sense Marion would lay the foundation for American “heroes” throughout our history.  Rogers established his “Rules of Ranging” while a commander of rangers in the French/Indian wars.  These rules are the basis of rules that are used for Army Rangers today.  I will provide a comparison of the original/Army Ranger versions at the end.

So how do I tie these pioneers into the “anti-hero” comment that I based this whole thing on?  Good question, hope I can answer it adequately.  First lets take a good look at Rogers.  Professionally speaking, He was good at what he did and he had the backing of the Crown and his commission to back him up.  Personally speaking, he was a drunkard, an adulterer, accused of counterfeiting, accused of treason by both sides during the Revolution.  He ended up never going back to his wife and lost numerous command positions.  However, he was a very effective soldier and leader when his transgressions where not affecting his abilities.  Marion on the other hand was not known to have the same level of personal inclinations that Rogers suffered from.  His dark side however did extend to his ability to wage war at the grass roots level.  He was thoroughly merciless, seldom took quarter from the enemy and his methods included targeting the officers first in order to make the enlisted ranks more susceptible to annihilation despite overwhelming numbers.  Though the movie “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson was not a biopic of Marion;s life, it was indeed based upon his exploits.  Marion did not strive to be a hero or a legend, however, he did capitalize upon that notoriety in order to achieve his objectives.

Lets fast forward through our history a little and look at some additional, real-life, people who captured the imaginations of Americans and American literary talents.

– Andrew Jackson, ol Hickory himself.  Quite religious, quite violent, the hero of the War of 1812, specifically the battle of New Orleans.  That battle being fought after the succession of hostilities by the way.  Fearless Indian fighter and trail blazer and eventual American President.

Davey Crockett – frontiersman, Congressman, hero of the ill-fated siege of the Alamo.  There was nothing he would not do to keep his legend from dying.

Jim Bowie –  Famous knife inventor, drunkard, killer, womanizer and another famous tragedy of the Alamo.

Wild Bill Hickock – Latter day frontiersman, gunfighter, drunk, gambler and eventually killed with the legend of “Dead man’s Hand” or aces and eights being the hand he held as he was shot to death.

Jesse James – Killer, folk hero, daring bandit immortalized in literature while he and his gang were still conducting their crimes.

General William T. Sherman – Civil war General who conducted a slash and burn campaign throughout the South.  Used his tactics to build his legend as he went about his campaign.  His reputation towards the end proceeded his arrival often resulting in the burning of cities and infrastructure with no loss of defenders lives.

Teddy Roosevelt – American President, hero of the Spanish American War with his famous charge of San Juan Hill. Adventurer, trailblazer, builder of the Panama Canal (damn the lives lost in doing so), creator of the National Park System.  Mr. Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick himself.

Alvin York – From drunkard and fighter to religious family man and pacifist to Medal of Honor recipient during WWI.  His past and his actions during war make for a fine rendition of American hero.

President Truman – Dropped not one but two atomic bombs on Japan.  He still won re-election and managed to set the stage for the Korean Conflict to happen just in time to hand it off to Eisenhower.

Patton –  The movie of his life says it all.  If ever there was a more prefect example of what we embrace as heroic leader it is lost to history.

These are just a few of the folks during our short 236 years of sovereignty that we have embraced during the lives and after.  I too see many of these folks as heroes in their own right, their imperfections making them what they are and quite often setting them up for their successes as well as their sometimes violent conclusions.

So what is the point of this you may ask, lets move forward in time a little to the 20th century through the current years.  We, as a nation, have seen less and less of the trailblazer.  The person or persons who discover new and exciting things or conquer our enemies.  We have had examples such as Audie Murphy who have had their individual achievements on the battlefield propel them into the history books.  That is not what I am speaking of though.  What I reference is what has been offered as the alternative to the hero or villain.  He does not wear the black of evil nor the white of good, he is the grey man.  They possess their own moral code, more often then not it would be considered amoral since it is about self-justification of actions.  They may never actually wear the mantle of white as a good guy, but they are unafraid to don the mantle of black in order to destroy their enemy.  They may even do so for reasons that the good side cannot fathom, it just benefits the good as a by-product.  What I reference is the classic anti-hero in modern literature and film.

