On the death of former NBA basketball player Manute Bol last month, I examined the diluted meaning of the word “hero” in our increasingly cheapened daily lexicon at On words, heroes and redemptive messages.
In a well-reasoned commentary this week, entitled, Every soldier a hero? Hardly, retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel William J. Astore takes up a similar discussion when he both reasserts what a “hero” is. But he also argues for distancing heroism from militarism.
Pleading no disrespect but instead arguing “common cause” with our soldiers, Colonel Astore underlines his premise by stating, “Simply joining the armed services does not make you a hero, nor does the act of serving in combat.”
Controversially, the retired officer contends, “By making our military a league of heroes, we ensure that the brutalizing aspects and effects of war will be played down. In celebrating isolated heroic feats, we often forget that war is guaranteed to degrade humanity as well.”
A couple of years ago, blogger Stephen Rose similarly wondered “if war is the highest standard we wish to set” for the word “hero” when he blogged about being Tired of Hearing the Word Hero Equated with Militarism?
Following my blog post decrying the cut-rate use of “hero,” a friend emailed me to weigh in with his own private thoughts on the subject. I won’t go into the specifics of what he wrote but only say my friend would probably agree with the selfless sacrifice part of Colonel Astore’s definition, “A hero is someone who behaves selflessly, usually at considerable personal risk and sacrifice, to comfort or empower others and to make the world a better place.”
In his Los Angeles Times opinion essay, Colonel Astore writes that “heroes are rare.” They’re not like the rest of us, especially since they represent the best of who we are. This is why he says, “we celebrate them.”
But because he also argues that wearing “a snappy uniform” ought not be a quick pass to heroism, the former military officer’s provocative commentary is worth reading and thinking about.