I Will Continue to Call Our Fighting Men and Women ‘Heroes’ (UPDATED)
I have not said anything about the brouhaha sparked by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Sunday when he said that he felt “uncomfortable” describing those members of our armed forces killed in action as “heroes.”
I have not said anything because I have been too busy remembering, honoring and writing about those heroes.
But now that Memorial Day is over and we can feel “comfortable” again — at least until the next Veterans Day or Memorial Day — about sending our non-heroes into harm’s way I will say something about that again.
And, just as I expect it to happen again, I received an earful then, but that goes with the territory.
Reacting to a column, “Why It’s Wrong to Equate Military Service With Heroism,” written by retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William J. Astore, wherein the colonel discussed all the technical, logical and semantic reasons why our fighting men and women should not be collectively called “heroes,” I wrote:
I am one of those misguided, clueless people who, when writing about our military men and women slugging it out in Iraq and Afghanistan, engaged in combat, just trying not to get killed or maimed by an IED, or just driving a truck with supplies across the desert, instinctively and invariably refers to them as “heroes.”
I went on to give my reasons as to why I call our servicemen and women heroes.
I know that not everyone of our fighting men and women fits the definition of “hero.” I call them collectively heroes out of general, across-the-board respect and admiration for them, and out of deep gratitude for the sacrifices they make for our country.
Those who fit the strict definition of “hero” will still be singled out, recognized, honored and “celebrated” with the appropriate military awards and decorations designed and reserved for just such acts of valor and heroism. I do not believe the “real heroes” would begrudge their brothers and sisters in arms from being referred to as “heroes.” As a matter of fact, real heroes do not feel they are heroes at all.
I categorically reject the opinions of those who say that creating such a class or league of “heroes” would play down the brutalizing effects of war, would justify, even glorify war and would desensitize us to the cruelties and atrocities of war.
The American people overwhelmingly reject the Iraq War and want our nation to end the war in Afghanistan. They overwhelmingly condemn the atrocities committed by a handful of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in all wars.
I do not believe that by supporting our troops, by calling them heroes, Americans approve of every war or attach a connotation of “nobleness” to every military action our leaders take us into. Americans are intelligent enough to make distinctions between the policy decisions that take our nation into war and the troops who are called upon to fight those wars — heroically.
I believe that taking issue with symbolic, laudatory labels for our troops — even though those labels may be overly generous — in order to condemn wars and in order to condemn those who sent our troops to war is wrongheaded.
Moreover, I believe that in taking issue with those who would call our troops “heroes,” to cite the “ennoblement” of German militarism during World War I or the Nazi atrocities during World War II — which included the Holocaust — is an affront to the intelligence and to the moral compass of the American people.
I totally oppose the Iraq war and question our continued involvement in Afghanistan. I have written frequently and strongly about my opposition.
And yet, I still call those men and women who have fought and continue to fight in those wars “heroes” — and I will continue to do so with all due respect to those who disagree with me.
As I concluded my previous piece on this issue:
Astore is correct that “[I]n rejecting blanket ‘hero’ labels today, we would not be insulting our troops.” That is because our troops “collectively” cannot be insulted. Just as calling them heroes does not cheapen true acts of heroism, nor does it justify, humanize or glorify war. Governments and politicians who take us into war might justify and glorify wars, not the troops who fight and die in them.
A Vietnam War era veteran, who did not see combat and who is not a hero, but who will always call our troops collectively, perhaps allegorically, but above all, earnestly heroes.
In June 2011, while we were still in Iraq, the Stars and Stripes published this preface to their section called — you guessed it — “Heroes.”
I thought I would be appropriate to quote it here:
After nearly a decade of war, it’s easy to become numb to it.
You read the newspaper, you watch the television and it just keeps coming, one day after another until it all runs together. You mourn the dead and you celebrate the victories, but you can’t allow yourself to feel too deeply or it becomes too much. If you’re one of the 99 percent of Americans not actively fighting this country’s battles, war is difficult to understand.
But we must try. We owe it to the 1 percent.
For them, it’s not complicated. It’s not about surges and drawdowns and Capitol Hill bickering. For the men and women who will lace up their boots in Afghanistan or Iraq today, their only goal is to complete the mission and lie down to sleep at night one day closer to coming home.
It’s not easy. Sometimes completing an ordinary mission requires extraordinary heroism. These are the stories you’ll find in the seventh edition of Stars and Stripes’ Heroes special section.
The servicemembers profiled here never sought glory. Though many later received valor medals, they sought only to succeed and survive and to protect the one standing beside them. Most of them made it home safely, some didn’t. Others are still at war today.
To understand, we must know their stories.
We owe it to the 1 percent.
To read the stories of these heroes, please go here