Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Badass Chronicles, Pt V (Speaking of Claymores...)

...Who else?

Braveheart, The Guardian of Scotland, The Highland Terror, the man who inspired a revolution and took back a nation, paving the way for a brief and glorious time when it was free and independent. Hollywood tried valiantly to portray him and did a decent job, mostly thanks to Mel Gibson who actually tried to understand his role. But still, Hollywood in all its special effectual glory could capture the true, sheer Chuck-Norris-like qualities of this hairy Highlander.
The story starts at William's birth in Elderslie, Scotland. His exact birth date is unknown. He was the son of Malcolm Wallace, a knight and landowner in Scotland. Malcolm had fought in many wars and taught young William about courage, respect, honesty and charity among other things. Malcolm had been a linebreaker in the Scottish army, meaning he would dress in heavy plate armor and run at sheer walls of enemy pikes, breaking the spears with a two-handed sword so that the rest of the infantry could charge without being gutted. The survival rate for linebreakers was under 10%, so Malcolm was quite a man himself. I suppose it takes someone like that to raise someone like THAT. William spent the first part of his life in relative quiet, working physical labor peacefully at his inherited farm near Elderslie.
Fairly recently Edward I had brutally overthrown Scotland's government through a combination of arms and political maneuvering (hooray for politicians), and forced every Scot to sign the 'Ragman's Roll,' a declaration of fealty to him and to the Government. Wallace refused to sign, a fact that should have come into play later.
The first account of Wallace metaphorically making large men cry took place 5 years before his open rebellion. According to Blind Harry, the first bard to put Wallace's actions into words, Wallace had been fishing along the River Irvine when a squad (six) English soldiers approached him and demanded the entire catch. Wallace offered them half. Their leader raised a steel gauntlet to strike the fisherman. Bad bloody idea. Wallace struck him with the fishingpole, then took his sword and killed the other five. When he was done, he sat back down and continued fishing. There is no record of any disciplinary actions toward Wallace, meaning he buried those bodies deep.
Something happened in May of 1297. Exactly what set Wallace off like a spark on gasoline is unclear. Most scholars think that it was either the execution of his wife, or the wife of a friend, under the orders of the local English Sheriff, a man named William Hesselrig. Every romanticist on earth loves to think that it was his wife, Marion Braidfute, and I have to say that is a lot more fun. Whatever caused it, it was bad. Very bad. After taking his father's old two-handed claymore from storage in a cottage thatch roof, he began by performing what was called 'Wallace's Larder,' in which he took the soldiers in the town of Elderslie, and, one at a time, Rambo-like, killed them silently. There were probably around a dozen of them.
Step two was simple. In the early hours of the morning Wallace scaled the walls of the English castle garrison with his bare hands and single-handedly killed every English soldier within the walls of Lanark Castle. There were probably somewhere from 20-30 armed men. He found the sheriff, the man supposed to have killed his wife/friend's wife, and put him at blade's edge. He is recorded to have said "I am Wallace, die, Hesselrig." before running him through and lobbing off his head. He then lit the castle on fire, and walked out the front gates, leaving a blood-soaked courtyard behind him.
After this came the real question: "Well, that was fun. What now?" So Wallace elected to take back his home country from the greedy imperialists' hands. Taking everyone he could to him, Wallace fled to the woods where he and his small band set up camp and began a guerrilla warfare campaign. The hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Kong, Mongols and early Picts before him served well. Wallace's band would cut a single squadron of English soldiers to pieces, disappearing into the thick Highland mist before reinforcements could arrive.
Recruits came in droves, hundreds flooding into the woods to join the man they percieved as their savior, and if ever there was a man to be idolized as a hero, it would be Wallace. Standing above 6'6" tall, broad as a barn and hairy as a goat, wielding a two-handed broadsword with one hand like a fencing foil, he was really quite imposing.
Their first real battle came at Stirling Bridge. Wallace advanced up from the south, where he met Andrew Murray, another Scottish freedom fighter, from the north. The two joined forces, creating a small but daunting army for the advancing English. Wallace was a smart man and, though not brilliant, a decent tactician. He ordered the cutting of thousands of simple pikes, long spears of twelve, fifteen feet and by destroying several bridges, forced the English to meet him on Sterling Bridge, a small but sturdy wooden bridge, wide enough for two horses to walk abreast, no more. This was a brilliant move as the English relied heavily on their cavalry, which could no longer charge.
