“I feel uncomfortable about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”
Ideologues don’t always sound shrill. Sometimes their condescension sounds forgiving – as in “I really don’t want to disrespect anyone but, come on, really? Just being gunned down in war makes someone a hero?” In other words, for Chris Hayes, heroism is very serious business. Heroes rescue fellow soldiers and fall on hand grenades, evidently. Of course, this says a lot about this guy’s view of the world.
For me, a hero is anyone who sacrifices his or her life for another human being in a righteous cause. And by sacrifice I don’t mean just the ultimate sacrifice. I also mean giving one’s time, talents and resources to bless the lives of others. It means subordinating your best interests to the best interests of others. This is a large part of American exceptionalism. But this is exactly this guy’s blind spot. For him war has little to do with a righteous cause because for him war is idealized – as if there’s a perfect cause carried out with perfect precision by perfect human beings. And it’s in that imaginary world of human perfection where “genuine” heroes exist in his mind.
Because this guy looks like he’s 12 years old, my guess is that he idealizes certain aspects of ancient history the rest of us call World War II, such as defeating Hitler, and that American troops gunned down in that war were real heroes. The ones in Vietnam? Nah, not so much. The ones in Iraq? No way! Chris Hayes represents the same class of people who think President Obama actually deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. The heroes of the intellectual classes – the ones whose battlefields are studio sets staring down the barrel of a teleprompter – sit in bars sipping apple martinis dreaming of worlds wherein the need to sacrifice is nonexistent because their government programs have solved all of the problems of mortality.
My dad was in the military from June 1944 to June 1946. He enlisted, wasn’t drafted, and he turned 18 years old in boot camp. He drove landing crafts on to the shore of Iwo Jima and then spent most of his time cleaning up that mess after the good guys had won. He was never wounded. He lives with me in my home today. And while he can barely remember what he had for dinner the night before, he can remember everything about Iwo Jima. He is a member of the “Greatest Generation.”
We call his generation the greatest because it was filled with heroes – men and women who were born in relatively good times but soon found their childhoods in the deep poverty of the Great Depression and their youth on the battlefields of the Pacific and Europe or separated from everyone they loved most. They came home, overcame the deep emotional scars of war, got married, had lots of babies, started businesses and got on with life. They only knew sacrifice – for their country, for their families and for each other. To this day, my dad still can’t wake in the morning without knowing he has something to do. All he knows is work. When he’s not taking my disabled sister to the gym for her exercises, he’s pulling weeds in our yard. There will soon come a time when he won’t be able to drive a car or even pull weeds and I know that when that time comes – when all purpose in life is gone – he’ll pass on to where all heroes go.
I wish a very happy Memorial Day to all the heroes, alive or dead, wounded or not, at war, at peace, at home and in our hearts.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
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