I grew up peeking at Charles Bronson reruns through the gaps in the couch. “Ayatollah” was an all too common term and “Grenada” lingered in the air. Victory over tyranny was the theme during my entrance. Good versus evil was an ever-present maxim; the winning, I swear to God you could feel it between denim dreams. My personal hero was my own Grandfather, himself a returnee of wars against communist aggression. He had come home from a faraway peninsula, laid down his rifle, armed himself with a paintbrush and all the vivid colors and collections of his travels and imagination. I found myself in awe of his wondrous creations depicting the brutality of the wild west, perilous hunts on the savanna, and toreadors staring down monstrous beasts. He was my early testament to the fact that not all men are created equal.
My caregiver as a tike was a sweet, elderly woman. She would watch “Jeopardy” religiously and as an observer, I became mesmerized by the endless contest of knowledge. Whenever she left the room, I would turn the television to “American Gladiators,” a show displaying brawny, spandex-clad warriors engaged in what I perceived as combat of the existential kind. By age five, I was sure that was all I wanted to be. With the television knobs, I struck a meticulous and complimentary balance between scholastic faculty and kinetic prowess. As the world emerged from the Cold War, I watched the wall crumble. Bo Jackson was the embodiment of athleticism, Rambo was a god, Reagan was the last statesman, and Rhodesian remnants wept. Her ghastly admonition to a wide-eyed boy, “Be a man among men.”
From the very beginning, it made perfect sense to root for the home team. Still, my entertainment was not my ultimate reality. I turned off the television to find for my Self what manhood was and its becoming. My brother and I erected forts in the forest as temples to the majesty of force. Our teeth bared, we defied encroachment and dared rivals to intrude. That simple structure of felled trees was the work of our own hands, our glory, our civilization exemplar. I was an avid participant in fist-fights and footraces, spelling bees and geography bowls. All is life. I read of Kipling and of courage, Admundsen and ambition, Alexander and inner anguish, Thermopylae and duty, Tecumseh and the advancement of tribe. Between Perseus and Siegfried, the magic of myth enthralled my senses. I lost myself in a whirlwind of history: Huns, Sepoys, Magyars, Hussars, Mameluks, and Cossacks all paraded across my room in ethereal array. Musashi, Wingate, Garibaldi and Franco were my companions. From the Falklands to Dien Bien Phu, my passport was each turn of the page. Zulu impis, Grecian hoplites, Roman legions, their violence and virtue shaped my world and captivated my literary interest.
I grew from student, to cadet, to one of the Few and Proud. As a child, I had discovered the words of von Clausewitz between the encyclopedic pillars of my bookshelf; as a young man, I found their meaning between cyclic fire in the fields of Southwest Asia. I entered the arena and became that American Gladiator. Like my Grandfather, I came home from war with a keen insight concerning the intimate, inadvertent, and crucial effects of force. And just like him, I traded one precious instrument for another. I picked up a pen. As before, I recognized my calling to face the beasts, the brigands, and the cultural saboteurs.
The world has since changed, as it is surely designed. Fist-fights are forbidden, foot races are rewarded indiscriminately, and hardness is shunned for a more palatable yet superficial appearance. In all of the “solutions” that surround me, I questioned whether I was the lie, if it was everything that I knew and everything that had made me that needed to be corrected. Combat, as the trial that it has always been was the most authentic experience I had ever submitted my Self to. I recall the realness of a bullet’s passing, the truth that it forced me to identify. There was no deception in these moments, or in the ones from my childhood that remain so vivid. It had deconstructed everything about the world around me and made me challenge the mechanisms that make it turn. I couldn’t afford to fall into the slumber of nihilism despite what I had seen and lived. It awakened rather, a world within me, the one that had on the external, slipped away from society, and one that society desperately requires for its own recovery. This reality aroused my conscience to the structure necessary to ignite the darkness and regain the intended balance of enlightenment. In all of its progress, the world of ruins surrounding me fed my rejection of its kumbaya-like artifice where tolerance instead of unapologetic confrontation subtly became the bandaid for social ills and where blind inclusion now takes precedence over prejudice. I am convinced that it is the modern world that is the liar and that all we have been birthed from, all that we know, all that we have been forced to second guess, is the truest truth.
Across my sensory landscape, I’ve blazed a trail into the wicked wilds. I’ve constructed a shanty in this forlorn glen, and in the fashion of Kjelgaard, my longing glows like the amareto-scented cinder of an old pipe. The weather changes outside my two windows. I forage about the exile within me like all enterprising men must. Experience, I gather as one gathers wood for an imminent winter, feeding the evening fire of my resolve. Winter has come. This is the redoubt, and I beckon the outcasts shunned by modernity into my abode. Through its tumult and Challengers, failures and successes, its inequities and bloodletting, our world was never wrong. Capable men with instruments, even those reading this now, have always made it right. Right it we Will; write it we will, until we write the errant world back to its sanity. Whether with blood or with ink, there are deserts waiting to be watered. Take up the task.