Stop Calling Them Heroes


JBeee
#1
By Tom Engelhardt On July 22, 2010

Consider a strange aspect of our wars since October 2001: they have yet to establish a bona fide American hero, a national household name. Two were actually "nominated" early by the Bush administration ó Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old private and clerk captured by the Iraqis in the early days of the American invasion and later "rescued" by Army Rangers and Navy Seals, and Pat Tillman, the former NFL safety who volunteered for service in the Army Rangers eight months after 9/11 and died under "enemy" gunfire in Afghanistan.

Both stories were later revealed to be put-up jobs, pure Bush-era propaganda and deceit. In Lynchís case, almost every element in the instant patriotic myth about her rescue proved either phony or highly exaggerated ; in Tillmanís, it turned out that he had been killed by friendly fire, but ó thanks to a military cover-up (that involved General Stanley McChrystal, later to become Afghan war commander) ó was still given a Silver Star and a posthumous promotion. Members of his unit were even ordered by the military to lie at his funeral, and he was made into a convenient "hero" and recruitment poster boy for the Afghan War. Both were shameful episodes, involving administration manipulation and media gullibility. Since then, as TomDispatch regular and retired lieutenant colonel William Astore points out, U.S. troops as a whole have been labeled "our heroes," but individual heroes have been in vanishingly short supply.

In fact, the only specific figures who get the heroic treatment these days are our military commanders. They tend to be written about like so many demi-gods (until they fall ). General McChrystal, before his ignominious nosedive , was presented in the press (with the Tillman incident all but forgotten) as a cross between a Spartan ascetic and a strategic genius (with the brain of a military Stephen Hawking). Present war commander General David Petraeus regularly receives even more fawning media treatment and seems to be worshipped in Washington these days as if he were not only " an American hero ," but a genuine military god (as well as a future presidential candidate ). Yet, in the way theyíve been treated, both of these figures seem closer to celebrities than heroes in any traditional sense.

Perhaps this catches something essential about Americaís unending wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and also what used to be called the Global War on Terror but now has no name. Like the drone pilots who sit at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, killing peasants and terrorists 7,000 miles away and to whom new standards of "valor" are now being applied, most Americans are remarkably detached from the wars our "all volunteer" military force (and its vast contingent of for-profit mercenary warriors) fight in distant lands. Our forces have become generically heroic, but no one cares to look too closely at the specifics of these bloody, dirty wars that will never end in victory, not close enough to end up with actual heroes. Our "heroic" troops have no real names, any more than the wars they fight, and so individual heroics are perhaps beside the point.

"Our American Heroes"
Why Itís Wrong to Equate Military Service with Heroism
By William J. Astore

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I loved reading accounts of American heroism from World War II. I remember being riveted by a book about the staunch Marine defenders of Wake Island and inspired by John F. Kennedyís exploits saving the sailors he commanded on PT-109 . Closer to home, I had an uncle ó like so many vets of that war, relatively silent on his own experiences ó who had been at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, and then fought them in a brutal campaign on Guadalcanal, where he earned a Bronze Star. Such men seemed like heroes to me, so it came as something of a shock when, in 1980, I first heard Yodaís summary of war in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker, if you remember, tells the wizened Jedi master that he seeks "a great warrior." "Wars not make one great," Yoda replies.

Okay, it was George Lucas talking, I suppose, but I was struck by the truth of that statement. Of course, my little epiphany didnít come just because of Yoda or Lucas. By my late teens, even as I was gearing up for a career in the military, I had already begun to wonder about the common ethos that linked heroism to military service and war. Certainly, military service (especially the life-and-death struggles of combat) provides an occasion for the exercise of heroism, but even then I instinctively knew that it didnít constitute heroism.

Ever since the events of 9/11, thereís been an almost religious veneration of U.S. service members as "Our American Heroes" (as a well-intentioned sign puts it at my local post office). That a snappy uniform or even intense combat in far-off countries donít magically transform troops into heroes seems a simple point to make, but itís one worth making again and again, and not only to impressionable, military-worshipping teenagers.

Here, then, is what I mean by "hero": someone who behaves selflessly, usually at considerable personal risk and sacrifice, to comfort or empower others and to make the world a better place. Heroes, of course, come in all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors, most of them looking nothing like John Wayne or John Rambo or GI Joe (or Jane).

