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