Throughout history, there’s been a lot of badasses. Currently, we’ve got Obama, Lance Armstrong, and a few others of note. One of those few others is Ben Thompson – the up-from-his-bootstraps blogger/arbiter of badass that started the now very widely know site: Bad Ass of the Week. A history and poli sci major from Florida State, Ben uses his intricate knowledge of the vivid tapestry of mankind’s history to write funny, informative, and totally badass blog posts about men and women through history who are totally…well, you can probably guess the rest.
And, after growing his readership for over 5 years, Ben Thompson has finally made the jump back to actual, pulpy paper with his first (and certainly baddest-ass) book: "Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live" In honor of this momentous occasion, we here at Made Man were offered the chance to pick his brain about what, exactly, makes a badass, and how best to become one.
What can I do, today, to start my journey toward bad-assitude?
It depends. If you’re at work, you can grab the heaviest object on your desk and throw it at your boss, and when they’re like, "what the hell is your problem?" hit them with a chair and yell, "BAAADDAAAAAASSSSS!" at the top of your lungs while ripping your button-down shirt off Hulkamania-style and jumping through a plate-glass window. Once you’re unemployed you’ll have the opportunity to do lots of badass stuff, like elbow drop someone off the roof of your house, learn how to use nunchucks, join the Marines, join an organized crime syndicate, join a beer-league softball team, learn how to fly a fighter jet, make your own homemade beef jerky, bake a badass pie from the body parts of your slain enemies, make some chainsaw art, ollie a skateboard down a flight of stairs, build a pirate ship, build a flamethrower, buy a Viking helmet, learn how to shoot a revolver, or just run out and punch your arch-nemesis in the balls when he’s not looking.*
*Note: Please do not actually go out and do any of these things without first consulting your parents, wife, guildmaster, teachers, Facebook friends, spiritual advisor, and/or any and all applicable local or regional authority figures.
Is slaughtering enemies a necessary piece in the Jenga tower that is badassness?
Not necessarily. I chose to go pretty much exclusively with crazy murderous bastards in the book (I think they make for the most interesting stories), but you really don’t need to be a felon to be a badass. For instance, last week I ran an article on my website about a Cambodian guy who goes out into the woods, digs up landmines with a shovel, and disarms them with a pocketknife and a sharp stick. That’s pretty hardcore. Another example would be couple years ago when an off-duty firefighter named Ryan Cooper ran into a couple of burning houses without any protective gear and managed to save three people from certain death by carrying them to safety. You better believe that nobody’s talking smack about how hardcore that guy is, either. It’s all about having an opportunity to do something epically awesome and then just going for it.
Who is the most recent badass in your book?
I didn’t really want to get sued, so I opted to go entirely with people who are no longer alive. The most recent story in the book is about a guy named Jonathan Netanyahu – he was a hardcore Israeli Special Forces operative who fought with the paratroopers in the Six-Day War, led commando raids in the Yom Kippur War, hunted down the guys behind the 1972 Munich massacre, and led the counter-terrorist assault team that rescued over a hundred hostages during the Raid on Entebbe in 1976.
Of course, in no way is the great art of badassitude dead – the website features tons of stories of modern-day badasses who still get out there and smash balls on a daily basis, so don’t go thinking that humanity has gotten soft or anything like that.
What important lessons have you learned from the pantheon of badasses chronicled in “BADASS: A Relentless Onslaught…”
Never half-ass anything. The one thing that binds all of these badasses together is the sheer unstoppable force of their will, and how no matter what they were trying to accomplish – whether it was Leonidas defending his people from an invading army or Vlad the Impaler’s criminally-insane desire to violently murder anybody who looked at him funny – they all just went balls-out after their goals and didn’t let up on the gas pedal until they’d either flashed out in a blaze of glory or smashed the spleens of everyone who stood against them.
If one were to divide the country following our sister site, Holy Taco’s douche bag divisions, seen here, who would you name the baddest ass in each region?
I generally attempt to avoid any direct comparison between badasses. This is not only because it’s a fairly objective process that often-times ends up being an exercise in futility, but also because it seems like (in my experience at least) every time I think I’ve discovered the biggest badass to ever live, I come across some insane story that is so hardcore that my head almost spontaneously combusts while I’m reading about it.
Having said that, I’m not going to dodge a question… particularly one that’s as intriguing as this. The interesting thing is that I think I have pretty much all of the great Douchebag Divisions covered in the pages of BADASS. Behold!
West: General George S. Patton, Jr. (San Gabriel, CA)
Almost unequivocally the toughest General in the long history of the U.S. Army, "Old Blood and Guts" made a name for himself by violently crushing the balls of Hitler’s goose-stepping legions from the hedgerows of Normandy to the snow-covered underbrush of the Ardennes Forest. This guy was so balls-out that he wiped his ass with traditional tactics and always charged bayonet-first into action wherever possible. The only thing that slowed him down was when he ran out of gas from kicking ass faster than his supply lines could support him.
Midwest: Special Agent Eliot Ness (Chicago, IL)
This crazy bastard hand-selected a crew of just ten guys and took on the most powerful and corrupt organization in the United States in the 1930s – the Capone Mafia – and busted their faces in with the back end of his Tommy gun. He survived a number of attempts on his life, got into fistfights with hardcore Chicago mobsters, and put together the evidence that put Al Capone in prison and brought down his criminal empire.
Northeast: Sergeant Henry Lincoln Johnson (New York, NY)
This guy was part of the New York National Guard, and went into World War I with an all-African-American infantry unit known as the "Harlem Hellfighters". In an engagement now known as "The Battle of Henry Johnson," this guy fought off an entire platoon of German soldiers by himself. When he ran out of grenades and bullets, he broke his rifle over some jerk’s head, and then when that was smashed he whipped out a twelve-inch bolo knife and took out another half-dozen guys in hand-to-hand combat. He was the first American solder to win the French Croix de Guerre.
South: Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock (Geyer Springs, AK)
Carlos Hathcock was a U.S. Marine sniper who is believed to have killed 300+ enemy soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam. He went on crazy lone-wolf raids in the middle of the woods by himself, took out everything from enemy snipers to Chinese Army military advisers, and was such a ridiculously good shot that the nation’s top award for military marksmanship is named after him.
Southwest: Marshal Bass Reeves (Muskogee, OK)
I realize that I’m kind of screwing with the divisions here by placing Oklahoma in the Southwest and not the South, but seeing as how the defining moment in ex-slave Bass Reeves’ life involved escaping from the South, it would seem somewhat disrespectful lumping him in there with the former Rebel states.
As I mentioned, Bass was a black slave living in Texas, but one day he got sick of that crap, punched his overseer’s lights out and ran across the border to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Bass was taken in by the Seminoles, where he learned to live off the land, easily travel hundreds of miles a day, and fire a pistol with lights-out precision. He went on to serve as the first African-American U.S. Marshal, where he went into the Territories of the Southwest to beat up on some of the Old West’s most badass outlaws and bring them back for a heaping plate of good old-fashioned frontier justice. During his career he killed more men in gunfights than Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp and brought in hundreds of insanely dangerous criminals.
Ok, while I don’t have any Alaskans in the book, I would argue that pretty much 95% of the population of that state could be counted among the ranks of the badasses. I mean, say what you want, but it takes a certain level of ballsackery to voluntarily move out to the most nut-freezingly cold place in the United States and decide to set up shop. From Alaskan King Crab fishermen doing a job where the fatality rate is 90 times greater than most other jobs in the word to lumberjacks who wear bitchin’ flannel shirts and professionally face-punch grizzlies in the chops, it doesn’t get a whole lot tougher than life in America’s Last Frontier.