“Cherish your enemies – they teach you the best lessons”
“Whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience.” ~ John Locke
So reads the plaque on Phil Gordon’s wall in his Sipsey Street home the moment before all hell breaks loose. In ‘Absolved’, I try to explore the depths of Locke’s belief to discover where it might lead us in the near future.
Since I began posting chapters of ‘Absolved’ on the ‘net, I have been the recipient of many emails – some laudatory, some critical. I have been taken to task by some for killing off all my characters, for example. I can tell you that while my novel, like war, has its casualties, I “kill off” no one in my tale who either doesn’t deserve it or who isn’t willing to make the trade for what they perceive to be the greater good. Like all wars, there are “collateral” casualties. It would not be believable if there weren’t. I can only tell you that I am not bloodthirsty. Writing about this subject actually depresses me. I have a son and two teenage daughters, all of whom I am immensely proud. My son in turn has two sons of his own. I want to live long enough to sing all my grandchildren to sleep to the tunes of Hobo’s Lullabye, Bold Fenian Men, Rising of the Moon and the Minstrel Boy, just as I did with my own children.
Another civil war in this country is the last thing I want.
“The Useful Dire Warning”
So why write about one? Perhaps, as David Brin, author of the magnificent book The Postman (which bears no resemblance to the Costner cinematic flop), wrote in a forward to a reprint of Pat Frank’s classic Alas, Babylon:
Two books that emerged at roughly the same time as Alas, Babylon were Eugene Burdick’s Fail Safe and Peter George’s Red Alert, which later inspired Stanley Kubrick to make the magnificently humorous and thoughtful Dr. Strangelove. As archetypes of the useful dire warning, each dissected a specific possible failure mode, bringing it to the awareness of so many that, ironically, their particular type of debacle became much less likely. Indeed, the “self-preventing prophecy” may be the highest and most useful species in all of the vast, imaginative genus of speculative fiction. In much the same way that Orwell’s 1984 girded millions against “Big Brother,” these tales may have helped to keep their own nightmares from coming true. In other words, our most vivid nightmares may have been utterly practical, helping to save our lives. — David Brin, Foreward to the First Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition of Pat Frank’s ‘Alas, Babylon’, 2005, p. X.
One of the things about ‘Absolved’ that has come in for both praise and criticism is the deadly details. When Phil Gordon or Kraut Mueller craft improvised rifle grenades, you can tell from the sometimes mind-numbing detail that it is certainly possible to do so. When thousands of Brightfire mercenaries-in-training are crushed under a fuel-air-explosive delivered by crop duster, you believe it is possible because, frankly, it IS. They say to write about what you know, and although in most cases I have not personally done the things that my characters in the book do, I have done enough research to know that it can be done.
There are characters in the book (most of them in fact) who resemble real people, or composites of two or three real people, who I have actually known. For example, “The Flying Dutchman,” introduced in a future chapter is a sure-’nuff real smuggler pilot, a larger-than-life character I met a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, as they say. He represents the archetype of the smuggler as freedom fighter just as much as John Hancock, Dr. Syn, Han Solo, Malcolm Reynolds or the grocery stock-boy Dale in the canceled CBS television series, Jericho. Like Hancock, however, the Flying Dutchman has the advantage of being a real American. If I place him in fictional circumstances, he reacts the way he would in life, I think. If he dislikes my representation of him, I’m sure he’ll let me know. After I’m done, you may play the game of pin-the-caricature-on-the-real-jackass to your heart’s content and those who know me best will no doubt be able to pick out characters who I have patterned on them.
Take Kraut Mueller, for example. Like the fictional Kraut, I have played a cat-and-mouse game with the ATF since the 90s. There is, I confess, more than a slight resemblance between us. Even so, Kraut is a better man than me, smarter, more aggressive in his actions, and more competent. The real me is not half as interesting as Kraut. If I were to try to cook up shaped charges in a basement, I’d be dead already. Frankly, I’m a klutz.
But the vignettes that will hopefully coalesce into a narrative that flows from the terrible opening to a logical conclusion (and a good read in between) are also presented with such detail for a purpose. If this book is to operate as a “useful dire warning,” then both real sides in my imaginary civil war (and they are VERY real, just ask David Olofson and his victimized family — for them this war has already started and is NOT imaginary) must be able to recognize the real threat to avoid it.
In this, I am frankly writing as much a cautionary tale for the out-of-control gun cops of the ATF as anyone. For that warning to be credible, I must also present what amounts to a combination field manual, technical manual and call to arms for my beloved gunnies of the armed citizenry. They need to know how powerful they could truly be if they were pushed into a corner.
Both sides must get the point in order to avoid conflict.
I hope that when I’m done, ‘Absolved’ can perhaps take its place alongside these other “useful dire warnings.” Being a practical man, however, I recognize that this is but a glimmering hope. Events rush by, pushing us like rudder-less boats in a strong current to where we know not.
A peaceful pool?
The thunderous cataclysm of a deadly falls?
Perhaps, in the wicked light of the Olofson case, the latter is more likely.
The Unintended Inspiration
When completed my book will be dedicated, as most books are, to the one person, or persons, who made it all possible. Oh, I will have a Forward thanking all the folks who have assisted me in my project, of course. Chief among these will be my long-suffering wife Rosey, my kids, other gunnies and fellow workers in the thankless task of trying to restore our tottering constitutional republic.
But I think I will be dedicating ‘Absolved’ to “Waco Jim” Cavanaugh and Special Agent Jody Keeku of the ATF, the blundering, deadly yet unintended inspiration for all my work. For most of you, neither needs an introduction. For the rest of you, the very moniker of “Waco Jim” should tell you the larger portion of his sins. Keeku was the principal agent of David Olofson’s frame-up and imprisonment.
Whether my novel is a prescient glimpse into a bloody future or a “useful dire warning” that is heeded, is entirely up to the likes of them and the corrupt politicians who hold their leashes.
It is they who by their conduct will absolve us of any further obedience to an oppressive regime. And as I point out in ‘Absolved’, if the law no longer protects us, then they will find to their sorrow it does not protect them either.
The choice is theirs.
So I dedicate ‘Absolved’ to them and their thuggish fellow gang members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
As Ho Chi Minh once observed, “Cherish your enemies – they teach you the best lessons.”
I hope they understand that before it is too late.
21 July 2008