Thursday, October 20, 2016

You Say You Want a Revolution?

"This is the story of all tyrants, General. They have but one real enemy, and this is the one they never recognize until too late."

Priest (Vladimir Sokoloff)

There is one great truth in the world — and that is that human behavior is almost always predictable.

Because we are all imperfect — and we are imperfect in decidedly imperfect ways. We are all susceptible to language and actions that are crude and selfish and incendiary, the worst reflections of our true selves, just as we are all capable of noble self–sacrifice.

And we can all be carried away by forces we don't really understand — or sufficiently respect.

It's easy to get caught up in the emotion of the moment. When revolution is in the air, it can be intoxicating, especially for young people who frequently lack the perspective of history that tells us that revolution can be a good thing — or a bad thing. And for many people the relatively rapid acquisition of success is more than they can handle.

In the case of revolution — and the episode of the Twilight Zone that aired on this night in 1961, "The Mirror" — it is advisable to remember the old adage: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The episode chronicled the immediate aftermath of a Central American revolution that was successful in toppling the old regime. Its leader was played by Peter Falk, whose character would have been instantly recognizable to audiences 55 years ago as being modeled after Cuba's Fidel Castro. He's been out of the public eye so much and for so long now that I suspect many modern observers would not make that connection.

But that was clearly the inspiration for Falk's character.

At first, upon being swept into power by the revolution, he was all fired up to execute the tyrant he had replaced, advocating a slow death in retribution for all the times he had hurt the people in any way.

The tyrant was gracious, though. He told Falk that he was giving him a mirror that adorned the wall. The person who had given it to him, the tyrant said, told him he could see his assassins in the reflection.

And from that point on, Falk began to see reflections of his friends trying to stab or shoot or poison him. He killed them all — or had others do it for him.

A wise old priest visited him to complain about the round–the–clock executions. Falk protested that he had enemies, and he would continue with the executions as long as he had enemies.

The priest observed that Falk's triumph was not so sweet after all. It had the taste of ashes, not the taste of wine.

Then he observed that it was the story of all tyrants. "They have but one real enemy, and this is the one they never recognize until too late."

The priest left the room; a couple of minutes later he heard the smashing of glass as Falk threw an object at the mirror, then there was the sound of a gunshot as Falk ended his own life.

The priest rushed in, saw Falk's body on the floor and muttered, "The last assassin. They never seem to learn."

A cautionary tale for would–be tyrants.