Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's a hero?

Hyperbole often stems from naivete -- and a perceived need to impress and excite readers.

"Hero" may be misused as often as it is used properly. Maybe it's misused more often. To many writers (and non-writers), any war veteran, police officer or fireman is a hero.

I knew a guy who was in the Navy during the Viet Nam war and spent most of his time teaching sailors' wives how to water ski in Hawaii (and having sex with them). He joked about marching in a "Welcome Home, Heroes" parade. He said his biggest risk was getting a venereal disease, or being shot by a returning husband.
  • A water ski instructor, cook, musician, programmer or uniform dispenser is not in the same league as someone who got shot, bombed, burned or poisoned while rescuing comrades from a battlefield, ocean, prison or burning building.
  • A cop who sets a new monthly record for writing parking tickets is not the equal of a cop who loses fingers while disarming a bomb.
  • A fireman who inspects restaurant kitchens is not like the heroes who went up the stairs while the World Trade Center was collapsing. 
  • I don't think that a soldier who was severely wounded by an explosion or a sniper while sitting in a bar -- or even while riding in a Humvee -- is a hero.
  • Similarly, a pilot who is shot down, captured, imprisoned and tortured is a victim -- not a hero. If he risked his life to break out of his cell and helped other airmen to escape from the enemy, then he is a hero.
Being wounded or killed while in the armed forces can certainly be tragic, and a major sacrifice for one's country. But unless the wound or death is the result of actually DOING SOMETHING, rather than merely being someplace, I don't see the heroism. Being drafted or enlisting is not necessarily heroic.

JFK was a war hero. George H. W. Bush may have been. Dubya was not.

I am not writing this to criticize military service or civil service, merely to discuss semantics. And, no, I am not a hero.

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