There’s been a lot of hullabaloo over the weekend about comments that liberal commentator Chris Hayes made on MSNBC regarding veterans, namely that he is “uncomfortable” calling them “heroes:”
If you want the text (which is what I’ve been using):
“Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word hero?” Hayes said. “I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”
If you read the link, there’s a lot of coverage of the predictable bashing Hayes has received from the conservative blogosphere. None of it is surprising. There is a lot of “you’re wrong.” There’s a lot of questioning of his gender (Ann Coulter says the Marines died to protect his right to menstruate, which just shows you how juvenile and unintelligent she is.) We even get disgusting comments like this:
— Chris Of Rights (@ChrisOfRights) May 28, 2012
So an individual is now a “turd” for simply stating his discomfort?
I think, in a way, these guys have all proved Chris Hayes’ point. And that’s why I agree with him.
Although respect of our military and men and women in uniform have always been part of our culture, particularly over the past decade, it has gone from just respect to almost hero worship. The left has its political religions of enviromentalism and Keynesianism; the right has its religion of the military. Any anti-war argument gets shut down in the name of “patriotism” and “you’re disrespecting our troops.”
We see it all the time. Anyone who puts on a uniform is automatically labeled a “hero,” regardless of their actual moral character. Just by signing up and joining the military, one has put himself above his (civilian) peers, and in most cases, beyond reproach as well. Because they are “defending our liberties,” they are automatically awesome and mighty, and the only reason you can even voice your disagreement with having wars is because of the sacrifices that they’ve made.
Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway picks up on this part of Hayes’ comments:
Now, on some level I will admit that there is merit in the argument that the term “hero” is tossed around far too loosely these days. Going back to the Ancient Greeks and the Romans, after all, “hero” has long been a term that was applied sparingly. That’s why the United States awards special honors, ranging from commendations to the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Congressional Medal Of Honor, to those who have distinguished themselves by exceptional action in combat. So, to say that everyone who has died in service to their country, or even just served their country, is a “hero” in the Greek/Roman sense of the word is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. That is not, by any means, to denigrate the service and the sacrifice of anyone who has served. However, the word “hero” definitely used to mean something special and it has kind of been watered down over the years. After all, is the guy who scores the winning touchdown in the last minute of the Big Game really as much of a “hero”as the firefighter who just saved a child from a burning building? Perhaps we need new words to describe these things, but that’s a question for linguists.
And I think that, really, at the heart of it, this is really what Hayes is getting at. And I think rational people from across the ideological spectrum can agree that just putting on a uniform doesn’t make you a hero; it makes you a soldier, it makes you a vet (well, when you retire), but you must still earn the appellation “hero.”
Let’s think about it. Were the soldiers at My Lai “heroes?” Were they “defending their country”? What about the soldiers at Abu Gharib? And while we’re at it, how is the Iraqi War defending our freedoms and liberties, and not just rapacious, callous imperialism? I’m not sure how you can say the soldiers in Iraq are dying to protect our freedoms when Iraq was never a threat to said freedoms, and in fact, having our troops there is becoming more of a threat to said freedoms, both because it inflames sentiment against us, which leads to more terror threats, and which then translates into more things such as the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, the NDAA, and so on and so forth.
Any life lost in these conflicts–these irrelevant, stupid wars that don’t do anything to protect the citizens back home–is a wasted life. Yet we continue to use language that effectively shuts down debate and lets these wasteful conflicts continue.
If we want to be truly respectful towards the dead, then we’d stop the wars and bring all our troops home, and stop using the troops as a political statement for more violence. We’d stop using them as a rhetorical technique to remain in denial over our actions. But no: we continue sending them off to their deaths in senseless conflicts, completely disrespectful to their individuality and humanity, seeing them only as units to be manuevered on a board. And if anyone tries to step up and say something, well, then, you’re not patriotic, and you’re not being respectful to the troops. Debate is shut down. You’re a horrible person. And the wars go on.
That’s why I agree with Chris Hayes.
(It should be noted that, at no point, I am denigrating veterans or intend to denigrate any veterans. They definitely deserve respect for putting the uniform; however, they are not superhumans, and do not need to be worshipped, as so many on the right are wont to do. That’s my argument.)
PS: You should really read the comments in the OTB post, particularly the one from Radley Balko and this other one from “Nick.” I think they’re both quite insightful, and actually do a better job of summing up my views than I do myself. (But then, if I just cited them, I wouldn’t have an opportunity to blog…now would I?)
Very belated update: Chris Hayes has apologized for his comments. Of course, there are a boat-load of individuals on the right who don’t accept his apology and call him a prick for saying the following (in my bolded emphasis):
On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.
As many have rightly pointed out, it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation’s citizens as a whole. One of the points made during Sunday’s show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.
But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don’t, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.
Somehow, that makes him a prick. I can’t see why; in fact, I think it makes him more human. But that just goes to show you how far irrationality permeates our modern culture.