When the two armies faced each other, however, that is exactly what Edward I tried to do. He ordered a charge of heavily armored horsemen, the backbone of the army, their tanks. Wallace's men stood several hundred feet from the bridge, their pikes on the ground.The chargers formed as best they could once across the bridge and charged the Highlanders. "Hold," Wallace yelled, keeping the men from snatching up their spears for the security of arms. The chargers grew closer, gathering more speed. "Hold!" he yelled a second time. "Hold!" he yelled once more, and when "He could see the fear in their eyes" he yelled the command to raise spears. All men reached down and held their pikes in front of them, digging in their heels and forming an impenetrable wall of steel and ashwood. The horses and men were impaled like kabobs, and the main force of the English army was desecrated. The Scottish pushed toward the bridge, cutting down what was left of the knights and riders and taking the main battle to the center of the bridge. There they were commanded to hold as the English forces charged them as best they could. The fighting was close and dirty. Pikes thrust at the English ranks from the Scottish side, and arrows whipped at the Scots from the other bank. Wallace fought in the thick of it, wielding "A sword that seemed fit for archangel, light in his terrible hand." Finally, as he had predicted, the bridge collapsed and the pikes were able to work more fully. By the end of the day the English had thoroughly sore rears.
The Scots took casualties as well, nearly a third of their forces were gone, and Andrew Murray had been killed in battle, but they had forced the English to retreat back to where they had come from, and now the job of securing borders, castles, docks, villages etc. fell to the rag-tag army.
And this is where the story turns from triumph to "tactically not-so-bright." Wallace, having reclaimed Scotland, pushed father south into England, far into England in fact, intent on besieging London, some say. The English pushed back until Wallace was backed deeper into his homeland. Wallace decided to meet them at Falkirk moor, where the English could more effectively use their heavy mounts. Two divisions of cavalry circled around the Scots, who were keeping their pikemen at the center of formation. The cavalry drove off the Scots' archers and what few horsemen they had, but could not break the spearmen. Finally the pikes were cut to ribbons by the English archers and the battle was lost.
Wallace himself retreated into the woods as he had done before, then went to France to rally support. He returned to Scotland and was betrayed by a member of his band and captured. He was transported to London, where one of the five greatest trials the world has ever seen, according to one author, was preformed. Wallace was charged with treason, along with a thousand and one other rediculous charges that only the English could trump up.
"...did burn old women inside of churches and eat children alive, did slay priests and murder infants... a runaway from righteousness, a robber, a committer of sacrilege, an arsonist and a murderer, more cruel than Herod and more debauched in his insanity than Nero".
But chief among his charges was that of treason. In reply, he said:
"I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject." (He never signed the Ragman's Roll, and otherwise considered himself a free man) "Freedom is true, and we shall not live like slaves." And although not all of the speech survives, it is reported to have been a heartbreaking ode to freedom and the rights of men.
Freedom from the tyrannical government, the rights of men above the law...sounds almost, revolutionary, don't it?
He was executed painfully in a drawn out, public ceremony. I shall not go into detail for the sake of innocent eyes and squeamish stomachs.
And that was the end of William Wallace, and the Scottish Revolution. The end, that is, for a few years, until Robert the Bruce took up the fallen standard of Saint Andrew's Cross and freed Scotland more permanently. Scotland's fighting clans resurfaced like a swimmer emerging from suffocation water, the revolution was reborn more furious and determined than ever, pipes blaring, swords waving. Bruce drove a dying Edward I out of Scotland. Edward died gasping with his last breath that "Scotland was his" although it had just been proven that no, Scotland belonged to the Scots.
Before Bruce's greatest battle, Bannockburn, he gave no great speech, merely turned to his men and said "You bled with Wallace, now bleed with me."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Badass Chronicles, Pt. IV

