Posted by Jay Livingston
If you die in uniform, are you automatically a hero?
On Memorial Day, the day for honoring our war dead, MSNBC newsman Chris Hayes said he had reservations about the way the word hero gets tossed around. Some soldiers, he said, die in circumstances of “tremendous heroism.” But that implied that other soldiers deaths are not quite as heroic and that not all dead military personnel are heroes.
Hayese also questioned the whole enterprise of hero-making.
I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.As you would expect, the right wing swung into full battle vituperation, with the usual name calling – commie, collectivist, intellectual, effete – that tells us more about the fears of the name-callers than it does about Hayes. (Politico has a summary of the reaction.)
Above all, the critics insisted that the military dead were, ipso facto, heroes.
Whether all are heroes comes down to definitions, and apparently some people’s definition of hero includes all dead soldiers. More important is Hayes’s discomfort at the motives and the effect of all this hero-mongering: “justification for more war.” It’s sometimes called “waving the bloody shirt.”
A way to think about this is to imagine other nations or groups doing something similar. Imagine Al Qaeda, for example, having hero ceremonies for their own dead, saying what heroes all these dead Al Qaeda are and how wonderful and worthwhile their sacrifice. Might we suspect that the motive behind these sentiments was to stir their followers to further acts of war?
Imagine a Pakistani newsman saying that this waving of the bloody headscarf, despite the honorable motive of honoring the dead, seemed to encourage even more war, more killing, and more death. Would we think maybe he had a point? Or would we say, “How dare he suggest that some of these fallen Al Qaeda were not heroes?” and then dismiss him as cowardly, effeminate, and disloyal?