Not long after Roger Moore passed, a friend sent a clip of him I had never seen before. It had no car chases or amazing gadgets, no beautiful women and hideous henchmen, not even a single utterance of “Bond … James Bond.”
Instead, an older Roger was reciting poetry, his still-charming voice capturing the keenly observant soldier of Rudyard Kipling’s “Tommy Atkins”:
“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot;
And it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
And Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!”
The poem had always been a favorite of mine. And the time couldn’t be better to bring it back again. Not just because we’re into the Memorial Day holiday, when we remember to remember our own fallen fighters, but because of what it says about ourselves and the stories in our head.
We all have them. Our inner monologues, our lens we see through, the set of expectations that each of us builds from the moment we wake up and fumble toward the shower. It’s not often conscious. In fact, it’s usually a reflex, trained over years, the smooth and invisible way of deciding how to think and what to think about.
And because the assumptions are invisible, we forget they’re assumptions. Or fail to notice when they contradict each other. Or worse, grow toxic.
Sometimes the stories become so compelling, they force themselves into visibility, they have to come out. Sometimes when they do, they add something new and wonderful to the world – a “Star Wars,” say, that enters the world 40 years ago and touches the imagination of millions, teaching them a new way to see.
Other times, the stories that force themselves on the world do so in blood. Smoke rises in Oklahoma City, in New York, in Manchester, carrying panic and pain and death. Why? A thousand reasons and more could be given, but they all start in the human heart and head. No bomber thinks “I’m going to wake up and be evil today,” consciously putting on villainy like Oddjob putting on a hat or Darth Vader donning a mask. Each has internalized a story that seems to justify their anger at the world or a piece of it, to inflame it, to demand retribution.
This is not an excuse. It’s not a call to sympathize with a murderer or make a killer the next guest on “Dr. Phil.” But it does suggest that the problem is one not easily solved with guns and missiles, one that even Kipling’s “thin red line of ‘eroes” would strain to defend against.
We have to look longer and farther and deeper.
Where do stories come from? Any writer would say they come from everywhere. Every piece of day to day life provides another idea, another connection, another piece of fuel. It’s why those who consciously create stories – writers, actors, and more besides – frequently read, frequently experience, frequently get out to learn something new.
Change the seeds, and you change the story.
Step outside the fictional, and it’s still true. Anger and hatred and radicalization can be hardy flowers … but only in a certain soil. A rebuilding Germany had little use for the nascent Nazi party. A desperate Germany was all too susceptible.
Change conditions and you change assumptions. Change assumptions and you change the world.
It will be long. It will be frustrating. It will require constant effort in numerous fields: economics, education, medicine, diplomacy, personal experience and more. And you can’t ignore symptoms while treating causes, so we will still have to defend against and deal with the angry and the evil and the violent.
But down that road waits understanding. And hope. And maybe a greater ability to see past the easy answer.
“We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes,” Kipling wrote, “nor we aren’t no blackguards too/ But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you.”
So today, let us remember.
Tomorrow, like Tommy, let us see.