Everywhere you go it seems, in America today, there are heroes. The obsession with being a hero and the pressure to act like one is almost palpable. Certainly pulpable.
The emergence of the American Hero is most noticeably connected to World War II (not apparently WWI though). This period of history seems to have generated the most number of heroes. You could argue that during World War II, the Japanese surgical strike on the Naval base at Pearl Harbor not withstanding, the US has technically never, really been attacked by an army on it’s own soil. And certainly Nazi Germany did not try to take over the US or convert or claim it for the Third Reich. But, nevertheless, during world War II, the American Hero saved America, the World, and very Freedom herself. No matter how many Japs, Jerries, and priceless Italian Monasteries had to be destroyed in the process.
Recently, the cadre of remaining or missing Viet Nam vets have also been re-categorized as “Hero”. Finally! Somehow the circle of highly questionable US involvement in Southeast Asia, and the dubious argument that this was in defense of American freedom, has now been successfully closed. Americans who fought in the most famous example of the pointlessness and ultimate shame of any war, have now today, been magically resurrected as Hero. The best way to gift an all too-long lost generation.
911, the first legitimately undeniable enemy attack on American soil, has now somehow magically turned every employee of every fire department in the US, into a hero. An insult to the 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 NYPD and 37 Port Authority officers who went into an inferno, in spite of the odds and more importantly defying common sense, practice, and procedure.
This label has somewhat diminished it’s value and serves as an instant gratification, and convenience store justification for more war, any war. Attached deftly by the mongers, to the recent US activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, today, the entire military force, virtually anyone who fights, even if they drive a truck for Halliburton, or serve fresh bacon and tater-tots to the troops from Falujah to Wazierestan, are instant, just add water and heat, Heroes.
We are told this by Starbucks, who wants to send the troops delicious (ironically) fair-trade and environmentally conscious coffee, on our behalf. Certainly the TV news media is complicit in building this brand. Even our daily commute reminds us, as we inch forward one-car length at a time, drone-eyes locked on the bumper-sticker or [insert-your-cause-here] ribbon-magnet in front of us.
And it’s not just war that creates heroes. Flying geese created one when Sully landed his Airbus in the Hudson. It wasn’t luck, happenstance, experience, or training. It was Heroic! Complete with his prompt resignation, getting an agent, and starting a “How to run an Airline” consulting business.
But having a nation full of of heroes is impossible. When everyone is a hero, the meaning of hero is diminished. And certainly an acute intolerant arrogance begins to grow in it’s place. If everything is heroic, everything is right, then presumably we can do no wrong. Which gives us the feeling we can do as we want. Worse, it gives us want to do as we want.
Heroism is not bestowed or assigned automatically by enlisting in a war against an easily killable enemy. Heroism is not shooting an advanced or unmanned weapon at anyone in their own land.
Heroism is that earned level of ultra-humanity in which having the choice to do nothing, the hero chooses to do what is known that must be done. Not, what an ill-informed politician thinks ought to be done to make us all feel better that we killed something back, but what is tacitly and morally known as the right thing to do.