The original version of following essay by the late Mike Vanderboegh was written before the turn of the millennium. Ten years later, when he wrote this revised version (posted at the old WRSA site), he noted that it had stood the test of time. Another thirteen years have passed since then, and as Spicy Time draws closer the relevance of his words is even greater.
At the suggestion of WRSA, I am reposting the entire essay here. To see the rest of the illustrations and the embedded video, visit the WRSA post.
A Handgun Against an Army — Ten Years After
by Mike Vanderboegh
July 29, 2008
Almost a decade ago now, I penned “A Letter From Hagood’s Crossroads, Alabama,” subtitled “What Good Can a Handgun Do Against an Army?”
Over the years it has proven to be the single most popular piece I have ever written. To this day, I get emails and snail mails from folks who have stumbled across it for the first time, thanking me for writing it. It is a humbling experience for a scribbler such as myself to realize that he has struck a chord in his audience — humbling and gratifying.
Still, I have always meant to rework “Handgun” to correct some of the minor errors and irritating flaws that always occur whenever you whip out a topical opinion piece, as I did this one. For example, one of the things that always bothered me was that I was forced to paraphrase Hopper explaining the facts of life to his marauding gang of ATF/biker/bandido grasshoppers in “A Bug’s Life.” In the re-issue below, I correct that. Indeed, thanks to technological advances in the intervening years, I am now able to give you the YouTube link so you can HEAR Hopper’s presentation of the dialectic of tyranny yourself with just a click of the mouse.
Another area requiring work was the wolf-sheep metaphor, which if I had just hewed to the wisdom of my grandpa imparted to me years ago would have more properly been (as I have corrected it below) a wolf-sheep-sheepdog metaphor. Don’t ask me why I did it that way the first time. I wrote it, as most of my pieces back then and since, at one sitting in the wee hours of the morning.
And equally importantly, without the steadying hand of a good editor. (Here, I tip my hat to my friend David Codrea.)
In truth, for something that has been so well received for so long, at the time I gave it no more thought or care than any of the other many things I wrote during the Era of the Clintonista-Militia Cold War. Yet it is “Handgun” that has, apparently, stood the test of time. I will explore why I think this is in the afterword to this reissue.
For now, let me present again, with slight updated revision, “What Good Can A Handgun Do Against an Army?,” with many thanks to my friends — Peter at Western Rifle Shooters Association and Chris at Mindful Musings — for the firm nudge prompting me to do so. — MBV
“What Good Can A Handgun Do Against an Army?”
A friend of mine forwarded me a question a friend of his had posed:
“If/when our Federal Government comes to pilfer, pillage, plunder our property and destroy our lives, what good can a handgun do against an army with advanced weaponry, tanks, missiles, planes, or whatever else they might have at their disposal to achieve their nefarious goals? (I’m not being facetious: I accept the possibility that what happened in Germany, or similar, could happen here; I’m just not sure that the potential good from an armed citizenry in such a situation outweighs the day-to-day problems caused by masses of idiots who own guns.)”
If I may, I’d like to try to answer that question. I certainly do not think the writer facetious for asking it. The subject is a serious one to which I have given much research and considerable thought. I believe that upon the answer to this question depends the future of our Constitutional republic, our liberty and perhaps our lives.
My friend Aaron Zelman, one of the founders of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, told me once:
“If every Jewish and anti-nazi family in Germany had owned a Mauser rifle and twenty rounds of ammunition AND THE WILL TO USE IT (emphasis supplied — MBV), Adolf Hitler would be a little-known footnote to the history of the Weimar Republic.”
Note well that phrase: “and the will to use it,” for the simply-stated question, “What good can a handgun do against an army?” is in fact a complex one and must be answered at length and carefully.
It is a military question.
It is also a political question.
But above all it is a moral question which strikes to the heart of what makes men free, and what makes them slaves.
First, let’s answer the military question.
Most military questions have both a strategic and a tactical component. Let’s first consider the tactical.
A friend of mine owns an instructive piece of history. It is a small, crude pistol [see the image at the top of this post], made out of sheet-metal stampings by the U.S. during World War II. While it fits in the palm of your hand and is a slowly-operated, single-shot arm, its powerful .45 caliber projectile will kill a man with brutal efficiency. With a short, smooth-bore barrel it can reliably kill only at point blank ranges, so its use requires the will (brave or foolhardy) to get in close before firing. It is less a soldier’s weapon than an assassin’s tool. The U.S. manufactured them by the millions during the war, not for our own forces but rather to be air-dropped behind German lines to resistance units in occupied Europe and Asia. They cost exactly two dollars and ten cents to make.
Crude and slow (the fired case had to be knocked out of the breech by means of a little wooden dowel, a fresh round procured from the storage area in the grip and then manually reloaded and cocked. It was so wildly inaccurate it couldn’t hit the broad side of a French barn at 50 meters, but to the Resistance man or woman who had no firearm it still looked pretty darn good.
The theory and practice of it was this: First, you approach a German sentry with your little pistol hidden in your coat pocket and, with Academy-award sincerity, ask him for a light for your cigarette (or the time the train leaves for Paris, or if he wants to buy some non-army-issue food or a half-hour with your “sister”). When he smiles and casts a nervous glance down the street to see where his Sergeant is, you blow his brains out with your first and only shot, then take his rifle and ammunition. Your next few minutes are occupied with “getting out of Dodge,” for such critters generally go around in packs. After that (assuming you evade your late benefactor’s friends) you keep the rifle and hand your little pistol to a fellow Resistance fighter so he can go get his own rifle.
Or, maybe, you then use your rifle to get a submachine gun from the Sergeant when he comes running. Perhaps you get very lucky and pick up a light machine gun, two boxes of ammunition and a haversack of hand grenades. With two of the grenades and the expenditure of a half-a-box of ammunition at a hasty roadblock the next night, you and your friends get a truck full of arms and ammunition. (Some of the cargo is sticky with “Boche” blood, but you don’t mind, not terribly.)