Friday, August 19, 2011

Man's Obsession with Heroes

What the hell even makes someone a hero anyway?  I guess a hero is someone who demonstrates courage and bravery in an extremely shitty situation.  I guess then heroes could come in all shapes and sizes, and arise out of various circumstances.  My guess is also that being a hero means that the actions you're taking are done in the face of a high probability for personal injury, whether that injury is inflicted on his physical person or his honor.

The inspiration for this article comes from one I read today about how the first responders to the 9/11 attack are not invited to the memorial ceremonies.  Apparently, specific government figureheads and only the families of victims are invited.  Naturally people feel sort of outraged about it, because these heroes placed the safety and value of the lives of other people above their own.  But should we be upset that they're not invited?

A professor of mine in college, a Vietnam veteran, said that he always took issue when people called him a "hero" for his service to his country.  He was drafted, and he definitely didn't want to go because he was actually studying to get his PhD in political science at the time.  I guess if you were in college or whatever, the government said that they'd pass over you for the draft, but he was picked nonetheless.  He said that he vehemently opposed the war, but he answered the call because it was his duty to his country.

He always felt that he should not be held in any higher esteem just because he fulfilled his duty.  That's how I feel about my own military service.  I only spent four years in the Navy, and three of those years were spent on a boat, the USS San Jacinto (CG-56).  Yes, I did a deployment to the Persian Gulf.  Sure, I might have done some stuff that people considered "important."  But does that make me a hero?  Being on a U.S. naval warship, one of the most advanced and deadly pieces of warfighting equipment on the planet, meant that I was never in any real danger.  And even if I was in danger, I still wouldn't feel like a hero.

Would I feel like a hero if I had survived ground combat and maybe saved a life or something?  Probably not.  Don't get me wrong: I'll always be proud of my service and recognize that I was able to do something that not everyone is able/willing to do.  But "hero" will never be how I describe myself.

I have a hard time believing, though, that the real heroes in life ever actually think of themselves to be heroes.  The type of person who risks his or her life for someone else does not strike me as the type of person who thinks about whether or not he or she will be venerated.  Afterall, an act of heroism is supposed to be altruistic, isn't it?  If you're simply doing heroic things because you want people to consider you to be a hero, then would you still be a hero? 

So I hope the responders are not upset by this "slight," and we shouldn't be upset either.  Yes, they're heroes.  They risked their lives for the lives of others, but for many of them that's their job anyway.  To be perfectly frank, they did what any of us should have done in the same situation.  If they are heroes, it's not because they displayed extraordinary courage or bravery, it's because they lived up to the highest standard of what it means to be human.

So why are we obsessed with heroes?  Maybe it's because they represent everything we wish we could be.  Perhaps it's because we desire to live up to their example, and we admire them for having the courage we may lack.  So I suppose it's not the deed that makes the hero, but rather his or her heart.


Harrison said...


Part of being a "hero" is being humble but they should have been invited. Guess it's tough to prove who was a first responder.

Silverfiddle said...

It is a slight and I am upset about it. Why would the organizers do this?

I agree with you that hero is a way overused word, but people who rushed to the scene to help other that day are indeed heroes.

Anonymous said...

A true hero never performs courageous deeds to get recognition or bathe in glory, nor does he expect or demand veneration.

However, we let ourselves down when we fail to recognize and show appreciation for men of this caliber. Taking the heroism men show in the line of duty for granted is churlish and unworthy. Decent people show their gratitude, not because heroic policemen, firemen and soldiers expect it, but because it's the right thing to do.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding misogynistic or probably more misandric, I think American culture as a whole downplays the role of male dominated jobs in general.

Think about it!

I firmly believe that the most discriminated demographic in this country is white males of European descent with African-American males directly behind them.

I can empathize with you Jackie on the "we were just doing our duty"... that is exactly how I have felt the couple times I rushed into flames to help out a racecar driver. Afterwards everyone was saying "wow, you are amazing..." No... it was my job at my track to do that if need be.