Jack. Freaking. Churchill.

You know those men, too numerous to mention, who did things like take on an entire platoon of Germans in WWII and come out alive? All the Inglorious Basterds of the Second World War? There are so many, and all of them so heroic that I had a very hard time deciding which to mention and which to leave to their glory elsewhere...until I found this man.

This is Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill. He fought in World War II as an officer, but here's what sets him apart from the rest: he did it with a sword and bow and arrows. Not just any sword, not some pansy-ass rapier or a skinny little marine saber, no, a Scottish Claymore, a HUGE sword, capable of cleaving a man in half with ease. He once said "Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."
He joined the army as a young man, after which he resumed a civilian career. He took up bagpipes, and his skills with pipes and bow earned him a role in The Thief of Baghdad, an important and historical silent film. At the beginning of WWII Churchill joined the army again, signing up for a commando unit, not because he knew anything about it but because it "sounded dangerous." Score one for mindless ballishness. In May of 1940, Churchill and his regiment ambushed a German patrol at l'Epinette, France, where Churchill signaled the beginning of the attack by putting an arrow through the neck of the German officer.
In 1941 Churchill helped spearhead the Operation Archery (ironically named) raid, which began with a smaller-scale, D-Day-like landing. Churchill was the first out of his craft, playing "The March of the Cameron Men," a foot-stomping battle-tune, on bagpipes as he leaped from the boat. He then threw a grenade, drew his sword and charged the beach.
Soon after he went, claymore at his side, bagpipes under his arm and bow on his back, with two commando units to capture an enemy observation post/POW camp. He did this handily, infiltrating the town, cutting down resistance and returning with 42 prisoners, who were forced to carry the wounded back down the mountain. For that he received the Distinguished Service Order.
In '44 he led a party to support the resistance/partisan fighters in Yugoslavia, and after that he went to the German island of Brač, where he organized a motley army of partisans, commandos and resistance fighters into an attack on a German post. The landing went unopposed, but the partisans came under heavy fire soon inland and decided to deffer the attack to the next day. When the next day rolled around, Churchill led his squad of commandos into battle for a flanking maneuver, but the partisans never showed. Only Churchill and half a dozen others were left alive to reach the objective. Everyone in the squad that was not Jack Churchill was then killed by a mortar shell. He played "Will Ye Nay Come Back Again?" on pipes as the Germans advanced. He was knocked unconscious by grenades (Nobody wanted to get near him or that sword) and captured.
He was hauled to a concentration camp and interrogated, but would say nothing but name, rank, serial number. Churchill and an RAF officer crawled under the wire late one night and escaped. They were captured again near the coast and sent to another camp. Churchill didn't like that one either, so he left again. By the time he met up with an American regiment the war was over, which, it is reported, rather disappointed Churchill. He was the only recorded soldier in the war to have killed an enemy with a sword or bow.
He retired from the army in 1959, with the Military Cross and Bar and two awards of the Distinguished Service Order. He died in Surrey in 1996.

(Jack Churchill, far right, sword drawn, leads his men from the front)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Badass Chronicles Pt. III

Next is a man who is, strangely enough, still alive: Ben Malisow. Two years ago I was browsing through a bookstore, nothing uncommon, when I turned a corner and was stared in the face by a short, thick, yellow book, entitled "1001 Things to do if You Dare." I smiled and paged through it. It made my day, simply knowing that such a book existed, and so I bought it. I have since strived to complete ten things in the three to five (fairly dangerous to ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND dangerous) skull rating area (the dangerousness/stupidity of a certain act is rated from one to five skulls, one skull is something like playing hackey sack, five skulls is something like going into an African war zone. Or spending a winter in Wisconsin. Seriously).
After I had throughly read through the book I looked at the back for the "about the author" section, which I always like to read. Needless to say, I had already gained some idea of just what kind of a fellow would research and DO some of these things, but when I read the "about the author" I was blown away by sheer manly prowess.
It read thusly:
"On a $20 bet, the author jumped out a second-story high school window when he was seventeen. He tore some cartilage in his left knee. Unfortunately, he did not learn from the financial disparity of this experience and has since done a bunch of silly things. He's flown a glider and a Cessna; rappelled down a cliff face and out of a hovering helicopter; driven a race car; dumped a motorcycle; nearly drowned while trying to learn to surf (ditto water-skiing); went scuba-diving off the Great Barrier Reef; slalomed double black diamond runs in the Rocky Mountains; rafted class IV rapids and canoed class III; gone the distance in numerous boxing matches and other martial arts events (and lost just as many times); run with a herd of bulls at the request of his crazed editor; fired the small-arms inventory of the combined NATO and former Warsaw Pact; visited brothels on five continents; eaten a variety of bizarre things (including rattlesnake, horseflesh and something that was still moving); supplied security services to the FBI, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security; worked as an undercover investigative journalist; served as a military officer on classified counter-drug operations; and maintained a long-term relationship with a redhead. He admits he might be stupid."
Now something I would like to point out here. Unlike everyone previously stated in this list, and unlike everyone to come, this man is not a hero. At least I'm not sure. From what I could find of him he served in the Air Force and as you saw ran some operations for the military, but since it is unclear what he did in those operations, I hesitate to put him, entirely, in the same class as the rest. But one thing the certainly can be said: he is fully, totally and completely a badass. I think, in fact, if you look up "The Man" in the dictionary, you may just find a picture of him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Badass Chronicles, Pt. II

