So claims William J. Astore, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.
Astore makes his case in a column published in the LA Times that originated on the web site, TomDispatch.com. Here are excerpts from, “Our American Heroes.”
“Ever since the events of 9/11, there’s 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). But a snappy uniform — or even dented body armor — is not a magical shortcut to hero status.
A hero is someone who behaves selflessly, usually at considerable personal risk and sacrifice, to comfort or empower others and to make the world a better place.
Whether in civilian life or in the military, heroes are rare — indeed, all too rare. Heck, that’s the reason we celebrate them. They’re the very best of us, which means they can’t be all of us.
But does elevating our troops to hero status really cause any harm? What’s wrong with praising our troops to the rafters and adding them to our pantheon of heroes? A lot.
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 as well.
When we create a legion of heroes in our minds, we blind ourselves to evidence of destructive, sometimes atrocious, behavior. Heroes, after all, don’t commit atrocities. They don’t, for instance, dig bullets out of pregnant women’s bodies in an attempt to cover up deadly mistakes, as the Times of London recently reported may have happened in Gardez, Afghanistan.
Even worse, seeing the military as universally heroic can serve to prolong wars.
In rejecting blanket ‘hero’ labels today, we would not be insulting our troops. Quite the opposite: We’d be making common cause with them. Most of them already know the difference between real heroism and everyday military service.
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 you appreciate them. Just don’t call them heroes.”
You can read Astore’s entire piece here.
I respectfully disagree with Astore.
Dictionary.com defines hero:
1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
Now, there certainly are bad soldiers. Granted, some are better than others. But what criteria does one use to determine which soldiers are heroes and which ones are not? I would hate to have to make that call.
A young man or woman that volunteers for extremely dangerous, risky duty for his/her country that could result in the ultimate sacrifice, to me, is a hero in every sense of the word. In my view, it would take inappropriate action or behavior on the part of a soldier to relinquish that well-deserved description.