There are countless examples out there the best of which are brought to life in text rather than celluloid, but often make the transition between the two.  More often you lose the specialness of the character on film.

Lets look at a couple so you see what I mean:

Jason Bourne – first written as a trilogy by Robert Ludlum and brought to life on film by Matt Damon.  There are distinct differences between book and film, they were done a couple of decades apart, but you cannot help but root for Bourne as he is faced with his challenges from the Military Industrial complex that created him.  He is not a hero, he is out for his own self-preservation, but his successes are successes for everyone each time he topples the puppet masters.  To be fair Damon did a very fair job of bringing Ludlum’s character to life.

Batman – Billionaire with issues stemming from the violent murder of his parents in front of his eyes. He uses his money and his corporations to develop technology that will allow him to stamp out crime as only someone outside the purview of law can do.  He is violent, well trained and not afraid to steamroll the underling to destroy the boss.  He is a classic case of the dark side of man (hence the Dark Knight moniker) being what is seen as the savior of mankind.  he goes where few others can.

Rainbow Six (John Clark and Domingo Chavez) – Before he became a naysayer of our military policies, Tom Clancy rewrote the rule on espionage novels and developed a dark look into the clandestine world.  Although works of fiction he captured readers imaginations with a mix of fact and his ability to spin a tale and develop characters.  Clark and Chavez are the epitome of what this article is about.  I cannot accurately describe them it is best read.  Even after his outspoken verbalization against the Bush administration and how we have conducted business since 2001, he has continued to develop characters and introduce new ones keeping alive what are known as the “Jack Ryan novels”.

In the last twelve years there has been a well-spring of authors who capture the anti-hero and have developed entire series based upon them.  Brad Thor has Scot Harvath, David Baldacci has introduced numerous characters in his novels that meet the criteria, Vince Flynn has Mitch Rapp as the anything at any cost savior of the country, James Rollins has his Sigma Force and Steve Berry has the Cotton Malone series.  These authors are not alone, while some of the writing is formulaic, it is never predictable.  You will never know which central character may get killed off and in what horrific way, no matter how many of the series they have been in.  These are some of the authors I prefer to read.  They do their research, they dedicate their writing to the men and women who serve the country and they more often then not will dedicate space at the end of the book to defining some of what they have written based off of their research, this is especially so for the ones that write with a historical bent rather than a seat of your pants thriller type bent.

So why the American fascination with the anti-hero, the dark man.  Real or fiction, I believe it is because everyone wants to live a little bit within their dark side.  Lets face it, in 236 years America has had quite a violent past.  It was not until almost the 20th century and possibly even later into it, that we ceased hostilities and armed campaigns in unsettled territories.  We did out best as a nation to destroy native Americans right up until we needed code talkers in WWII.  We had skirmishes along the Mexican border that were instigated by both sides right up until WWI.  There has not been a decade in the last 236 years in which American military have been involved in some way, shape or form of projecting US military and strategic power.  There is also nothing Americans like better than an underdog story, real, fiction, or embellished current event.  What is more underdog than a wandering Viet Nam veteran who has to use his skills of war to survive the violent, misguided over-protectiveness of the local sheriff (you did not think I would omit Rambo from my list of heroes did you?)?  Even in the early 80s as a teen I saw the draw of one man against the world and having since read the novel that was written by David Morrell, which Rambo was based on, I can see how an excellent writer can bring a character to life with words while Hollywood does it with visualization and a great actor adopts his skill to the challenge.

We all know these movies are just that, movies.  The actors are mortal, grenades do not blow up with nuclear-like tendency and bullets do run out.  Writers spin their web, the best do so with a weaving of fact and imagination.  What captivates us as Americans is not so much the plot of the movie or the book, or how well an actor acts or the writer develops the character, it is that there have always been people in this country who will do what other will not.  What others are often afraid to do.  Others who very often pay the price once they have conquered what others desire.  History is violent, America’s history is very short and immensely violent.  Out of that violence we have developed a nation, and rules and law.  We were built by architects, engineers and visionaries who took advantage of the paths laid out by the anti-hero, the dark man, the amoral person who lived and died by their own code.  Today we see them through history books and work of fiction, but once they made this country what it is, they were real, many of them lost to time.

