History can change criminals to heroes. George Washington is a hero in the United States. In 1776 however, his rulers considered him a rebel and a political criminal. General Washington and his co-conspirators took good care to explain, in the Declaration of Independence, why they had to revolt. Still, if they had not won the war they would possibly have been hung as traitors.
They were idealists. They knew that they could die for what they were doing, and they did it anyway. They knew they were breaking the laws of England. These men, Sam Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and all their gang, were radicals. They meant to bring something new into the world. Not only were they willing to die for their ideals, they were willing to kill for them, which may have been harder for such men.
Compare an example from India. Mahatma Gandhi is considered the father of his country. He too was willing to give his life for his beliefs. However, he was not willing to kill anyone else. Mr. Gandhi was also considered a political criminal in his day. In all, he spent seven years in prison, often in inhuman conditions. American schoolchildren who learn of him consider him a hero now, and an example for the rest of us.
One person who followed his lead was an American hero, Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to all sorts of physical and emotional violence. With his eloquence and charisma he rose above the abuse, to lead a movement the effects of which are still seen in the United States. Not to everyone, but to the vast majority of Americans, he is a shining example. He too was once considered a political criminal.
So what is the difference? Are the winners the heroes and the losers the villains? Yes, to a degree. We certainly magnify the intelligence, courage, and moral standing of the founders of our nation to American children. It is good for children to have heroes. Yet consider the quixotic losers of history. Robin Hood and King Arthur are legends, but with a basis in inspiring fact. Marcus Aurelius left an empire that began to crumble under his inept heir. Yet he is still remembered for his political wisdom.
Is it non-violence that makes a political criminal a hero to those who follow him? Not necessarily. In some circumstances, war is necessary: World War II is an obvious example. However, for future generations to consider a former political criminal a hero, he or she must make all possible efforts to spare innocents. He or she must be fighting for what all will come to see as a just cause. He or she must be willing to suffer for, instead of eager to benefit from, his or her political actions. Washington and Gandhi were willing to die for their ideals. They did not hide themselves away and send others out to do their dirty work.
Many have acquired the title of political criminal down through history. Yet when the facts are sorted out years later, the criminals cared only for their power grab or their sacred ideals, and were indifferent to the cost in the lives of others. The heroes, it turns out, thought about the people involved and their suffering, as well as about abstract political principles.