Is it better to live or die on your feet?

I analyze everything way too much.

Example: I was listening to Rise Against’s new album, and the lyrics are essentially a call for revolution. But one song in particular, “Survivor Guilt,” begins with commentary between an American and someone with an eastern European accent, likely Russian.

America: “What are you talking about? America is not going to be destroyed.”

European: “Never? Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you think your country will last? Forever?”

American: “You’re a shameful opportunist. What you don’t understand is that it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”

European: “You have it backwards. It is better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.”


I find both of these arguments compelling.

To die on your feet, rather than live on your knees.

There are few people in this world with beliefs so unshakable and nerve so strong, that they are willing to die for their beliefs. I’m including religion in this, as the seed of doubt is planted very early in life. Most people don’t question, but won’t hesitate to doubt, especially in a pressing situation with multiple possible outcomes and no true solution. However, there are those who choose to stand. I use the term “choose” loosely, because for those who would die for their cause, the person and the idea are no longer separate: those who are willing to die are the embodiment of their movement. Whether it’s those who have been brainwashed by government propaganda, or those who have embraced an ideal by choice: to die on your feet is to sacrifice for a movement.

To live on your feet, rather than die on your knees.

This conjured images of an execution. There are extreme situations when dissent is deadly, and regimes do not hesitate to kill those who attempt to introduce new ideas. Information becomes an enemy, and those who distribute it are traitors. In this environment, it’s impossible to openly broadcast anything against the government or regime, impossible to be anonymous. Once a government utilizes technology against their citizens, bans books, monitors airwaves, funds propaganda (I know,  they already do all of these things), and openly target those who dare speak against the approved agenda, word-of-mouth becomes the most powerful weapon. In these situations, it’s critically important to remain alive despite oppression, in the hope of facilitating change and a better future.

During an open revolution, or in a freer society, pledging to die on your feet is productive. The buildup to these revolutions, however, is largely spawned by the quieter understanding between those who are willing to live on their feet, against their ideals, only comforted by the knowledge that they are not alone, and they are the inspiration for a new generation.

Like a single domino that falls while the rest stay vertical.

-a. dare

*Nov 29, 2011: edited title on the suggestion of a reader


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About astriddare

I’m 18. Sometimes I go to a podunk high school. My heart beats for punk rock. I can play both sides of a debate and you’ll never know which one I’m really on – the clinical diagnosis is Borderline, but most people just call it manipulative. Most of the time it helps, but sometimes it's an identity crisis.

20 responses to “Is it better to live or die on your feet?”

  1. Fawkes says :

    The european actually said
    ““Never? Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you think your country will last? Forever?”

  2. Curtis Payce says :

    I Greatly understand where you are coming from whit this and share your theories. I Also believe that the term ” live on your feet, die on your knee’s” is a very communist idea, the fact that everyone is equal and they stand together. But if you are individual you will live on your knee’s, and die on them. The album itself does reflect the images of a, revolution, but in my opinion i think it will be more of an apocalypse. on page 6 of the lyric booklet are several Names of media items that reflect this same view as this. I Go more with the idea of the apocalypse due to other songs such as End Game in which the line “he looked at the fields and then his hands, all I need is what I have… she watched the world crumble away is this the end of yesterday” these to me say that the world will change and in the views of Rise Against for the better.
    ” Carry on don’t mind me, all I gave was everything” i believe refers to how the government will just fight wars and make decisions out of our control AND THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO.

    All You Have To Do Is Shout It Out.


    • astriddare says :

      Not necessarily communist, but I understand where you derive that interpretation; but I believe it could apply to any overtly oppressive government.
      Rise Against’s politics allow revolution and apocalypse to be possibilities, but the former is much more likely. The album is almost a story, of impending revolution to the actual events themselves (Gentleman’s Coup – “We stormed the gates, raised new flags.”). Some suggest that the two characters split during Endgame, having spent the album fighting together but then realizing that they have different ideals in mind.

      “She watched the world crumble away. ‘Is this the end of yesterday?’ ‘Lord, I hope so,’ is all he said.” This dialogue, in my opinion, solidifies the revolution theory, especially given RA’s political ideology. The items listed in the lyric book are, for the most part, testimony to the unsustainability of the current political/social/economic order. Though the idea of revolution is beautiful, its fight is most often ugly and dangerous with very little certainty of outcome. RA align with those who believe that revolution is the most practical path to major social change, & subsequently believe that any damage done during a revolution will be outweighed by the dramatic change the power shift provides.

      Survivor Guilt seems to be about a veteran who believed he had fought for an honorable cause, to later learn the corruption behind US military operations.


