The Tank Man: A Study in Courage

Here’s something to think about on the Fourth of July.  It’s been 25 years since the demonstrations for democracy in Tiananmen Square were brutally suppressed by the communist government of China.  Take a look at the astonishing video below of one of those protesters, widely known as the “Tank Man.”

 If you’ve never seen the footage before, it will captivate you.  If you’re like most and have seen it before, the Fourth of July is a good time to watch it again. The identity and fate of the Tank Man is not known.  But he showed us something magnificent: that real courage  scares the living daylights out of tyrants.  Especially if there are witnesses, but even if there aren’t.  

A tiny power elite — in this case, the dozen of so members of inner inner circle of the Chinese government — just can’t deal with it when a member of the masses defies them by speaking or acting without their permission.   And I’m not even talking about what the Tank Man did, but what he confronted:  a column of tanks sent in to shut people up.  That’s why all tyrants fight self-expression so much.  First they have to separate us and get control over our relationships, usually through emotional blackmail like political correctness.  The point is to socially isolate any dissenter. It causes people to silence what they believe so that few seem to express those beliefs anymore.  Then, once you feel sufficiently alone, the elites make sure there’s no escape from their program.  It’s just like being stuck in a cult.

In fact, of all the first amendment freedoms, it seems totalitarians feel most threatened by freedom of association.   

In the first days of the Tiananmen Square protests, I remember watching some of the students interviewed by Western media and being absolutely astonished as they quoted in English from the Declaration of Independence. My husband and I looked at each other, jaws dropped, after we heard one of the young men say to reporters:  

“We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”    

It made me cry. What will it take for so many young Americans today to understand the miracle of those words ever being put into law?  Would they understand it only if they had to live with what happened to the Chinese demonstrators:  the massacre, the tanks rolling into them?  (Many were crushed by the tanks.  Literally. This was described to me by one eyewitness I spoke to years later at a wreath laying at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C.)

On a positive note, ponder the ripple effects that just one person can cause.  Not only does the Tank Man live on in the memory of millions, but it seems the 1989 protests in  Tiananmen Square triggered many reforms in China.

I keep Vaclav Havel’s quote in the upper corner of this blog to remind readers of what any one person can do:

“his action went beyond itself because it illuminated its surroundings, and because of the incalculable consequences of that illumination.”

 

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