So You Say You Want A Revolution. Are You Sure?

by Daniel Russ on May 30, 2013

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” The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”



Whenever I hear armchair revolutionairies repeat the quote about refreshing the blood of democracy every once in a while, I laugh. As a student of history, I laugh in utter contempt for people who have lived as cush as people in history have ever lived and I wonder if they have any idea about the utter bloody horror political upheaval means. Oh, they’ll pose with their armamentarium. They’ll pose with their bug-out bag. All that is fine. But if society did break down, they would all wish they had shut their mouths.


Alaric took 20,000 Visigoths into Rome in 410 AD and didn’t so much sack it as he purloined a few things and inflicted a few riots upon the citizenry by aimless soldiers.  He robbed and intimidated the patricians and the senators as well and with a pay off, he left. The fact that they acted with such impunity shocked the world. Rome was essentially impotent.


In 454 AD, King Gaiseric entered the gates of Rome and did what Alaric may have wanted to do.  The Vandals gave birth to the term vandalism when their army perpetrated wanton, hideous violence upon the citizens and public properties of Rome. They emptied the homes of entire neighborhoods of people and possessions and then sold all the people into slavery and kept the possessions. This was a result of the weakness of the central Roman government. Centuries before, Legionnaires would have them crushed them and crucified them all for these crimes. But in 454, the Roman legions were scattered, poorly and haphazardly led.  Rape, violence, and torture were a common occurrence in Rome during the upheaval of the final curtain on Rome, which by the way, led to the deaths of 7 million people. Vandals were just a small part of it, yet they came into towns, took what they wanted, tortured or killed or raped. That is the image of political upheaval. Not a peasant unfurling a flag on a castle wall. No. Political upheaval looks a lot like gang rape.


The Mexican War for Independence was a democracy midwifed by a population that, like the American Colonials only fifty years previously, felt compelled to shed themselves of the yoke of Empire.  And so 400,000 people died in this revolution. Yes, death and cruelty and torture and more warfare were the stuff of life and death when the Spanish Empire was finally expelled from Mexico.


We hear Christian Fundamentalists calling for people to bear arms in revolt of the godless American government. But civil unrest is bloody and sticky and uncomfortable. And there is nothing God like about it. Civil unrest sounds dry and antiseptic, but it is filled with pain and tragedy. In the case of the Taiping Rebellion from 1850 to 1864, it was the cause of 20 millions deaths. Hong Xuqiuan believed he was the son of God and the brother of Christ. This charismatic prophet staged a rebellion against the Manchu Dynasty that incidentally prevailed in the war. In the meantime armies were clashing, and when the armies weren’t clashing with each other, they were decimating villages of innocent men women and children who happened to be on the wrong side or in the wrong place at the right time.


The American Civil War killed 750,000 people, the vast majority of whom were non combattants, another simultaneously a massive civil war was going on in China as well. This was a war between the Han Dynasty and the Hui Dynasty. The Hui were Chinese Muslims. They lost the struggle and upwards of a million of them were murdered by the Han. A million people were raped, beaten, burned, put to the sword in a war you have never heard of. You see, political upheaval is a fire that consumes nameless and faceless people who suffer intense agony and then they all evanesce into history. And then you forget it. Or perhaps you never heard about it. And then you make the same mistake.


Forty million people died as a result of the conflict between Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists. Mao’s Revolution killed tens of millions more people than have ever died for America. Many died horribly, of starvation, of disease, of wounds, of warfare, of torture. Be careful before you wish for hell. When corpses rot in the streets and you don’t know where you’ll see the next meals, and Glenn Beck isn’t there to cry with you, you’ll wish for the good old days.


There have been mini wars between states in the US during our short reign. The Missouri Kansas Raids resulted in death and violence and the mysterious disappearances of hundreds of people living in border towns. There were over a thousand raids perpetrated during this conflict. The Hatfields and The McCoys was a small disagreement between two families and it almost ignited a border war between Kentucky and West Virginia. Ask the people who survived these conflicts know how cool it was to be in a miniwar.


Warfare and revolution are hell. You might have to leave your home. You might never see it again. You might have to see people you care about suffer needlessly. When you’re hungry and your children are suffering, and you may be helpless to stop it, there is nothing cool about it.


The sack of Magdenburg. The sack of Jerusalem in the First Crusades. The Seven Years War. The Thirty Years War. The Hundred Year War. The Napoleonic Wars. Bastille Day.


Revolution sucks. Be careful what you wish for.







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