Having said all this, who is going to be there for the final Batman movie?  I will, can’t wait!

UPDATE:

I was supposed to include a comparison of the Roger’s Rules of Rangering from original to current.  Here it is:

The true Plan of Discipline, extracted from Major Rogers’s journal and intended for his Rogers’ Rangers in 1759, follow:

  1. All Rangers are to be subject to the rules and articles of war; to appear at roll-call every evening, on their own parade, equipped, each with a Firelock, sixty rounds of powder and ball, and a hatchet, at which time an officer from each company is to inspect the same, to see they are in order, so as to be ready on any emergency to march at a minute’s warning; and before they are dismissed, the necessary guards are to be draughted, and scouts for the next day appointed.
  2. Whenever you are ordered out to the enemies forts or frontiers for discoveries, if your number be small, march in a single file, keeping at such a distance from each other as to prevent one shot from killing two men, sending one man, or more, forward, and the like on each side, at the distance of twenty yards from the main body, if the ground you march over will admit of it, to give the signal to the officer of the approach of an enemy, and of their number, &c.
  3. If you march over marshes or soft ground, change your position, and march abreast of each other to prevent the enemy from tracking you (as they would do if you marched in a single file) till you get over such ground, and then resume your former order, and march till it is quite dark before you encamp, which do, if possible, on a piece of ground which that may afford your sentries the advantage of seeing or hearing the enemy some considerable distance, keeping one half of your whole party awake alternately through the night.
  4. Some time before you come to the place you would reconnoitre, make a stand, and send one or two men in whom you can confide, to look out the best ground for making your observations.
  5. If you have the good fortune to take any prisoners, keep them separate, till they are examined, and in your return take a different route from that in which you went out, that you may the better discover any party in your rear, and have an opportunity, if their strength be superior to yours, to alter your course, or disperse, as circumstances may require.
  6. If you march in a large body of three or four hundred, with a design to attack the enemy, divide your party into three columns, each headed by a proper officer, and let those columns march in single files, the columns to the right and left keeping at twenty yards distance or more from that of the center, if the ground will admit, and let proper guards be kept in the front and rear, and suitable flanking parties at a due distance as before directed, with orders to halt on all eminences, to take a view of the surrounding ground, to prevent your being ambuscaded, and to notify the approach or retreat of the enemy, that proper dispositions may be made for attacking, defending, &c. And if the enemy approach in your front on level ground, form a front of your three columns or main body with the advanced guard, keeping out your flanking parties, as if you were marching under the command of trusty officers, to prevent the enemy from pressing hard on either of your wings, or surrounding you, which is the usual method of the savages, if their number will admit of it, and be careful likewise to support and strengthen your rear-guard.
  7. If you are obliged to receive the enemy’s fire, fall, or squat down, till it is over; then rise and discharge at them. If their main body is equal to yours, extend yourselves occasionally; but if superior, be careful to support and strengthen your flanking parties, to make them equal to theirs, that if possible you may repulse them to their main body, in which case push upon them with the greatest resolution with equal force in each flank and in the center, observing to keep at a due distance from each other, and advance from tree to tree, with one half of the party before the other ten or twelve yards. If the enemy push upon you, let your front fire and fall down, and then let your rear advance thro’ them and do the like, by which time those who before were in front will be ready to discharge again, and repeat the same alternately, as occasion shall require; by this means you will keep up such a constant fire, that the enemy will not be able easily to break your order, or gain your ground.
  8. If you oblige the enemy to retreat, be careful, in your pursuit of them, to keep out your flanking parties, and prevent them from gaining eminences, or rising grounds, in which case they would perhaps be able to rally and repulse you in their turn.
  9. If you are obliged to retreat, let the front of your whole party fire and fall back, till the rear hath done the same, making for the best ground you can; by this means you will oblige the enemy to pursue you, if they do it at all, in the face of a constant fire.
  10. If the enemy is so superior that you are in danger of being surrounded by them, let the whole body disperse, and every one take a different road to the place of rendezvous appointed for that evening, which must every morning be altered and fixed for the evening ensuing, in order to bring the whole party, or as many of them as possible, together, after any separation that may happen in the day; but if you should happen to be actually surrounded, form yourselves into a square, or if in the woods, a circle is best, and, if possible, make a stand till the darkness of the night favours your escape.
