When you see the iconic image of "tank man", you need to understand the full weight of what that image depicts.
The cropped version which is regularly circulated shows only a few tanks, but in reality it was an entire column of Type 59s, itself pouring out from a staging area with an entire division of tanks numbering somewhere in the hundreds - all stopped in their tracks by a single man who put himself in their path.
The act of defiance wasn't premeditated in any sense, as the man was carrying a grocery bag in each hand and was likely headed back home with his groceries before something caused him to step in front of that column and forever change the course of history.
The date the image was captured was June 5, 1989 which was the very next day after the Tiananmen Square massacre, which saw (according to the Chinese Red Cross) over 2,600 students slaughtered in the square by law enforcement and soldiers of the PLA.
The two incidents happening so close together in time are no coincidence. Their proximity alone confidently indicates to me that the man could no longer bear the burden of living alongside such evil. He could no longer live under the tyranny of such a great authoritarian darkness, which would see so many innocents mercilessly slaughtered.
Tormented by the truth of his circumstance, I imagine a crisis of the soul as man stared down at his groceries, and then looked back up at the approaching tanks.
What would his family think, when he never came home with the groceries and inevitably became "disappeared" by the state?
Were his last words enough of a goodbye for his wife, his children, and his grandchildren, or did he live his life in such a way that his love and dedication to them were demonstrated daily?
It didn't matter. None of that mattered now. There was a rushing wave of tyranny that needed a rock to break its flow.
And so stepped forth the most unsuspecting of men, in black trousers and a white shirt, with grocery bags in each hand - bursting forth from the ether of obscurity into the realm of defiance and unconquerable will where so few bold and brave souls have dared to tread.
And you, what will you do when the time comes upon you?
Will you carry your groceries home?
Or will you step in front of the column?
"Dark and cold we may be, but this Is no winter now. The frozen misery Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move; The thunder is the thunder of the floes, The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring. Thank God our time is now when wrong Comes up to face us everywhere, Never to leave us till we take The longest stride of soul men ever took."
- A Sleep of Prisoners, Christopher Fry
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jozef Lalka is a former Infantryman with the Canadian Armed Forces and founder of War Doll.
Since releasing from the military, Jozef has devoted his life to the scriptural motivation of the warrior culture, and the mentorship of the next generation. Jozef works as a graphic designer, photographer and videographer while pursing a passion for current global conflicts and how they relate to historical events.