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April 28, 2004
Whither the Hero?

Reader Limpet6 e-mailed me a link to a fine article, originally from the Naval Institute, on the attention paid to victims at the expense of heroes in the war on terror. Captain Roger Lee Crossland, a SEAL reserve officer, notes that in previous conflicts Americans knew the heores of the age as household names:

In earlier times, the American public could recite names such as Boatswains Mate Reuben James, Lieutenant William Cushing, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, Sergeant Alvin York, Mess Attendant Dorie Miller, and Sergeant Audie Murphy as easily as they could their own home addresses. The individual heroes of the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, generally are unknown. Deluged by lengthy, detailed stories of the extreme efforts taken by terrorists, we have heard little of the extreme efforts taken by members of the U.S. armed forces.

In his article, Captain Crossland places the blame for this point at the feet of the Pentagon and the current administration, which seems fair enough. One of my ongoing gripes about the White House approach to the war is the lack of continued and consistent communication about the purpose and the progress of our efforts. But it's not just the White House, or at least the problem doesn't exist in a vacuum. Thirty years of popular-culture indoctrination of the idea that nothing is worth fighting for has eliminated the idea of violence as anything except evil, which Crossland also discusses:

Battlefield heroes do not make the front pages anymore. Perhaps there is some policy that fears the glorification of violence; violence is never productive, therefore, no violence should be glorified. Well, wars are violent. Individual and self-defense are violent. War heroes are violent. Bravery in battle frequently requires violent acts.

Violence is not inherently bad. Heroes in war must be prepared to be violent.

To some extent, heroes have reflected the times in which they rose to notice. Sergeant Alvin York, for instance, was a pacifist who struggled with the entire notion of military service, but once in battle proved a fearsome soldier whose sharpshooting and bravery inspired millions. York's experience mirrored that of the US World War I: reluctant warriors, deadly once roused. Audie Murphy was a small, scrappy, poor kid who was rejected for service in the Marines because of his size, but once on the battlefield in Europe as a GI, quickly demonstrated his bravery and his resourcefulness. Again, in some ways this reflected the American experience at the time, as a primarily agricultural and poorly-equipped nation developed almost overnight into a great military power.

Now, as Crossland notes, our heroes also reflect the times in which they are celebrated. Unfortunately, in this case, the household-name hero for the war on terror is Jessica Lynch, a terribly brave woman who sacrificed almost everything except her life during her service in Iraq. However, Lynch isn't celebrated for her choice to enter the Army and put her life on the line for her country; she's celebrated for being the war's most pre-eminent victim, in a nation that has made victimhood the highest state of being:

We help our enemies by default, by allowing lesser images to be presented as substitutes. Everyone knows the name Jessica Lynch. She wore her countrys uniform, went willingly to her duty in Iraq, and suffered grievous injuries, but does she qualify to be known first among those who served in this war? We have brushed aside battlefield resolution and actionwhich should be foremostand allowed the image of victimization and suffering to take its place.

For some today, the only image they know is of U.S. servicemen and women as victims. That is not right. It cannot continue. Worse still, we risk having our childrens perception become that signing up to serve is signing up to become a victim.

I suspect -- and I think that Crossland would agree -- that the name Pat Tillman will only have limited exposure as a national hero, probably consigned to subcultural hero status among conservatives, even though he arguably was more of a victim than Lynch. After all, both volunteered for service, and both were attacked, and Tillman died as a result, unlike Lynch. However, because Tillman was engaged in an offensive tactical mission when he died, as opposed to Lynch's support role, an undercurrent of thought resolves that Tillman should have expected it. Some people say out loud that Tillman got what he deserved.

Neither Crossland or I wish to take anything away from Lynch. Rather, Crossland argues that we are the problem, in our pusillanimity in not facing up to the fact that war means violence, and in this case, it means taking the violence to the terrorists instead of them taking the violence to us -- here. We wish instead to continue to cluck our tongues at any hint of enthusiasm for the mission from our troops and instead focus all of our approbation on those who allow us to feel we're "supporting the troops" while hypocritically not endorsing the actions that these volunteers take in engaging and destroying the enemy that causes the victimhood they celebrate.

Read all of Captain Crossland's excellent article. When you're done, consider writing your Congressman with his suggestion that the Pentagon start putting the stories of the heroes out for all of us to see. Feel free to copy any or all of my post in doing so, if you like.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 28, 2004 12:32 PM

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» Why Tillman Resonates from Brainster's Blog
Captain Ed had a great post on his blog the other day, which linked to an article by Captain Roger Lee Crossland containing this observation: [Read More]

Tracked on April 29, 2004 2:05 PM

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