  11. If your rear is attacked, the main body and flankers must face about to the right or left, as occasion shall require, and form themselves to oppose the enemy, as before directed; and the same method must be observed, if attacked in either of your flanks, by which means you will always make a rear of one of your flank-guards.
  12. If you determine to rally after a retreat, in order to make a fresh stand against the enemy, by all means endeavour to do it on the most rising ground you come at, which will give you greatly the advantage in point of situation, and enable you to repulse superior numbers.
  13. In general, when pushed upon by the enemy, reserve your fire till they approach very near, which will then put them into the greatest surprise and consternation, and give you an opportunity of rushing upon them with your hatchets and cutlasses to the better advantage.
  14. When you encamp at night, fix your sentries in such a manner as not to be relieved from the main body till morning, profound secrecy and silence being often of the last importance in these cases. Each sentry therefore should consist of six men, two of whom must be constantly alert, and when relieved by their fellows, it should be done without noise; and in case those on duty see or hear any thing, which alarms them, they are not to speak, but one of them is silently to retreat, and acquaint the commanding officer thereof, that proper dispositions may be made; and all occasional sentries should be fixed in like manner.
  15. At the first dawn of day, awake your whole detachment; that being the time when the savages choose to fall upon their enemies, you should by all means be in readiness to receive them.
  16. If the enemy should be discovered by your detachments in the morning, and their numbers are superior to yours, and a victory doubtful, you should not attack them till the evening, as then they will not know your numbers, and if you are repulsed, your retreat will be favoured by the darkness of the night.
  17. Before you leave your encampment, send out small parties to scout round it, to see if there be any appearance or track of an enemy that might have been near you during the night.
  18. When you stop for refreshment, choose some spring or rivulet if you can, and dispose your party so as not to be surprised, posting proper guards and sentries at a due distance, and let a small party waylay the path you came in, lest the enemy should be pursuing.
  19. If, in your return, you have to cross rivers, avoid the usual fords as much as possible, lest the enemy should have discovered, and be there expecting you.
  20. If you have to pass by lakes, keep at some distance from the edge of the water, lest, in case of an ambuscade or an attack from the enemy, when in that situation, your retreat should be cut off.
  21. If the enemy pursue your rear, take a circle till you come to your own tracks, and there form an ambush to receive them, and give them the first fire.
  22. When you return from a scout, and come near our forts, avoid the usual roads, and avenues thereto, lest the enemy should have headed you, and lay in ambush to receive you, when almost exhausted with fatigues.
  23. When you pursue any party that has been near our forts or encampments, follow not directly in their tracks, lest they should be discovered by their rear guards, who, at such a time, would be most alert; but endeavour, by a different route, to head and meet them in some narrow pass, or lay in ambush to receive them when and where they least expect it.
  24. If you are to embark in canoes, battoes, or otherwise, by water, choose the evening for the time of your embarkation, as you will then have the whole night before you, to pass undiscovered by any parties of the enemy, on hills, or other places, which command a prospect of the lake or river you are upon.
  25. In paddling or rowing, give orders that the boat or canoe next the sternmost, wait for her, and the third for the second, and the fourth for the third, and so on, to prevent separation, and that you may be ready to assist each other on any emergency.
  26. Appoint one man in each boat to look out for fires, on the adjacent shores, from the numbers and size of which you may form some judgment of the number that kindled them, and whether you are able to attack them or not.
  27. If you find the enemy encamped near the banks of a river or lake, which you imagine they will attempt to cross for their security upon being attacked, leave a detachment of your party on the opposite shore to receive them, while, with the remainder, you surprise them, having them between you and the lake or river.
  28. If you cannot satisfy yourself as to the enemy’s number and strength, from their fire, &c. conceal your boats at some distance, and ascertain their number by a reconnoitering party, when they embark, or march, in the morning, marking the course they steer, &c. when you may pursue, ambush, and attack them, or let them pass, as prudence shall direct you. In general, however, that you may not be discovered by the enemy upon the lakes and rivers at a great distance, it is safest to lay by, with your boats and party concealed all day, without noise or shew; and to pursue your intended route by night; and whether you go by land or water, give out parole and countersigns, in order to know one another in the dark, and likewise appoint a station every man to repair to, in case of any accident that may separate you.

