The Meaning of Heroism

By Beyerstein, Lindsay | In These Times, July 2012 | Go to article overview

The Meaning of Heroism


Beyerstein, Lindsay, In These Times


In May, Christopher Hayes provoked a firestorm of right-wing wrath for stating the obvious: By equating war deaths with heroism, we run the risk of romanticizing war and chilling dissent.

Here's what Hayes- MSNBC host, former In These Times senior editor and author of this month's cover story - said on May 27, on his show, Up w/ Chris Hayes:

I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words "heroes." Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word "hero"? I feel ... uncomfortable about the word "hero" because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. 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: 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.

The response from the Right was immediate. Richard DeNoyer, commander-in-chief of Veterans of Foreign Wars, told Fox News: "Chris Hayes' recent remarks on MSNBC regarding our fallen service members are reprehensible and disgusting."

Conservative media commentator Dan Gainor cited Hayes' remarks as proof of that "the Left doesn't like the military" and accused him of criticizing the troops.

The Right's demonization of Hayes proves his point: The "hero" label is a rhetorical tool to squelch criticism of U.S. wars. If every fallen soldier is a hero by default, that implies that the war itself must be a worthwhile undertaking. We don't usually call people heroes for extraordinary efforts on behalf of unworthy causes.

The mainstream anti-war Left wants to support the troops - as human beings, as professionals and as veterans - while condemning the war they are fighting. …

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