Like many (most?) of you, I was appalled by the terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6th. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of this attack is that it was based on lies. No, the election was NOT stolen. Full. Stop. But the lies are rooted even deeper than talk radio and YouTube videos.
One of the other heartbreaks is tracing the ready acceptance of conspiracy theories—not to Limbaugh and Jones—but to stories. Indeed, the institutional distrust of institutions inherent to the 1960s counterculture yielded 1970s films like The Conversation, and books like Six Days of the Condor and the insidious cynicism in Phillip K. Dick’s science fiction. That generational distrust informed contemporary fiction, (i.e. The X-Files and/or Babylon 5).
But the hatred behind the January 6th insurrection goes even deeper with racist myths rooted in the stories we tell—and inform what we ultimately accept as truth.
For a while now, I’ve questioned the roots of ideals that the hate groups aspire to. Sure, there is tradition—or the lack thereof. In Hannibal, Thomas Harris wrote, (and I paraphrase from iffy memory) that the south did not have academic, industrial, or entrepreneurial traditions. Often all southern families had was that great-great grandad sure showed those Yankees at the battle of Mannassas.
But even those stories are based on a lie.
John Meacham’s book The Soul of America is an exploration of the detrimental effects of the “noble cause” mythology, 150 years on from the Civil War. Certainly, there was nothing “noble” in shoeless-poor whites marching off to kill and die for wealthy whites to maintain slavery. But current vogue myths—also distorted history—are just as insidious. Hence the battle over monuments erected in the 1900s to intimidate (terrorize?) black Americans striving for advancement and civil rights.
But the tradition of mythology fueling political and racial violence goes back even further. White-supremacists, going back to Hitler’s model of nordic superiority, have subverted Viking myths. More recently other white supremacists latched onto the Spartan mythos. It helps that there was a comic book and then a movie adaptation of the comic book, with facts that are pretty-much what you would expect for the source.
So, let’s unpack the central myths that feed the foolishness of Spartan and Viking porn. And, ultimately, avoid perpetuating these mistakes in our own stories. See? This bit is ultimately about writing.
First let’s dispel the genetic superiority myth. This lie has been slayed repeatedly throughout history. If you doubt it, take a basic anatomy and physiology course.
So, the Vikings... I grew up in a biker household with family members who really seized on the Viking mystique. Then I went to school and studied actual history, composed by thoughtful people who analyzed historical records, anthropological records, and archaeological records. As a result the goofy depictions ring distinctly false, (means “stupid”).
Peerless warrior elites
Warrior culture imparted genetically to descendants
Employed hit-and-run tactics, rarely engaged in full battle without clear advantage, (numbers, terrain, etc)—eventually people got wise to those antics, see also Tettenhall
Really, a basic A&P class is cheap at your local community college
Defeated? They were absorbed, (i.e. Irishmen and Brits named “Neeson” and Anderson)
By 1200 CE they were more merchant princes than sea bikers
Bonus fact—if your hero or big-bad wears a helmet with horns into an actual battle, the enemy has convenient handles with which to twist off their goofy head
Next up, the Spartans. If you live in Texas at some point you’ll see a ridiculously large truck or Jeep emblazoned with Molon Labe. A Laconic phrase attributed to Sparta’s King Leonides, it translates to “come and take them,” as directed at Persian King Xerses who demanded that the Spartan Army surrender their weapons. While the phrase resonates with extremists of all shades and white-nationalist-gun nuts specifically, the extent of what they know of Sparta is limited to the previously mentioned comic book and/or movie. Both are ~ahem~ a service to white-male-fascist fetishism.
Peerless warrior elites
Genetically superior (see a trend?)
300 against 1 million Persians and were defeated only by overwhelming ethnic masses and/or betrayal
Warrior culture imparted to the faithful (latter-day bigots threw in the genetic idea)
We know Rome and Athens for what the Romans and Greeks built, we know Sparta from a comic book
Maybe an online A&P course…
300 Spartans vs. WAY more than 300 Spartans, the math is not that difficult—and no, no documented betrayal, no racist subtext
This is one is true, join the Army and train, all day, every day, forever
Bonus fact—U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson (a real warrior elite) refers to the phrase Molon Labe as “moron lube,” and that’s how I shall read it forever more
Bottom line: if you want a warrior elite in your story, do it. Just keep ideas of genetic or ethnic superiority out of your mix. “How?” You ask, well, Frank Herbert wrote warrior elites—Sardaukar and Fremen. Jacqueline Carey wrote her Casaline Brothers and Skaldi nation as warrior elites. The ULTIMATE Boba Fett (and his Madalorian people) were written by Karen Traviss. All of these examples are serious bad-asses. They are all also decidedly multi ethnic and multi-racia. Just like the historic bad-asses that (most of them) were based on: the Janissaries who were from all over—southern/eastern Europe to north Africa—the Ottoman empire. No racism
The photos above, (l) Promotional photo from KLM's I Fly magazine, (r) Jacob Chansley booking photo is from the Alexandria Sheriff's Office. I added the text. Both images are used for illustrative/educational purposes and covered by the Fair Use Doctrine.