11 January, 2006


Subsunk wrote a post at Blackfive that inspired an interesting discussion about what a hero really is. In comments, he responded to a sevicemember who was uncomfortable with being called a hero:

Duty is the noblest word in the English language. And Heroes or heroes (large or small H) are defined by their devotion to duty, and their dedication to their country, in a fashion not demonstrated by the average civilian...Allow us the small thrill of shaking your hand, hugging you for your service, and paying for a meal now and then. It...helps us feel good that you are once again in the revered position which your service has always deserved. And always will.
The discussion and Subsunk's comment inspired the following in me (originally posted in comments at Blackfive). I'm interested to hear what thoughts readers over here may have on the subject:

Well said, Subsunk (as usual).

I'll only add that when I recently visited the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery, I was reminded of a few things that may relate to this discussion:

Will standing there, I thought about how we know nothing about the circumstances of the deaths of those that memorial commemorates other than that they were soldiers, and so if they died on the field of battle they were in the middle of carrying out their duties. And part of the reason we honor them is simply because of that: "they served," and "they did their duty," even though we don't know their stories.

All those who fight bravely in wartime are at the very least doing their duty, whether they ultimately fall or live to fight another day. I'll not deny that the icons of warfare are used as political toys at times. But I think that this doing of their duty is why modest sorts such as Bram are earnestly hailed as heroes by us civilians--because they have honorably done their duty under the most difficult of circumstances, and because not all of us are convinced we could do the same.

I often hear vets say that the difference between coming home alive and dead is more luck than anything else. We call the fallen our heroes, so should we consider those who return home safe any less heroic simply because they were luckier?

One of the definitions of hero is, "A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life." Joining the military and taking an oath that involves places oneself under the control and use of your country as it sees fit is rather noble. And keeping one's wits on the battlefield and fighting effectively is pretty courageous. Sounds awfully heroic to me...

I'll agree to degrees of heroism--with people like Rafael Peralta at the top, but you're all still heroic in my eyes for your willingness to volunteer, tough it out through training, and ultimately face the darkness of war up close and personal if it comes to that. And because you do those things, I will thankfully never have that "up close and personal" experience for myself. Those who give me that gift are certainly noble and courageous in my book, and I'm certainly grateful beyond words.


So dear readers, what do you think? Is military service, especially in time of war, properly called heroic in and of itself? It that appropriate in light of those who sacrifice their lives for others in Medal of Honor kinds of situations, such as in the case of Rafael Peralta, who fell on a grenade to save his brothers?