The Rules as they are today

The following rules are the edited and simplified version of the original set.

  1. All Rangers are subject to the rules of war.
  2. In a small group, march in single file with enough space between so that one shot can’t pass through one man and kill a second.
  3. Marching over soft ground should be done abreast, making tracking difficult. At night, keep half your force awake while half sleeps.
  4. Before reaching your destination, send one or two men forward to scout the area and avoid traps.
  5. If prisoners are taken, keep them separate and question them individually.
  6. Marching in groups of three or four hundred should be done in three separate columns, within support distance, with a point and rear guard.
  7. When attacked, fall or squat down to receive fire and rise to deliver. Keep your flanks as strong as the enemy’s flanking force, and if retreat is necessary, maintain the retreat fire drill.
  8. When chasing an enemy, keep your flanks strong, and prevent them from gaining high ground where they could turn and fight.
  9. When retreating, the rank facing the enemy must fire and retreat through the second rank, thus causing the enemy to advance into constant fire.
  10. If the enemy is far superior, the whole squad must disperse and meet again at a designated location. This scatters the pursuit and allows for organized resistance.
  11. If attacked from the rear, the ranks reverse order, so the rear rank now becomes the front. If attacked from the flank, the opposite flank now serves as the rear rank.
  12. If a rally is used after a retreat, make it on the high ground to slow the enemy advance.
  13. When laying in ambuscade, wait for the enemy to get close enough that your fire will be doubly frightening, and after firing, the enemy can be rushed with hatchets.
  14. At a campsite, the sentries should be posted at a distance to protect the camp without revealing its location. Each sentry will consist of 6 men with two constantly awake at a time.
  15. The entire detachment should be awake before dawn each morning as this is the usual time of enemy attack.
  16. Upon discovering a superior enemy in the morning, you should wait until dark to attack, thus hiding your lack of numbers and using the night to aid your retreat.
  17. Before leaving a camp, send out small parties to see if you have been observed during the night.
  18. When stopping for water, place proper guards around the spot making sure the pathway you used is covered to avoid surprise from a following party.
  19. Avoid using regular river fords as these are often watched by the enemy.
  20. Avoid passing lakes too close to the edge, as the enemy could trap you against the water’s edge.
  21. If an enemy is following your rear, circle back and attack him along the same path.
  22. When returning from a scout, use a different path as the enemy may have seen you leave and will wait for your return to attack when you’re tired.
  23. When following an enemy force, try not to use their path, but rather plan to cut them off and ambush them at a narrow place or when they least expect it.
  24. When traveling by water, leave at night to avoid detection.
  25. In rowing in a chain of boats, the one in front should keep contact with the one directly astern of it. This way they can help each other and the boats will not become lost in the night.
  26. One man in each boat will be assigned to watch the shore for fires or movement.
  27. If you are preparing an ambuscade near a river or lake, leave a force on the opposite side of the water so the enemy’s flight will lead them into your detachment.
  28. When locating an enemy party of undetermined strength, send out a small scouting party to watch them. It may take all day to decide on your attack or withdrawal, so signs and countersigns should be established to determine your friends in the dark.
  29. If you are attacked in rough or flat ground, it is best to scatter as if in rout. At a pre-picked place you can turn, allowing the enemy to close. Fire closely, then counterattack with hatchets. Flankers could then attack the enemy and rout him in return.
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Comments
  1. John Nichols says:

    In the old western, The man who shot Liberty Valance, The senator played by the late Jimmy Stewart builds his career on the fact that he shot an outlaw named Liberty Valance, but after returning to town for a funeral of an old rancher played by John Wayne. He tells a news paper man the truth that the late rancher who shot Liberty Valance. The reporter then rips up the article saying ,”No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. ”

    Every society needs its myths as a reflection of their culture ( See Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces ) One can see the anti-hero as a reflection of two traits in the America culture. The belief in the power of redemption and the second a spirit of rebellion against cultural restraints. Some of the reasons to admire (in the American culture) the anti-hero, despite his of hers personal failings, does the things most of us can’t or wouldn’t do.

    This was a great blog No Kool Aid!

    Like

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