Every Soldier Is Not A Hero
I wish to comment about the controversy surrounding MSNBC’s Chris Hayes saying on his show Sunday that he feels “uncomfortable” calling fallen soldiers “heroes”.
For the record the following post comes from March 2006 on an old blog I use to write, but feel in light of the many thoughts about Hayes’ comment I would repost the following.
Our language is so often misused that I think we are losing the real meaning of certain words, to the point that we abuse them and twist the meaning of our nation’s history.
When I was younger, a superstar in the entertainment field would need to match the likes of Elvis, Sammy Davis Jr., Dolly, or Frank Sinatra. Today, if someone has a slick public relations team and nice physical characteristics such as a healthy smile with broad shoulders or busty chest (as the case may be), one can claim the title of ‘superstar’. Following that pronouncement, the person is then treated to his or her own reality television show or recording contract. In a few years they will be forgotten by the public but still were able to cajole their 15 minutes of fame.
The bottom line is, those many wannabes were never superstars, and they should not be termed as such in our culture.
Now consider the word hero and how it has been used since 9/11, and it seems like everyone these days can lay claim to the word. The stock trader that happened to go to work on time and was killed in one of the World Trade Towers was labeled a ‘hero’. The waiter in a restaurant at the top of the Towers who was tragically killed is also called a ‘hero’.
But if one only needs to show up to work on time and, as a result, die at the hands of a terrorist to be termed ‘hero’, then what do we call the firefighter who enters that same burning building with flaming jet fuel falling all around him, in an effort to reach his fellow citizens? The firefighter in this case is the true definition of the term hero and the worker who came to his office is a victim. The whole scenario is tragic but the difference in their roles is important to note and, for history’s sake, to recall accurately.
Now to the trickier topic of calling all soldiers heroes. I understand the emotional need for some to do this as it allows families to feel their child did not serve, and possibly die, in vain. In this rhetorically driven political climate, I certainly understand the political requirement that every elected official cite the word over and over while talking of soldiers. But in reality, the word hero doesn’t apply to every person just because an individual enlists and wears a uniform.
When a solider is killed by friendly fire or falls off the back-end of a supply truck and is run over, the word hero is not the first thing that comes to my mind. Sad though it is that they died, these cases resulted from situations that did not meet the definition of the word hero, which is defined as being distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, and strength. If being shot by friendly fire makes one a ‘hero,’ then what would we call the forces that stormed the beaches of Normandy?
Clearly we have become fond of the term hero for all sorts of overly nationalistic and political reasons that have ill-served both our country and our language.