Chapter Five – Passage Two
“I’ve done more with less,” Van says delicately. “Besides, I think we’ve got the right stuff here.”
She moves to the front of the lounge and pours herself a new mug of coffee. For the life of me, I cannot imagine where this is possibly going. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I consider myself a man of considerable imagination. (Fan fiction, after all, is one of my strong suits. North American Top 100, right here. ✊) But even my own wide-ranging imaginative wonder is having some difficulty surmising how all this is going to come together.
“Generally speaking,” Van starts, “a population is vulnerable to authoritarian rule only under very specific conditions. The easiest way to think about this is in terms of what the population in question needs.
“If the target population is destitute and living in abject famine, a totalitarian ruler will initially be able win over the people simply with food, fresh water, safety, and shelter. In this first phase, no one cares about human rights, free speech, or democracy.”
“Sure,” Katherine nods. “That totally makes sense. You can’t eat human rights. And democracy will not feed neither you nor your starving family.”
“The ability to really dig in and endure a long-running war of attrition is paramount too,” Van adds as she waves a beignet covered in powdered sugar around, picking it off the breakfast spread that’s on the folding table. “Anyone can suffer or even die valiantly for the cause in the heat of the moment, going out in a blaze of glory that’s forever immortalized in memory and song.” Van scrunches up her face for a moment, trying to remember something. “Basically, that bad anti-Semitic man in that one Scottish movie.”
It takes me a minute. “Wait, you mean Mel Gibson? William Wallace from Braveheart?”
Alan snaps his fingers. “That’s it!” He gives a nod of approval, to no one in particular. “You Americans do make really great movies though. I’ll give you that.”
Coleman makes a face. I can’t tell exactly what’s perplexed him. (Probably, all of it.) Also, he still has the thousand-yard stare of a young man on Cloud 9, after a hard night of one too many mojitos.
“Yeah, anyone can be William Wallace,” says Van shrugging. “You just suffer excruciating pain for maybe ten minutes while your intestines are being pulled out, yell something memorable, die, and then you’ll be subsequently be made a martyr immortalized for time immemorial. Easy-peasy.”
“Uh,” Coleman mumbles, “I don’t… that’s not so easy, actually…” Poor kid.
“The point,” continues Van starting in on a second powdered beignet, “is that ‘flash-in-the-pan courage’ is nothing. Every wanna-be Che Guevara’s got that in him. What’s an infinitely heavier lift is asking a man to watch his small children starve and die slowly from starvation and malnutrition for weeks and months on end. That’s the kinda sacrifice that most are unable to make. That takes real conviction. A conviction that precious few possess.”
I hold up my hands. “Whoa. Hold up. Stop the Crazy Express. I didn’t sign up for no ‘Operation-Starve-the-Children’ here. That’s a big, fat red line for me. Next idea.”