Twenty years ago, when Hollywood still made movies to entertain and when the Academy Awards were based on talent and appeal instead of an “inclusion scorecard,” Jude Law starred in a compelling if not entirely historically accurate film called Enemy at the Gates. It followed a young Vasily Zaitsev during the Battle of Stalingrad as he and other Soviet snipers fought against incredible odds to keep the Germans at bay. Outnumbered, outgunned, and with precious little help from Stalin’s government, these brave folks fought in the streets and alleyways, not necessarily to win the war or even the battle, but to keep the dream of victory alive in the hearts and minds of the people and to set an example of what one person could achieve with a standard-issue rifle and the will to keep going.
In the last few weeks here in the United States, with the inauguration of a new administration and Big Tech’s purge of any and all voices which don’t match the current cultural narrative, those of us who struggle to uphold and pass on the natural rights and liberties on which our nation was founded find ourselves outgunned, outnumbered, and with little if any help from a government more concerned with pushing an agenda than preserving our freedoms. We find ourselves in a similar situation to those Soviet snipers, where, stripped of resources, we need to keep the dream of our republic alive and to set an example for those willing to listen to what an individual with a laptop and a belief in our founding principles can achieve. And yes, I am well aware of the irony of my analogy, that I am using the example of Soviet snipers during WWII to describe freedom-loving Americans in the early 21st century. I make no other comparisons except that we, like them, find ourselves in a situation where all the material forces that a totalitarian society can muster are arrayed against us.
Now, it is up to us as individuals to keep the battle going at a time in American history when many already believe that the struggle for who we are as a nation and what we believe has been won or lost (depending on your point of view). While the Democratic Socialists in government, the media, and throughout our society have already declared victory—while simultaneously vowing to root out all remaining pockets of resistance and crush them—the quislings and collaborators are already tripping all over themselves to pledge their undying fealty to their new overlords. Those that remain of the faithful feel disheartened and despair that the America that they knew and cherished can ever be restored.
I can attest to feeling this way myself at times. Between the pandemic, the economy, and the general cultural upheaval of the year-which-shall-not-be-named, I found myself starting 2021 with a level of exhaustion and malaise that I have not known in many years. I would wake up in the morning wondering how long I could lie there before getting up and dealing with the Alice-in-Wonderland surreal landscape that had become my life. I wasn’t sure I could spend another day trying to hit a hedgehog with a flamingo while the Queen of Hearts screamed, “Off with their heads!” It all seemed pretty pointless. But inevitably, my mother’s voice (God rest her soul) would penetrate all the mental fog and demand that I get up, get moving, and do something productive instead of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself and for the world at large. Self-pity, bitterness, and anger without direction won’t change anything.
So now, I get up in the mornings and ask myself how I can contribute to at least the preservation of the ideals that I have treasured since my youth until such time as the pendulum of history arcs back toward reason. I’m reminded of that movie from years ago—I may not have a rifle, but I have a computer. And I may not have a forum on Facebook or Twitter, but I can search out like-minded comrades in the corners of the internet like the National Association of Scholars. I have a voice. I have students, classes, and a reputation as a thirty-plus-year veteran history instructor who has tried to educate as openly and honestly as he could without fear or favor. And within the confines of my limited influence on the web, I can still shout loud and long to anyone who will listen to things like: “freedom of speech means defending the speech of those with whom you disagree as well as your own,” “the tyranny of the majority is not democratic or good,” and “history can very rarely be discussed in terms as simple as black or white, good or evil.” I can still teach my students 1776 in addition to 1619, and I can still quote MLK, that it is more important to judge an individual on the content of his character rather than the color of his skin (gender, sexual orientation, etc.), at least for now.
However, make no mistake! For those of us who are still engaged in this battle, we are now in a street fight like those Soviet snipers of long ago. We are battered and bruised, but we are a few hardy souls amongst the rubble taking our shots where and when we can and moving on to the next target. We are mourning our dead. As we’ve seen, cancel culture can be swift, ugly, and cruel. The evisceration of our public and professional personalities is hard to watch and can sap our spirit. But we soldier on in the hope that our cause is just and that no matter how bleak the landscape looks right now, reinforcements will arrive. Some of us may not see the day when the tide is turned, but we take solace in the knowledge that our hardships and sacrifices have not been in vain. “The truth will win out,” as my grandmother used to say, and in all of history, authoritarianism has never been able to stamp out objective truth in the long run. All we have to do for the present is hold the line and make sure that the enemy at the gates advances no further.