Most cultures around the world have singled out men who are treated as both heroes and as criminals. Below are examples of 5 of them.
The most controversial man in Australia is Ned Kelly. Several books and movies have been about him since his death by hanging in 1880. When you’re in Australia, it’s not possible to remain neutral about Ned and you hear many opinions about him. Ruth and I have been to Beechworth, where he was almost tried for murder, and the Old Melbourne Gaol (Aussies use this word instead of jail but pronounce it like jail), where he was executed. Ned was a notorious bushranger who was born in 1854 or 1855, no one knows exactly when. He was of Irish extraction. Some Aussies see him as a cold-blooded killer who wore armor to avoid arrest and/or being killed. Others hail him as a folk hero even though he killed 3 policemen. When he was in his mid-twenties, his luck ran out. He was caught and jailed in Beechworth, but the authorities suspected that to try him there would result in a not guilty verdict. Ned Kelly’s trial was moved to Melbourne where he was found guilty and hanged. Many disagreed with this outcome. The Old Melbourne Gaol, where the female guide of our tour treated us like prisoners, is now an inner city museum. The photos above of Ned and his protective armor and the Robin Hood just below are from Wikipedia. The armor is usually on display somewhere in this city, perhaps at the National Library.
Robin Hood is England’s Ned Kelly, but did he really exist or is he pure legend? Experts assume that he really lived, but there are many versions of his story. The 1st literary reference to him was in 1377 when it was said that he was an outlaw who hated the sheriff and made Sherwood Forest dangerous. He did exist but movies have turned him into a folk hero of diverse personalities.
Butch Cassidy. Ruth and I visited the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie last summer where he was a prisoner for 18 months, and I took the picture above. We were told that he was a quiet model prisoner. One sign there asked, “…Who was Butch Cassidy, a common thief…or a simple ranch kid from southern Utah?” Our hosts treated him as the latter. He was one of 13 children who left home as a teenager to better himself. He fell in with disreputable men like Mike Cassidy and began robbing trains and banks with his sidekick, the Sundance Kid.
Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party, a spy, and an industrialist who saved 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. I have visited his enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland, where he hired Jews because they would work for less than Poles. After World War II he was in danger of arrest as a war criminal. He had blown his fortune on bribes and black market purchases by this time. He was a complex hero.
Mahatma Ghandi, an Indian lawyer, nationalist, and non-violent resister who helped India break from British rule, spoke constantly about sex. In his 30s he tried to reform and stop thinking about sex, but it didn’t last. There are many articles available about his fixation, and if he were alive today he might be treated more like Harvey Weinstein than a national hero.