I came across this quote the other day on social media:
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand read to do violence on their behalf.
It was attributed to George Orwell, but it probably won’t surprise readers to learn that it was actually said by a right-wing cultural columnist named Richard Grenier. A look at a Wikipedia page on misquotations and a site called Quote Investigator suggests that it is a paraphrase of some ideas Orwell expressed.
Regardless of who actually said those words, I think the general sentiment is widely shared by a large number of people. I recall it being an underlying point in the many spy thrillers I read back when I was in high school (Len Deighton, John Le Carre, and even Ian Fleming, plus others who were big in the 1960s and later).
It’s also something you hear from police officers and people in the military. I think it has a strong following, particularly – but not exclusively – among men, regardless of their political opinions.
Back when I was in my early 20s, I had a discussion with a good friend who was a Vietnam War vet. I stated my strong opinion that the fact that the draft only applied to men led to increased sexism and that women could and should serve in combat if military action was necessary.
To my surprise – I didn’t expect a lot of push back from my friends for my radical opinions in those days – he disagreed vehemently.
Twenty years later, he explained to me that one of the things that he held onto for a long time that let him tolerate his miserable war experience was that at least he was protecting others from having to do it. He had by then thought the subject through more deeply.
The sentiment makes sense, in our violent world, but on the whole I think it’s a myth that many people, like my friend, tell themselves to deal with the trauma of the horrors of war or other violent actions.
In truth, one of the key things that makes us safe is that some people – and sometimes enough of them – stand up against various kinds of injustice. Continue reading “Do We Need “Rough Men”?”…