Monday, March 21, 2011

The Strange and Storied History of Silence Do-Good, part 6: Rise of the Mystery Men

It is a sad irony of this timeline that even though the actions of Silence Do-Good made it a better world than our own, this very goodness made the awfulness of the First World War so much worse, if for no other reason than there was so much more to lose. And lose the world did: the Great War lasted until 1920, slaughtering nearly an entire generation of European men and hastening the economic downfall of the United States.

Upon the surrender of the Mexican government in August 1920, Silence was classified as a strategic asset and recalled to Washington D.C. where, pending future conflicts, she would remain hidden. Mothballed until the next war, she was once again relegated to analysis of intelligence data, this time on behalf of the Departments of State, Justice, and War in the hope that her superior abilities of cognition and memory would be able to predict and prevent another such conflict. Ever the dutiful daughter, Silence complied, but even though she had been put into deep storage as a secret weapon, her actions during the Great War would have lasting repercussions.

As American soldiers returned home from the Mexican Front, they found a different world than one they had left. Many of them suffered from shell-shock, as post-traumatic stress disorder was known, and had turned to alcohol to deaden their pain even while still at war. These same men, who had fought and bled for their country, were not only able to properly reintegrate into society, but also forbidden the solace of drunkenness by that selfsame society (ironically, it was the high alcoholism of injured and discharged soldiers, and the drunken disturbances they caused, that was one of the contributing factors for Prohibition in the first place).

In addition, the streets were no longer safe. Moonshiners and bootleggers rose to fill the gap in the black market. Organized crime was on the rise, as was petty violence. And above it all rose the spectre of depression, looming just over the horizon, fueling desperate notions of theft and fraud.

Some of these former soldiers fell into a dissolute lifestyle as petty criminals or hired muscle for organized crime. Some just tried to adapt as best they could to a world that had changed without them. But a very select few knew what had to be done, and possessed both the courage and the ability to make those changes.

The War Department had been able to censor letters and reports mentioning Silence Do-Good, but silencing the hundreds of men who had served under and fought beside her in her role as Col. Cudgel was impossible. They knew what a living force of liberty could do, having seen greatness firsthand. She was an inspiration to them, a role-model, a symbol more powerful than the Statue of Liberty because she was a real person. Silence Do-Good had moved among them, talked with them, led them and cared for them. She had sheltered them from harm and cried for their losses. She was symbol, mother, and country all rolled into one, and in true fulfillment of Benjamin Franklin's dream, many men decided that no, their term of service had not ended; it had in fact only begun. They took their Colt pistols or Springfield rifles or Thompson submachineguns out of their closets, turned up the collars on their trenchcoats, put their fedoras low on their heads, and went out into the world to make Mama Silence proud.

They began operating small-scale at first, cleaning up their neighborhoods of criminals and ne'er-do-wells. Some worked in pairs, and in Chicago the legendary "Quiet Men" were a group of three brothers, but for the most part they were solo. Some took jobs as police officers or private detectives to pay the bills and give them better crime-fighting tools, but at least one cavalry officer was from a rich family and could dedicate his life to his newest passion.

Their early work was often indistinguishable from gangland warfare, because they were soldiers first and foremost; they knew how to kill, brutally and effectively. This had the unfortunate side-effect of escalation of force, as organized crime responded to what it thought was another group muscling in on its turf. The death toll rose, as did collateral damage.

But all of this changed on November 15th, 1920. With her access to FBI reports and her powers of earth perception, Silence knew that another war was about to erupt in America -- a gang war that would engulf entire cities. She knew that some of "her boys" were responsible, and acting in emulation of her ideals. But they were soldiers, and their actions were only making things worse. They needed a leader. They needed her.

And on that cold day in November, for the first time in her life, Silence Do-Good disobeyed orders.

Next: Costumed Crusaders

The character of Silence Do-Good is copyright Erin Palette 2011. All art in these sections is either public domain, or machinima from the City of Heroes MMO. I do not claim any ownership of art.

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