"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever."
—George Orwell, 1984
While fighting Nazis in the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell launched a one-man bayonet charge against a Fascist stormtrooper, bombed an enemy rifle position with a heaping dose of high-explosive grenades, survived being shot in the throat by a sniper, and recovered from the somehow-not-fatal wound just in time to escape the country before Soviet spies were able to assassinate him and leave his corpse in an alley somewhere. Do I have your attention?
Born Eric Arthur Blair in India in 1903, Orwell's family returned to the British Isles not long thereafter, and he spent his formative years attending a prestigious school, learning French from a guy named Aldous Huxley, and, like any good misunderstood teenager, getting really interested in writing, history, poetry, and socialism.
He eventually realized that school sucks, and instead of going to college he moved to Burma and joined the Indian Imperial Police because that was way more awesome. He spent the next seven years patrolling the mean streets of Burma, cracking skulls like Dirty Harry and John Shaft, protecting the populace, and keeping the streets clear of hoodlums, vagabonds, ruffians, whippersnappers, and other assorted douchebags. He spent another couple years scratching out a living in London and France, working as a dishwasher, newspaper journalist, and starving artist, and going on frequent expeditions to the slums to see how much being poor sucks goat balls. At some point he decided that he should change his name to "George," of all things, so he did that, too. Why you would want to change your name to George, I have no idea, but there you have it.
While cracking street thugs in the kneecaps with a billy club was fun and all, it was when the Spanish Civil War broke out that George Orwell really got a chance to get in there and start kicking some serious asses. George had a pretty spectacular hatred of all things Nazi-related, so when a rag-tag group of democracy-oriented Spanish rebels started trading face-punches with German-backed Fascists, Orwell knew it was time to backflip over to the Iberian Peninsula and put the "crazy" in "democrazy." He volunteered for the infantry, and his experience as a seven-year police veteran helped him easily make Corporal within the first couple months of his tour of duty.
During his adventures, he charged trenches, chased a dude halfway across a field with a bayonet, bombed a rifle position, and, as I said, had a fascist sniper plant a bullet mere millimeters from his carotid artery. Orwell was coughing up a lot of blood (awesome) and very nearly died on the ambulance ride to the field hospital (less awesome), but somehow held it together, recovered, and regained the ability to speak normally. Of course, he probably should have kept that last part under wraps, because pretty much as soon as he was feeling better, he started talking a bunch of trash about the Soviet Union and how Stalin was an assclown and no better than the Fascists (he wasn't — just ask Solzhenitsyn), so of course a team of NKVD agents were sent to apprehend him and beat him senseless with their rock-hard fists. Luckily for Orwell, he was able to sneak on board a train and get the hey out of there before someone put a slug in his face at point-blank range.
Orwell got home, wrote a story about his adventures in Spain, and took a somewhat less life-threatening job as a book reviewer. Now, it's a well-known fact that being a book reviewer is one of the most noble professions a human being can hope to pursue (particularly when they are giving rave reviews to awesome, hilarious books about great historical badasses... nudge nudge wink wink), and during his career working for a well-known British publication he was known to have reviewed at least 80 different books.
When World War II started up a few years later and uber-Nazi jackass Hermann Göring started impaling the British countryside with a seemingly-endless barrage of deadly V2 rockets, Orwell of course immediately ran out and tried to enlist in the army. Unfortunately for G.O., military recruiters aren't particularly keen on bringing on dudes who have already had bullets pass through their tracheas, and Orwell was dismissed out of hand, being declared "unfit for military service of any kind," which seems pretty harsh. So, instead of making more fascist-kabobs with his Enfield bayonet, Orwell worked as a Sergeant in the Home Guard. After the blitz, he wrote for the BBC Eastern Service, where he tried to root out Nazi propaganda in India and Burma. In his spare time, he wrote Animal Farm, a bestselling novel about the horrors of Stalinism that kind of comes across like Charlotte's Web with communists and booze and animals being violently murdered all over the place. Due to Uncle Joe and the USSR being pretty important allies to Britain during the war, Orwell wasn't able to get this thing published until a few months after V-E Day, but he did manage to succeed in his efforts to piss off Communist Russia beyond belief. So that has to count for something.
Orwell ran an anti-communist propaganda office for a while, but in 1949 he came down with a terminal and untreatable case of Tuberculosis. On his deathbed, working in a complete delirium, Orwell ended up somehow writing one of the seminal works of dystopian science-fiction — the epic novel Nineteen Eighty-four. Now translated in 65 languages and with millions of copies sold worldwide, 1984 is widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi books ever written. The book was responsible for coining dozens of words still used by English-speakers today, showed the dangers of authoritarian regimes, and led the way for badass futuristic totalitarian settings ranging from Logan's Run to Half-Life 2, and this guy did it at a time when he was coughing up his damn lungs, covered in sweat, and so wigged out that he didn't even know what day it was. Now that's a legacy to be proud of.
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Ben Thompson graduated cum laude from the honors program at Florida State University with degrees in history and political science, and has run the war hammer of a website, badassoftheweek.com, since 2004. Even though he's never flown a jetpack over the Atlantic Ocean or punched someone so hard that his head exploded, he is considered by many to be the world's foremost expert on badassitude.
Books mentioned in this post
Ben Thompson is the author of Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live