  3. Curtis Payce says :

    I would love to hear back from you also, P.M me @

  4. maik says :

    “In these situations, it’s critically important to remain alive despite oppression, in the hope of facilitating change and a better future.”

    a good soldier of revolution must have two distinct types of courage _
    in time of open revolt they must be able to abandon 99% of the comforts of the life they have lived with AND prepare themselves to never return _ having done these things to the best of their ability they will enhance their own revolutionary being into they type of sister or brother that others can draw strength from
    AND they make themselves into a truly formidable enemy

    in times where open revolt is not possible a different and possibly more difficult courage is required _ the phrase that encompasses it might be ‘smouldering patience’ _ not only have they to accept AND swallow the indignities of the oppression they are unable to stand openly against _ they have also to educate younger generations to love the idea of future revolution with all of their heart and soul _ so that these cubs can then grow and still pass on the same smouldering patience to the next generaation and the next _

    either way _ in time of open revolt or not _ both forms of courage share the same quality to Never Give Up Hope


    i am in awe of the rising revolutionary energy i can literally feel on this blog _ not only because of it’s content but in the intelligent, well-formed structure of your posts _ i truly look forward to returning and that is NOT something i normally say or even do! so i thank you
    take good care

  5. Zenith says :

    So you accept that living on your knees is superior to dying on your feet? With life comes opportunity, and that opportunity may mean a chance to overcome oppression? Can oppression mean disadvantage? Can oppression mean potential redirection of desired goals? Do you mean it when you state that it’s critically important to remain alive despite oppression, in the hope of facilitating change and a better future?

    So, tell me,…what’s your stance on abortion?

    • astriddare says :

      For those who truly, beyond the shadow of a doubt, believe in their ideal, living on their knee is acceptable-they are at least alive, and are capable of passing a message on, rather than dying as a martyr. However incredible the martyr may be, they can’t help anyone once they’re dead, except perhaps to be a posterchild for the cause.

      Life is an opportunity to overcome oppression. But there are some situations where that can take generations of slow pushes towards change, not sudden shoves in the span of a single lifetime. Sudden change alienates the majority, while slow change just conditions people to a new normal.

      The goals of the person never change. Their means of attaining those goals must evolve with their environmental, their audience, socioeconomic status, etc. If not, the end is unattainable.

      I’m pro-choice. I could never make that decision for someone, and I would never want someone to make that decision for me.

  6. Brittney says :

    This conversation is from Joseph Hellers novel, catch 22 a few pages in to a chapter call Nately’s father. read it to get a better understanding =)

  7. Damien says :

    It is indeed from Catch 22 as Brittney says. It’s a novel but was also made into a film, and the film is where Rise Against got the audio from. The European man is a 107 year old Italian, and the American is Nately, a 19 year old soldier serving in WWII. In a nutshell, Nately is idealistic & patriotic. The old man has survived through many regime changes in Italy by basically kissing the arse of whoever’s in charge and admits he has no principles at all. He would remember Italy being several little princedoms, then to a big democratic republic, then WWI, then dictatorship, then under German control in WWII, and now under American control, so he kind doesn’t care who’s in charge, he’s only interested in survival, even if that means as a slave. This upsets Nately, because he believes that dieing for your country and your beliefs is a very noble thing to do.
    You should read the book anyway though, it’s one of the 20th century’s best books ever.

  8. Francois says :

    WOW… this peice is simply amazing! I am currently working on this exact topic for a debate in my english class and when I came across this I was instantly lured in. Your about me section tells it all. genius you are.
    With full credit to you, I’ve jotted down a few notes from your entree to add to my opening speech as first affirmitive position in my debate!

    Thank you for your work!

  9. Jason says :

    By the way, it is implied that being on one’s knees is NOT desirable in the quote… so the title should be “Is it better to live or die on your *feet*?”

    Btw, love your website!

  10. Chaz says :

    I’m not getting into this. Merely passing through. But for someone who is “into punk” so much, you sure didn’t research what you were posting a whole lot, I mean, you didn’t even find the source of the quote and investigate.

    American: “You’re a shameful opportunist. What you don’t understand is that it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”

    Old Man: “You have it backwards. It is better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.”

    They preach the same message, neither oppose the other view point, it only puts a different perspective on it.

  11. Petr Matafonov says :

    I thought it was just crackwise answer to wellknow quote (’cause i’ve heard ’bout dying on your feet and never about standing upon ’em). But i checked wiki and it said that it was said by some Mexican Hero… *shrugs*

    I think it means that – why beeing so pessimistic and self-sacrificient? I don’t want to die for my ideas, i want to live for them =).

  12. JSX says :

    I’m not certain I agree with your last paragraph. I think that we’ve seen, both during the Second World War and the Arab Spring and actually a number of times in-between, that an individual willingness to die for your cause is more necessary in that repressive society where information can’t be spread without massive sacrifice, that without it you don’t get the spark that creates your open revolution and your more open society. The trick of course has always been the timing and targeting.

    I would say that living for your cause, or as it’s put here on your feet, is much more productive in open societies. Doing what you can every day to make things better, working to change things, making it so that there doesn’t have to be some sort of revolution, that should be the goal. Not just carrying on submissively on our knees as the usual suspects continue to take everything from us.

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