Monday, May 10, 2010

Heroes?

I'm sorry, and I know I may catch major flak for this (from my two readers)....

But is anyone else tired of the "every soldier is a hero" attitude?

Putting on a uniform and successfully passing basic training makes you a SOLDIER.
Surviving a war or "police action" makes you a FORTUNATE soldier.

Performing a HEROIC ACT, for others, above and beyond any reasonable expectation of human conduct, while making one's own personal well-being a secondary concern makes one a HERO.

Has every single soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan done that? Of course not. Very few even get the opportunity to do so, let alone rise to the occasion.

Have we lowered the standards of what makes a Hero so much that all one has to do is serve? Not, of course, that SERVING isn't HONORABLE. But there's a difference between an honorable person and a HERO.
Does every soldier get awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor when they get home? Well, why not? They're all "heroes," right? And that's exactly what the Medal of Honor says about a person: this is far more than an average person, this is a HERO.

I could have kept this to myself. It's no problem.
I agree strongly with the honorability of serving one's country. I grew up with the military, am a real patriot (meaning I didn't suddenly start waving a flag on 9/11/'01), learned military tradition through the US Army ROTC program, and then was a soldier myself. And you know what? I don't consider myself in any way a hero, even though I'm proud of who I am and what I've done. Would I have thrown myself on a grenade to save my comrades? I don't know... fortunately I never had the opportunity to find out. But I served with Honor, and continue to honor those who do.

The reason I can't keep it to myself any longer is that I know that not EVERY soldier serves with honor, let alone heroism. Soldiers are, for the most part, pretty much like the rest of us: there are Heroes, most are average, and there are bad apples.

Not too long ago I worked with a guy who had recently gotten back from Iraq. Like many, I could tell he was having a hard time adjusting to normal, non-soldier, civilian life. But from what I learned about PROPER military service, I know he never "adjusted" HONORABLY to that either.

This guy regularly made me sick to my stomach with stories. Not of "war stories" (he saw very little actual action), but of stories of his and some of his buddies' behavior.
He informed me of every nasty prejudice term they had for the Iraqis - not the ENEMIES, but the civilians they were there to protect. He informed me of every bigoted attitude he and others had toward them.

He told me stories of how they harassed and bullied the locals. Not the "suspicious" ones... all of them.

He told me how they would often amuse themselves by making Iraqi children fight each other for a piece of candy.
And disgusting things they would make them do for an American quarter or dollar bill.

And he never once told one of these stories with the sour taste of shame or disbelief in his mouth. He told them as perfectly normal anecdotes, like you would tell me what you did over the weekend. Like he expected me to be amused, or even impressed.

So up until the point at which I knew this man, this former soldier, I figured calling all soldiers "Heroes" was simply a matter of semantics. Whatever... who cares... I know what a soldier is, and if everyone else wants to call them ALL heroes, and that helps to build a strong national identity, NO PROBLEM.

But then I learned that not ALL soldiers are honorable, or even decent human beings, let alone "Heroes." Of course, I never would have assumed they were... we're all human after all, but it was fine with me for that knowledge to be out of sight and out of mind.

BELIEVE ME... I can't stress enough that I honor, respect and appreciate those who serve in our Armed Forces. Agree with "the war" or not, being a soldier CAN BE the most honorable of all professions.

But now, every single time I hear someone say something like, "our heroes in uniform" I think about THAT guy, and his buddies. I know they're in the minority (I hope), but I'm reminded that NOT everyone who puts on a uniform is in ANY way a Hero.

When you say that ALL soldiers are Heroes, you're saying THAT guy is one too. And frankly, if you think THAT guy is a Hero, you make me as sick to my stomach as he did.

4 comments:

  1. No disagreement from me.

    Soldiers aren't always heroes any more than writers (or musicians, or whatever) are all geniuses. The military is an honorable profession, and I'm thankful for the people who are in it, but honor and heroism still depend entirely on what YOU do. I mean, if I save somebody's life, I guess I could technically be a hero, but that doesn't mean much if I'm a complete asshole in every other conceivable way.

    Some people say that true honor and integrity are shown in what you do when nobody is watching -- but I think a tougher test is what you do when everybody is telling you it's okay. How do you treat other people when the ones around you say it doesn't matter? What do you do to people when you have the power to treat them any way you want?

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  2. Thanks for the comment.

    Thing about musicians, writers, etc. is that society and the media as a whole aren't habitually referring to them as geniuses, as a generalized term inferring that all of them ARE.

    That's kinda what I'm getting at.

    I really like what you said in the second paragraph there. I don't know how many people actually think about the kind of character and personal strength you're talking about there: how you behave, what you do, when your buddies are behaving dishonorably.

    What REALLY bothered me about this guy is that it obviously wasn't just him. "WE made kids fight for candy."

    Obviously I'm assuming and hoping "we" were a very slim minority (and from my own personal experience I'd say that's true), but CLEARLY the media's and certain segments of our society's automatically substituting the word "hero" for "soldier" is VERY wrong.

    And frankly, it's insulting to the few who ARE actually heroes. It obscures the line between those who "serve their country" and happen to put themselves at risk, and those who go ABOVE AND BEYOND all reasonable human expectation.

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  3. Now, what makes you think you'll catch flak for this?
    I always thank someone for their military service, but that doesn't automatically make them a hero...

    Oh; I must be the "other" reader...

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  4. Oh, I don't know... something, I'm sure.
    Many folks aren't very thoughtful.

    Oh, and you are.

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