I have a very un-macho thing to confess. I get choked up every time I see the tank man.
You know who I mean.
Tiananmen Square. 1989. The government is pulling out all the stops to stamp out the peaceful demonstration for political change. The military has been called in. A column of tanks is rolling down the multi-lane street. And this guy steps out in front of the tanks. He doesn’t appear to be a demonstrator. He looks like some guy on his way home from work with a couple of bags of groceries. And for whatever reason, he just walks out a few feet in front of the tanks and stops. The tank hesitates, and then tries to drive around the guy. But this guy slides back and forth, making sure he is standing directly in front of the tank. And this tank–this column of tanks–is stopped. This one man holds up millions of dollars of Weapons of Mid-level Destruction. It only lasts a few minutes before (if I recall correctly) a handful of men run out to grab this guy and usher him out of sight. Police or soldiers whisking him off to disappear permanently? Friends rushing him off before he gets himself in serious trouble? I’ve no idea. But in those few minutes, he burned himself into (albeit anonymous) immortality in the minds of people around the world.
Seriously, my throat is constricting and my eyes watering even as I write this. I honestly get choked up. Embarrassing but true. I’m that emotionally invested in that image.
This man represents so much I believe in on a social/political level. Just an average person, a regular guy, standing up against evil (not the tank driver per se, but the use of force and political oppression). He has to know he can’t win. He can’t win the revolution. He can’t bring down the government of Bejing. If he is identified, he faces certain imprisonment at the least. He can’t even stop this column of tanks from going where they want to go.
But he does it anyway.
He walks in front of the tanks because, no matter how futile, he is standing for what is right.
And for a few brief moments, he wins.
It shows immense courage. Incredible conviction.
And what a display of hope and faith in humanity! He could not have walked out there if he did not have faith in the goodness of humanity. He had the hope that, no matter what his orders and to whom he was loyal, the tank commander was ultimately a decent human being; that he wouldn’t casually roll over one harmless man.
That is the man I aspire to be. I want to stand for what is true, noble, and good, no matter the odds. I want to have the positive belief that I can do some good simply by doing what is right. I want to believe that I will be doing some good by fighting for what appears to be futile causes when those causes are just. And I want to have the integrity to stand for something not just when I have planned the action, but when important opportunities present themselves.
Tonight on local PBS affiliate, Frontline is presenting an episode on the Tank Man (more info here). I can’t wait to watch and learn more about him and his legacy. I have no idea if Tank Man has ever been identified or if we will learn his fate. Hopefully he isn’t languishing in some prison, but who knows? I can’t wait to learn whatever there is to learn, and I look forward to the time after this life when I can express my appreciation to him for the example he has set.