Thomas Carlyle, that prophetic voice of the 19C, delineated in Heroes And Hero Worship (1841) what he thought were types of world-historical individuals.
Among them he projected Cromwell as a type of hero whose strength lay in a species of obdurate conviction that had no need of any flamboyant oratorical skills.
Two other figures from the 20C/21C spring to mind as further exemplars of the type, namely, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi.
No more true metaphor for them than the grass, which Whitman called the “handkerchief of the Lord,” fusing in a magnificently visionary way god with democracy.
The grass, it grows everywhere, however you trample on it. In its fecund unendingness, it symbolizes and manifests the will-to-life itself, and in its undefeatably cussed humility, it is the spirit of universal freedom and common democracy that refuse to be quelled.
And, as any good gardener knows, the more you cut the more it grows.
Which may be why the sensible British did not heed Hitler’s counsel in 1938: When Chamberlain went to reason with him, he mentioned Gandhi and how troubled the empire was by him.
Uncomprehending, the Feuhrer asked, “why don’t you shoot him?”
And had they done so, nothing might have brought about so early a collapse of the empire—and in predictably brutal ways.
Clearly, the two-penny tyrants in Burma who strut about in a prison of their own making—if Suu Kyi cannot leave her house, the Generals may not leave Burma, for they are reviled everywhere, including in those parts of the world who have shabby deals with them—have understood that much.
Thus, for their own wretched safety, they desist from doing that Hitler on her. So, we ask, are they winning or losing Burma? Losing, we think. And over that knowledge, Suu Kyi’s smile arches like that of angels, seeing far far beyond the events of any single day, beyond even her own life.
Meanwhile, the merchants of commerce and pelf the world over—a mining interest here, a military interest there, all clothed as high policy—speak from both sides of the crooked commercial mouth all at once.
Shamed by the radiance and the stature of the slender lady in Rangoon, a twitch of whose eye can bring all of Burma to the streets, they laud her spirit of resistance, remembering even that, after all, she had gone to college in India, but under the table, their grubby fingers make grubby transactions. And these include those in India who did the same to Gandhi. (Or to our own iron lady, Irom Sharmila, who remains on a forced, drip-driven hunger strike for close to a decade now.)
As though he (Gandhi) had not seen through their salivating cupidities. How he was to turn away from them just when they were prancing on the stage of a bloodied “freedom,” wanting not even to be told of it as he busied himself in quelling the butcheries in Bengal.
And those that proclaim themselves the ordained agents of the spirit of democracy, and cry hoarse how it is so throttled in Iran, China, Russia, Cuba find canny arguments to perpetuate tyranny in Burma, Saudi Arabia, Honduras and wherever else their greed so commands. And no Christian country as Christian and god-swearing as their’s. Even as they make sure Suu Kyi is awarded the Nobel prize for peace.
But here is what we say: no military uniform, however starched, in Burma can expect to snuff out the grass forever. Under their very nose, it grows and grows. And all the little millions of the world make of their opprobrium a clarion call.
You may think that the fate of a Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka and Baitullah Masud in AFPAK augurs well for the tyrants in Burma.
But think again. Using the gun, they made it easy for the guns on the other side, and difficult for the people who wished them well.
Not so the lady in Burma. She could not hurt a fly, but her patient, fearless eye bears the portents of a cloud-burst that, when it comes, shall sweep from sight the starched uniforms and the little men in them as though they never had been.
With some liberty of emendation, here is what the Bard might have said:
In the meanwhile, the well-meaning millions of the world must sharpen and deepen their noble contempt, until such contempt becomes too much for the oppressor to live with. And combine that with the force of argument, proferred daily in conclave, city square, street side, and among masses of men and women gathered to protest tyranny . And deploy on behalf of that contempt and argument those histories from the collaborating world which shame both the collaborators and those they collaborate with. For, be not cynical about shame. The power of shame is great. It hollows the innards of spit and polish, and renders the General a mere mannequin in time to come.
To the lady in Rangoon we say, we salute you. For your pitying smile renders your oppressors mere wanton boys who know not what chastisement awaits them.
What greater proof of your victory than that the mere thought of your free movement through town should send shivers down the military spine. Generals, little Generals, dressed in little, brief authority—they would much rather have preferred that you came swirling the sword like some modern Joan of Arc. Alas for them, your brahmastra (weapon of weapons) is a smile that is everyday fresh as creation, and a soul that knows no doubt. And an eye that forgives even in the hour of despair. And a spirit that waters the grass even through the brick and mortar.
They held Mandela for twenty six years. Look where he is now. You are but young, both in age and in confinement. And the future is yours, your people’s and of the world that stands by you and them.