Next in the Ultimate Man Who Does Not Flinch When Someone Yells "Punchbuggy" Contest is Charles Lightoller. Not a toughguy like The White Death, or many of the others on this list, no, Lightoller was something entirely different. He was a quiet, reserved type, but he had something that many did not: simply chivalry and self-sacrifice.
An hour before the Titanic struck the iceberg, Lightoller had gone to bed and was lying in his cabin. When he felt the collision he ran to the deck dressed only in his pajamas. After being reassured that nothing was wrong, he went back downstairs to his cabin. When he was summoned back to the deck he pulled on trousers, a sweater and his officer's coat and hat. Once on deck he immediately began assisting with the lifeboats, strictly enforcing the "Women and children first" rule. At one point a group of men began muscling their way into a lifeboat, shoving women and children to the side as they attempted to save themselves. Infuriated, Lightoller drew his officer's pistol, which he had unloaded earlier, and roared "Get out you damned cowards, I'll see you all overboard!"
After the second lifeboat had been filled and deposited safely on the ocean, Lightoller ran to the officers' quarters to retrieve a collapsible lifeboat, but as he emerged a wave reared above the boat and he knew that he could do nothing more, so as his naval training demanded he dived overboard. When he resurfaced he saw the ship's crow's nest, but unlike others who swam toward it he swam away, knowing that it was best to get away from the sinking ship. He yelled to others but they could not or did not want to hear him. When the ship's forward ventilator collapsed Lightoller was sucked under again, this time resurfacing and, noticing a lifeboat, called out to it. The boat picked him up and he led it to safety, coaching the men through a deadly squall. Without him the first lifeboat would not have made it, and the second would be filled with cowards that the world never should have seen.
At the beginning of World War One, Lightoller reenlisted in the navy. There he fought many battles on the sea, including one against a freaking Zeppelin. For that he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. When he gained command of his own ship he proved himself further, fighting an out-gunned battle against a German boat, which he rammed and sunk. A bar was added to his medal, and he finished out the war as a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy. He worked unofficially in World War Two, running one of the "little ships" during the Dunkirk evacuation, an extremely risky mission. He died December 8th, 1952 at the age of 78. Having often said that he "Never should have lived so long."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Badass Chronicles, Pt. I

So I've decided to throw out some real role models, the kind boys (and girls of a certain temperament) could stand to learn from and aspire to. These are real men. The kind that make Rambo, John Wayne and Jack Bauer look like crossdressing pansies. Because "Men do not cry, men do not pout, men do not whine. Men do not share their feelings. Why? because it's none of your ____ing business!" as Rocco has taught us.

Part I
The White Death.

Once upon a time in occupied Finland...kind of. November 1939 Soviet forces invaded Finland, meeting harsh resistance, because, as we all know, the Fins are tough old buggers who DO NOT LIKE THINGS TO CHANGE. One of these was named Simo Häyhä. Häyhä had served his mandatory year in the military long ago and was at the time working as a farmer, but the Russians kind of pissed him off, invading his country and all. So he took to the place he knew: the woods. Now these are not your standard American walk-in-the-park kind of woods, these are Finnish Death Trap woods. -20 to -40, on a decent day, treacherous, labyrinthlike. All in all a very fun place.
He began his work very simply. Using an ironsighted (no scope) rifle and an old light machinegun, Häyhä began picking off Russian troops one at a time, dressed all in white camouflage. His tactics were simple: sit in a tree, pick out a creep and shoot him from impossible distances. He made quick work of the Russian forces that were sent.
After a couple weeks of Häyhä killing everything in an enemy uniform The Russian army finally sent a special detachment to kill him specifically. Häyhä killed them all in one day. They sent countersnipers, equipped with better camouflage and zoom-scoped rifles, state of the art equipment. Häyhä killed them all as well. He soon earned the nickname "The White Death" among the Soviet forces.
It wasn't long before command started getting very frustrated with this freaking Fin that would not die, and soon they sent in planes to carpet bomb all the areas where Häyhä might be hiding. He sustained a cut to his jacket from this. In under a hundred days the White Death had killed 705 men, 542 with his rifle and 163 with a light machinegun. Some sources put the numbers higher, but those are the official stats recorded by the Reds.
Finally Häyhä was shot in the head with an FMJ, or Dum-dum, a bullet designed to explode heads. It did just that, blowing half of Häyhä's head off. The White Death had finally been stopped...for about two weeks, when he regained consciousness. Haha Reds, haha.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Saints Are Coming.

For those of you who do not know, I am entirely obsessed with the movie Boondock Saints, in all it's brilliant Irish kickassness. So when I heard that after ten years Troy Duffy was coming out with a sequel to the curse-filled, gratuitously violent '99 vigilante cult film I had two simultaneous reactions:
1. "Oh God, they'll kill it."
So I was pretty anxious to see what they did to it. On Sunday The Goatish Brother and I went to the 9:50 a.m. showing, because we're just that nerdy. I almost cried coming out. It was beautiful. A different movie to be sure, but not in a bad way. It was shot differently (except for some reference shots) the cursing was different, the gunfights were different. But the characters were the same, and that's the amazing, and brilliant part of the movies. Rocco was back (briefly in one of the GREATEST SCENES EVER FILMED BY MAN) being his none-too-bright self, the brothers were exactly the same, having aged slightly, Il Duce, D-D-D-D-Doc, Greenley, Duffy, all of them, along with some fresh faces. The humor was fantastic, the exact same style of the humor in the original, and I think this one may actually be funnier. That night I went to the 9:50 p.m. showing, and it was just as good. I plan on going this weekend as well.
So, in closing: SEE IT.