"Hero," sadly, is now used far too cavalierly. Sportscasters, for example, routinely refer to highly paid jocks who hit walk-off home runs or score game-winning touchdowns as heroes. Even though I come from a family of firefighters (and one police officer), the most heroic person Iíve ever known was neither a firefighter nor a cop nor a jock: She was my mother, a homemaker who raised five kids and endured without complaint the ravages of cancer in the 1970s, with its then crude chemotherapy regimen, its painful cobalt treatments, the collateral damage of loss of hair, vitality, and lucidity. In refusing to rail against her fate or to take her pain out on others, she set an example of selfless courage and heroism Iíll never forget.

Hometown Heroes in Uniform

In local post offices, as well as on local city streets here in central Pennsylvania, I see many reminders that our troops are "hometown heroes." Official military photos of these young enlistees catch my eye, a few smiling, most looking into the camera with faces of grim resolve tinged with pride at having completed basic training. Once upon a time, as the military dean of students at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, I looked into such faces in the flesh, congratulating young service members for their effort and spirit.

I was proud of them then; I still am. But hereís a fact I suspect our troops might be among the first to embrace: the act of joining the military does not make you a hero, nor does the act of serving in combat. Whether in the military or in civilian life, heroes are rare ó indeed, all-too-rare. Heck, thatís the reason we celebrate them. Theyíre the very best of us, which means they canít be all of us.

Still, even if elevating our troops to hero status has become something of a national mania, is there really any harm done? Whatís wrong with praising our troops to the rafters? Whatís wrong with adding them to our pantheon of heroes?

The short answer is: Thereís a good deal wrong, and a good deal of harm done, not so much to them as to us.

To wit:

*By making our military a league of heroes, we ensure that the brutalizing aspects and effects of war will be played down. In celebrating isolated heroic feats, we often forget that war is guaranteed to degrade humanity. "War," as writer and cultural historian Louis Menand noted, "is specially terrible not because it destroys human beings, who can be destroyed in plenty of other ways, but because it turns human beings into destroyers."

When we create a legion of heroes in our minds, we blind ourselves to evidence of their destructive, sometimes atrocious, behavior. Heroes, after all, donít commit atrocities. They donít, for instance, dig bullets out of pregnant womenís bodies in an attempt to cover up deadly mistakes. They donít fire on a good Samaritan and his two children as he attempts to aid a grievously wounded civilian. Such atrocities and murderous blunders, so common to warís brutal chaos, produce cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Americans who simply canít imagine their "heroes" killing innocents. How much easier it is to see the acts of violence of our troops as necessary, admirable, even noble.

*By making our military generically heroic, we act to prolong our wars. By seeing war as essentially heroic theater, we esteem it even as we excuse it. Consider, for example, Germany during World War I, a subject Iíve studied and written about.

Now, as then, and here, as there, the notion of war as heroic theater became common. And when that happens, warís worst excesses are conveniently softened on the "home front," which only contributes to more war-making. As the historian Robert Weldon Whalen noted of those German soldiers of nearly a century ago, "The young men in field-grey were, first of all, not just soldiers, but young heroes, Junge Helden. They fought in the heroesí zone, Heldenzone, and performed heroic deeds, Heldentaten. Wounded, they shed heroís blood, Heldenblut, and if they died, they suffered a heroís death, Heldentod, and were buried in a heroís grave, Heldengrab." The overuse of helden as a modifier to ennoble German militarism during World War I may prove grating to our ears today, but honestly, is it that much different from Americaís own celebration of our troops as young heroes (with all the attendant rites)?

*By insisting programmatically on American military heroism, we also lay a firm foundation for potentially dangerous post-war myths, especially of the blame-mongering "stab-in-the-back" variety. After all, once you have a league of heroes, how can you assign responsibility for costly, debilitating, perhaps even lost wars to them? Itís just a fact that heroes donít lose. And if theyíre not responsible, and their brilliant, super-competent leaders ( General "King David" Petraeus springs to mind) arenít responsible ó then itís only a small step to assigning blame to weak-willed civilians and so-called unpatriotic elements on the "home front," especially since weíre not likely to credit our enemies for much. By definition, cravenly hiding among civilians as they do, our enemies are just about incapable of behaving heroically.

