Today, around the world, is a day of remembrance. It is considered the unofficial, international holiday of Anarchy, Rebellion & (more recently) Hacktivism. Today is Guy Fawkes Day. The date when (in 1605) Guy Fawkes and his conspirators failed in their attempt to assassinate the King of England. It was established as a Holiday in England the following year as a time to commemorate and thank God for preserving their King from the attempt against his life (since, in the eyes of Parliament God had truly “Save[d] the[ir] King”). However over time, and especially most recently it has become a day to celebrate practically the opposite. Guy Fawkes Day has now become a day to celebrate rebellion, and fighting against the government and all forms of power. Because of this, and in no small measure due to its pervasive use in the film “‘V’ for Vendetta”, the Guy Fawkes Mask has become a popular symbol for those who call themselves “Hacktivists”. These Hacktivists, who are much less than than their high-minded opinion of themselves and much more like internet Bullies, have become quite pervasive and are most commonly associated with the group calling itself “Anonymous”.
Anonymous, is a rather remarkable organization, with no leader, no specified agenda, no membership, and a great deal of concerted effort. It was born out of discussions on internet forums and regularly assaults websites which represent something with which they disagree. The Guy Fawkes mask has become their main symbol, and when they do organize or attend protests in person, its members or sympathizers are often seen wearing this mask. It has become almost synonymous with their movement and they are often worn by people protesting what they see as government corruption and corporate greed (ironically Warner Bros. makes a profit on every mask sold). So what do this symbol & day really mean? The 5th of November is essentially the commemoration of what today would have been called “Domestic Terror”. On the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes (who incidentally is from where we English speakers get the slang term ‘guy’) and his conspirators moved a large number of barrels of gunpowder into the the lower levels of the Parliamentary building in London. Their intent was to detonate them and kill the Protestant King so that they might replace him with a Catholic Monarch. The plot (now known as the “Gunpowder Plot”) was foiled, and Guy Fawkes, along with others, was arrested, tortured, and executed for high treason.
The dilema of history is Judgment. Do we accuse and condemn, or do we honor and romanticize? Condemnation always runs the risk of error, since judgement is often obscured and distorted by our distinct lens of time. Romanticization, on the other hand, runs the same risk, and has often made hero and legend of murderers and thieves. On the one hand, we have to ask ourselves if what Guy Fawkes attempted was wrong. As an American, I am naturally opposed to monarchs, and my own United States was formed by men who were also guilty of high treason against the English King. However his plot was murderous — unlike the American Founders’ — and would, no doubt, have taken the lives of much more than just the King. And so judging his actions becomes rather difficult. And this is where the author asks himself, what those who wear the mask today really know about the facade they wear. Do they know what he represented? What he stood for? Or do they merely assume that he would stand with them? Did he only intend to kill the Protestant King because of his oppression of Catholics? Or did he object to any non-Catholic governing over him? What would he think about the symbol he has become, and the acts committed indirectly in his name? History cannot conclusively answer these questions. But they are questions that must be asked on this 5th of November. I do not intend or pretend to answer in any degree what his motive was, or what his legacy should be. But I do ask that people really, and truly remember, remember the 5th of November — or any date in history for that matter — and judge with as complete an understanding as they might achieve, in order to learn the lessons of history. This is the duty of any student of the past (which all educated and voting people in this world must be) and by far one of the most difficult & important. I do not like what Guy Fawkes has come to represent, but then I can’t exactly say for sure if I like what he ever represented. At least as of my writing this, I am still indecisive on the matter.
Yet, today each year, the Internet is filled with posts proclaiming “Remember, Remember the 5th of November”, as it and the Guy Fawkes Mask have joined the ranks of the “Che Guevara Shirt” and many other symbols of rebellion which are flaunted without careful analysis by youth and rebels alike. Not all who use them are uninformed, and many I am sure have studied their origin in detail and continue to proudly hold up these symbols. Yet, even after a careful analysis is completed and the conclusions — however sturdy or frail — are reached, it is however important to know that the end and the whole of it, can likely only be answered by one — now long dead — who of all people truly remembers the 5th of November.