People these days are putting way less of a premium on the lives of men unless they do something of significant importance, meanwhile a woman on the other hand has perceived value and importance just by merely existing.

I am not trying to put down any female rescue workers by these comments, that is certainly not my intent... I am sure they feel slighted by this treatment as well. I just feel as though situations like this are going to be the status quo in this country before too long and while this response isn't exactly on point, it was just something I thought about while reading your article.

LD Jackson said...

Interesting post, Jack. Not inviting the first responders to the memorial services does seem like a slight to me. I do wonder how many of them would actually go, if they were invited.

As for our society being obsessed with heroes, I would tend to agree. I would also go a bit further, by saying that our love of building people up to be heroes may be surpassed by our love of tearing them back down. We seem to enjoy both.

Jack Camwell said...

Insightful comments from all on this one. When thinking about it, man has always been obsessed with heroes.

According to the article this is based on, there were some tens of thousands of "first responders" consisting of law enforcement, fire fighters, EMTs, and random bystanders who volunteered.

I think perhaps that it would be impractical to invite them all, or seen as an even greater slight to invite some but not others.

Doog, perhaps they think you're so amazing because they know that they lack the courage to do it themselves. What you said pretty much jives with my article's premise.

Scotty said...

I'm a combat veteran of the Vietnam war, I think the term hero is used to often thus making the term hero somehow cheap at times.....

I had the honor to serve with a few heroes and I think those that have had the same opportunity to have served with heroes, knows what one looks like.

Doing something that is expected does not make one a hero.Doing one's job doesn't make anyone a hero. Sometimes, certain risks are part and parcel of that job.

I cringe when anyone points the term towards me for I am NO hero for I only did what I did to survive but, I have often seen those same heroes cringe when they have the word is applied to them.

As it's been said already, heroes, at least the ones I knew, didn't do what they did for the sake of being a hero, they did what they did because they were selfless in a lot of things that they did.

I heard a line said once, and saw it in action....sometimes a hero is the guy that ran the wrong way....

KP said...

Nice comments Scotty. I appreciate hearing your views. In the Wall Street Journal today (Aug 20th) is an exceprt titled The Truth About Being A Hero" in nthe Review section. The Book "What It Is Like To Go To War" by a Vietnam Vet Karl Marlantes might interest some here. I'd be interested in your opinions:

Jack Camwell said...

Your views and perspective is very much welcomed.

Although I don't think you took it this way, I just want to reiterate that I'm in no way trying to denigrate or trivialize the selfless sacrifices made by very brave and courageous individuals throughout history.

I think there's an irony here that you pointed out: that heroes generally don't want the title. That's an altruism that I think is difficult for most people to understand.

Scotty said...

by a Vietnam Vet Karl Marlantes might interest some here. I'd be interested in your opinions:

KP, the main thing that stood out in my mind in that article was, how vivid his memories still are.

Having had the chance, over the years, to connect with some that I served with, it amazed me how different the perspectives from each of us were on the experiences we shared, during times we may have thought back and shared our thoughts...We all thought the same thing.....were we all in the same place??!! It's funny how stressful circumstances can effect memories.

Although I don't think you took it this way, I just want to reiterate that I'm in no way trying to denigrate or trivialize the selfless sacrifices made by very brave and courageous individuals throughout history.

Not to worry, Jack, I didn't take it that way, I understood perfectly what you were trying to say.

think there's an irony here that you pointed out: that heroes generally don't want the title. That's an altruism that I think is difficult for most people to understand

Most that haven't experienced combat or any other type of traumatic event do have problems understanding...and I don't think that a bad thing.

If I can put this in the right words......many don't want the title because, often times, having to address one's heroism, also means having to relive the trauma, in most cases, that came along with that act of heroism.

I spent a lot of time in therapy sessions with many great men trying to cope with those traumatic events
wishing they get them out of their heads and often dealing with survivor guilt. All part and parcel of P.T.S.D.