Of Young Heroes and Front Pigs

In rejecting the "heroic" label, donít think weíd be insulting our troops. Quite the opposite: weíd be making common cause with them, for most of our troops undoubtedly already reject the "hero" label, just as the young "heroes" of Germany did in 1917-18. With the typical sardonic humor of front-line soldiers, they preferred the less comforting, if far more realistically descriptive label (given their grim situation in the trenches) of "front pigs."

Whatever nationality they may be, troops at the front know the score. Even as our media and our culture seek to elevate our troops into the pantheon of demi-gods, our "front pigs" carry on, plying an ancient and brutal trade. Most simply want to survive and come home with their bodies, their minds, and their buddies intact. Part of the worldís deadliest war machine, they are naturally concerned first about saving their own skins, and only secondarily worried about the lives of others. This is not beastliness. Nor is it heroism. Itís simply a front pigís nature.
So, next time you talk to our soldiers, Marines, sailors, or airmen, do them (and your country) a small favor. Thank them for their service. Let them know that you appreciate them. Just donít call them heroes.
 
CDNBear
#2
I have a whole list of what my moral code and perspective describes as hero's. Among that list you will find anyone that voluntarily enlists to defend their countries interests and citizens, oft with their very life.

It also includes poets, doctors writers, inventors and so for.

So what is your idea of a "hero" JBeee?
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#3
there are some soldiers who go and want to defend the idealisms of Democracy and Freedom. that's fine.

then... there are some soldiers who's sole purpose for joining the military is a selfish reason, so they can go shoot someone! that's pathetic.
 
DurkaDurka
No Party Affiliation
+1
#4
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

then... there are some soldiers who's sole purpose for joining the military is a selfish reason, so they can go shoot someone! that's pathetic.

Obviously, behaviour like this is only occurs in the military. Never have I heard of someone learning a profession for selfish reasons...
 
CDNBear
#5
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

then... there are some soldiers who's sole purpose for joining the military is a selfish reason, so they can go shoot someone! that's pathetic.

This is a common misconception. Those kinds rarely, and I mean RARELY make it past the psych eval.

I will readily admit that many join for selfish reasons, like escaping poverty, a chance at an education, learning a trade, being able to play with huge tonka toys (Like my youngest), love of flying and a need for speed(Like my oldest), a feeling of being part of something, carrying on a family tradition (Like myself).

There are as many reasons as there are Troopers.
 
YukonJack
Conservative
+1
#6
JBeee, if it wasn't for the people you denigrate time after time, you would not have the freedom to denigrate them time after time.

Actually, in your case, all the time.

Shame on you and all those who agree with you.
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#7
Quote: Originally Posted by DurkaDurka View Post

Obviously, behaviour like this is only occurs in the military. Never have I heard of someone learning a profession for selfish reasons...


ya ok. sarcasm here....

 
EagleSmack
#8
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

ya ok. sarcasm here....


What else do you expect when you post something foolish?
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#9
Quote: Originally Posted by EagleSmack View Post

What else do you expect when you post something foolish?

it wasn't foolish.

it's a fact that there are some wacko's out there that join the army with the thrill of being able to legally shoot someone! get their rocks off!

you honestly believe that nobody thinks like that?

millions of Gun nuts in the USA would LOVE to be able to do that!!
 
DurkaDurka
No Party Affiliation
#10
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

it wasn't foolish.

it's a fact that there are some wacko's out there that join the army with the thrill of being able to legally shoot someone! get their rocks off!

you honestly believe that nobody thinks like that?

millions of Gun nuts in the USA would LOVE to be able to do that!!

Dude, you're talking non-sense. You argument could be applied to just about any occupation. People do things for different reasons.
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#11
Quote: Originally Posted by DurkaDurka View Post

Dude, you're talking non-sense. You argument could be applied to just about any occupation. People do things for different reasons.

ya but the military is the only place that you can go and legally shoot somebody.

(well besides the police but they have to file reports.. etc)

it's different than a regular job.
 
petros
+1
#12
Quote:

it's a fact that there are some wacko's out there that join the army with the thrill of being able to legally shoot someone! get their rocks off!

you honestly believe that nobody thinks like that?

I can think of a couple. One in particular who is currently the shinest cadet in the city. He doesn't care who they send him to fight or for what reason. He just wants to kill.
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#13
Quote: Originally Posted by petros View Post

I can think of a couple. One in particular who is currently the shinest cadet in the city. He doesn't care who they send him to fight or for what reason. He just wants to kill.


and that's disgusting!
 
petros
#14
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

and that's disgusting!

