It’s a long story, but I just started using StumbleUpon, and turned up all sorts of interesting stuff–trust me, don’t investigate this site if, like me, you’re a person with a dissertation to write. Thank you, Emily, for providing me with the procrastination tool par excellance.
Anyway…Interesting articles started popping up right away, led by this piece which appeared in the LA Times on July 22, by William J. Astore, Lt. Col (ret) USAF, called “Every soldier a hero? Hardly”. A slightly reworked version of the same article appears in Tomgram, a rather provocative news source founded by Tom Engelhardt. I have to say, having read a fair amount related to this subject myself, that Astore makes a great deal of sense. The word “hero” IS thrown about far too often these days, in an unthinking manner. His examples of German militarism in World War I are spot on, and I would recommend the PBS documentary, “The Wounded Platoon” (currently on ‘watch instantly’ on Netflix) as simply one (extreme) example of how war is anything but enobling (except in rare instances). Conversely, I would also mention that over the years I’ve met folk in uniform who needed to be reminded of what Tom Cruise says to James Marshall at the end of A Few Good Men: “You don’t need a patch on your arm to have honor.” A sense of purpose and a code of conduct is not the exclusive purview of, say, the USMC (which has a very fine one, in my opinion–hence my youthful aspirations to be part of the Corps). Nor of practitioners of the various martial arts disciplines, as I’ve heard many folk implicitly claim. Character comes from within, and, depending on your personal beliefs, with aid from above. So, Astore has it right on the money; all our service men and women should be greatly honored, and I would think many are indeed “heroes”, but hero-worship as such is a misplaced emotion born largely of civilians and politicians who have a need for or an interest in creating an ideal within which we can suspend critical thought. And it probably makes a number of service folk uncomfortable, to boot, as most veterans who know war first hand don’t think of themselves that way–or they only think of their comrades as such. When asked why he had helped wounded men under fire, or threw back German grenades, (I can’t remember which at this point) a Third Army soldier looked nonplussed and said, “Well, someone had to.” And I think of Band of Brothers‘ Dick Winters’ reply to his grandson when the child asked “Were you a hero in the war?”: “Grandpa said ‘No. But I served with a company of heroes.”