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Tank man is the story of a protestor that stood in place the day after the Chinese government's violent crackdown on the Tiananmen protests (June 5, 1989). He stood directly in the path of a column of approaching Type 59 tanks. After repeatedly attempting to go around rather than crush the man, the lead tank stopped its engines, and the armored vehicles behind it seemed to follow suit. There was a short pause with the man and the tanks having reached a quiet, still impasse. And for many in the west, that's where the story ends: a noble protestor stopped the violent oppression of the government. Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. It was a noble, feeble and unsuccessful attempt at non-violent protest. A few minutes later, two figures ushered the guy away, never to be seen from again, the tanks continued on their way, and violent suppression of the protests continued unhindered.

While we don't know for sure what happened, the most likely outcome was that he was shot and buried in an anonymous grave somewhere. I commented on that, in my video (a Toastmasters speech I gave, just to keep up on public speaking, and practice presenting).

My key points are:

  • that while Tankman did something noble and stupid, he died for it -- as would have many other civil rights leaders like Gandhi or MLK, if those cultures were as Socialist (brutal and intolerant towards individualism and favored collectivism) as the Russians, Chinese, or others.
  • The individual in Tankman's case that deserves more credit was Tank-Driver: he likely paid the price for not doing his job and running over the protestor, and nobody remembers him.

So we give too much credit to the civil rights advocates, and not enough to the cultures/countries/leaders that when the choice of liberty or tyranny, chose to give liberty (eventually).


📚 References