That is human nature.
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 05:45 PM..
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#15
Quote: Originally Posted by petros View Post

How old are you? I'm serious. What do you think your opinion will be in 20 years?

I am 32.

it's not a black and white world there. it's not as simple as just leaving.

society has to work towards eliminating people who wanna kill other people.

it's like eliminating racism, and sexist type of people.

it should not be tolerated.
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 05:44 PM..
 
MapleOne
#16
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

there are some soldiers who's sole purpose for joining the military is a selfish reason, so they can go shoot someone! that's pathetic.

The down side to this is when you shoot at someone they usually shoot back. So I'm not sure if too many people sign up for that specific reason.
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#17
Quote: Originally Posted by MapleOne View Post

The down side to this is when you shoot at someone they usually shoot back. So I'm not sure if too many people sign up for that specific reason.

well there are some! and sadly some of Canadians. they get this idea that they'll get to go to Afghanistan and find some Taliban and go shoot em! and they get their rocks off in the process.
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 06:00 PM..Reason: Removed the "a good kick in the nuts is what they need!" comment that started this Goat-Rodeo
 
EagleSmack
#18
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

it wasn't foolish.

Yes it was.


Quote:

it's a fact that there are some wacko's out there that join the army with the thrill of being able to legally shoot someone! get their rocks off!

Citation?

Quote:

you honestly believe that nobody thinks like that?

There are nuts all over the world. Do you believe that college kids or professors go to college so they can shoot up other students or fellow professors?

Quote:

millions of Gun nuts in the USA would LOVE to be able to do that!!

Do you see how foolish you are sounding?
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 06:01 PM..
 
petros
#19
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

I am 32.

it's not a black and white world there. it's not as simple as just leaving.

society has to work towards eliminating people who wanna kill other people.

it's like eliminating racism, and sexist type of people.

it should not be tolerated.

32 eh?

You can't regulate and legislate instinct.
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 05:47 PM..
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#20
Quote: Originally Posted by petros View Post

32 eh? You can't regulate and legislate instinct.


what does removing evils of society like murderers and bad people have to do with legislating instinct?

some people out in this world do not know the difference between right and wrong!
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 05:48 PM..
 
DurkaDurka
No Party Affiliation
#21
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

I am not making generalizations. there are some people out there that have a mentality that makes them very scary individuals.

Do you think the military might have a screening process to weed people like that out?
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#22
Quote: Originally Posted by DurkaDurka View Post

Do you think the military might have a screening process to weed people like that out?

of course,

but doesn't mean people don't sneak by it. look at that one guy who shot all those people not too long ago, he never should have been allowed to be there.

Gunman kills 12, wounds 31 at Fort Hood - U.S. news - Crime & courts - msnbc.com

12 shot at Fort Hood
 
DurkaDurka
No Party Affiliation
#23
Quote: Originally Posted by Chiliagon View Post

of course,

but doesn't mean people don't sneak by it. look at that one guy who shot all those people not too long ago, he never should have been allowed to be there.

Gunman kills 12, wounds 31 at Fort Hood - U.S. news - Crime & courts - msnbc.com

12 shot at Fort Hood

That happens in civilian society as well, so your point is?
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 05:50 PM..
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#24
Quote: Originally Posted by DurkaDurka View Post

That happens in civilian society as well, so your point is?

point is, people get through the cracks all the time.
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 05:58 PM..
 
MapleOne
#25
HeHe

I just joined the forum recently and I thought being Canadian Content that it was going to be quite passive. I've been proven wrong on that part a number of times now.

This time I'm going to sit back, relax, and watch the events unfold.

Hang on until my popcorn is ready please.
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#26
I was talking about the whole people getting into the Military for the wrong reason, not being a hero.. etc.
Last edited by Ron in Regina; Jul 23rd, 2010 at 05:53 PM..
 
lone wolf
Free Thinker
#27
Try and answer this one: What is the right reason?
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#28
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolf View Post

Try and answer this one: What is the right reason?

to defend your country, if it is under attack directly and could be taken over by enemies.
 
lone wolf
Free Thinker
#29
What do you call a direct attack?
 
Chiliagon
Liberal
#30
Quote: Originally Posted by lone wolf View Post

What do you call a direct attack?

a country invades or attacks your country with weapons, like bombs, missiles, men.

or if they declare war against you and come to your country with violence and so on.
 

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