I have not said anything about the brouhaha sparked by MSNBC's Chris Hayes on Sunday when he said that he felt "uncomfortable" describing those members of our armed forces killed in action "heroes," because I have been too busy remembering, honoring and writing about those heroes, the ones who have left us and the ones who are still with us.
(Mr. Hayes has since apologized.)
But now that Memorial Day is over and we can feel "comfortable" again -- at least until the next Veterans Day or Memorial Day -- about sending our non-heroes into harm's way, I will say something about that again.
I say again, because I have called all our fighting men and women -- not only those who die in battle -- "heroes" before.
And, just as I expect it to happen again, I received an earful then, but that goes with the territory.
Reacting to a column, "Why It's Wrong to Equate Military Service With Heroism," written by retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William J. Astore, wherein the colonel discussed all the technical, logical and semantic reasons why our fighting men and women should not be collectively called "heroes," I wrote:
I am one of those misguided, clueless people who, when writing about our military men and women slugging it out in Iraq and Afghanistan, engaged in combat, just trying not to get killed or maimed by an IED, or just driving a truck with supplies across the desert, instinctively and invariably refers to them as "heroes."
I went on to give my reasons as to why I call our servicemen and women heroes.
I know that not everyone of our fighting men and women fits the definition of "hero." I call them collectively heroes out of general, across-the-board respect and admiration for them, and out of deep gratitude for the sacrifices they make for our country.
Those who fit the strict definition of "hero" will still be singled out, recognized, honored and "celebrated" with the appropriate military awards and decorations designed and reserved for just such acts of valor and heroism. I do not believe the "real heroes" would begrudge their brothers- and sisters-in-arms from being referred to as "heroes." As a matter of fact, real heroes do not feel they are heroes at all.
I categorically reject the opinions of those who say that creating such a class or league of "heroes" would play down the brutalizing effects of war, would justify, even glorify war and would desensitize us to the cruelties and atrocities of war.
The American people overwhelmingly reject the Iraq War and want our nation to end the war in Afghanistan. overwhelmingly condemn the atrocities committed by a handful of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in all wars.
I do not believe that by supporting our troops, by calling them heroes, Americans approve of every war or attach a connotation of "nobleness" to every military action our leaders take us into. Americans are intelligent enough to make distinctions between the policy decisions that take our nation into war and the troops who are called upon to fight those wars -- heroically.
I believe that taking issue with symbolic, laudatory labels for our troops -- even though those labels may be overly generous -- in order to condemn wars and in order to condemn those who sent our troops to war is wrongheaded.
Moreover, I believe that in taking issue with those who would call our troops "heroes," to cite the "ennoblement" of German militarism during World War I or the Nazi atrocities during World War II -- which included the Holocaust -- is an affront to the intelligence and to the moral compass of the American people.
I totally oppose the Iraq war and question our continued involvement in Afghanistan. I have written frequently and strongly about my opposition.
And yet, I still call those men and women who have fought and continue to fight in those wars "heroes" -- and I will continue to do so with all due respect to those who disagree with me.
As I concluded my previous piece on this issue:
Astore is correct that "[I]n rejecting blanket 'hero' labels today, we would not be insulting our troops." That is because our troops "collectively" cannot be insulted. Just as calling them heroes does not cheapen true acts of heroism, nor does it justify, humanize or glorify war. Governments and politicians who take us into war might justify and glorify wars, not the troops who fight and die in them.
I am a Vietnam War-era veteran, who did not see combat, who is not a hero, but who will always call our troops collectively, perhaps allegorically, but above all earnestly, heroes -- and who would rather err on the side of our heroes.
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