10 of the Most Courageous People in History

August 01 [Thu], 2013, 18:05
Courage comes in many forms, be it peacefully resistance against an oppressor, bearing pain for a greater cause, or fighting for something good. The following 10 people showed remarkable courage, all for causes they fervently believed in.

These are 10 of the most courageous people in history who may have acted in long gone eras, but their acts of courage stand through to today.

1. Thich Quang Duc’s Self-Immolation

The Vietnam war was one of the first international conflicts in the era of television news, and the images beamed back to the United States helped galvanize the national protests seen against the war. One of the key moments in shifting public opinion was the suicide protest of Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk.

In a square in Saigon he denounced the south Vietnamese government for their persecution of Buddhists, and then sat calmly as his fellow monks doused him with petrol and set him alight. The horror prompted within Vietnam and internationally by this act helped to speed regime change and the end of the war.

2. Odette Sansom survives imprisonment in World War 2

Odette Samson was a British spy working in occupied France during the second world war. She was a radio operator – one of the riskiest intelligence roles, as the Germans were constantly surveying the airwaves for enemy transmissions. Betrayed by a double agent a year later, Sansom was captured and tortured in a Paris jail.

Despite the inhuman treatment she was put through, she did not divulge the identity of any colleagues. She was eventually sentenced to death and sent to a concentration camp, but her execution was never carried out and she survived the war. Rather than seeking vengeance for what she had suffered, she spent the years following her release working for charities which aimed to lessen the pain of war, and was awarded the George Cross for her service.

3. Joan of Arc leads an army for her beliefs

Saint Joan was born into a poor family in the 15th Century in a region of France ravaged by war with England. A religious child, he faith was strengthened by visions of God commanding her to lead the French nation to victory. She gained an audience with the French leader and impressed him with her fervor, and he gave her control of an army. She inspired devotion in her troops and won several important battles before being captured and sold to the English. Later tried and convicted of witchcraft, she refused to confess and was burnt at the stake.

4. Socrates accepts death rather than recant his views

Socrates was a prominent philosopher in ancient Athens, whose criticisms of the rich and powerful gained him some powerful enemies. Arrested and sentenced to death for offending the Gods and corrupting the youth, Socrates was offered the chance to apologize for his crimes and escape death. He refused to do so, and according to myth willingly drank hemlock showing that he accepted the judgment of his government.

5. Galileo Galilei puts science before faith

Italian scientist Galileo was a devout Catholic, but when his scientific discoveries put him at odds with the church he accepted imprisonment rather than deny his views. Galileo’s work provided evidence for the idea that the earth moves around the sun, which was considered heretical at the time. He spend time in jail, and lived the last years of his life under house arrest. He also risked excommunication from the church and eternal damnation (according to the Catholic church at the time).

6. Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid

Nelson Mandela was a senior figure in the South African resistance to racial segregation when he was arrested for treason in 1963. He had been an active member of both the political and armed opposition movements, and was initially sentenced to death for plotting to overthrow the government. His trial attracted significant international coverage and condemnation of the South African government.

Mandela’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and despite spending nearly 20 years in jail he went on to be the first black president in South Africa’s history.

7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer standing up to Nazism

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany who loudly and, despite threats to his personal safety, publicly criticized the Nazi regime. The regime saw him as a threat and he fled the country to seek asylum in the USA. However, after 2 years he returned to his native Germany to continue to promote opposition to the persecution of Jews and other minority groups. He became an important symbol of opposition, and was arrested and executed by the Nazis a month before the end of the Second World War.

8. The Unknown Rebel at the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests

The white-shirted protester facing down a column of Chinese tanks alone has become one of the most iconic images of rebellion and courage. In 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square had attracted thousands of people and the People’s Liberation Army had been sent in to quell the protests.

As the column of tanks rolled in to the square, a lone figure blocked their path. The protester was eventually pulled back into the crowd and his or her identity is still unknown, but the photograph of a single person standing up to power has taken on a life of its own.

9. Rosa Parks Sits Down for Civil Rights

When does sitting on a bus become an act of revolution and great bravery? In pre civil rights era USA it could be exactly that, as buses along with all other public amenities were segregated by race.

Rosa Parks, a black political activist and secretary of her local chapter of the NAACP, effectively triggered the wave of protests that eventually led to desegregation by calmly and politely refusing to give up her seat at the front of a segregated bus. Risking arrest and violence for what was right earns her a place on the list.

10. Emmeline Pankhurst imprisoned for the Suffragette movement

Pankhurst was a militant campaigner for women’s right to vote, who along with many other suffragettes was imprisoned because of her protesting. Her philosophy was that the need to extend voting rights to women was so urgent that breaking the law in order to draw attention to the cause was completely justified. She was imprisoned several times, but saw her goals realized when women were allowed to vote for the first time in 1918.