January 11, 2005

Overdosing on Heroism

You know who would make a great hero? The first person to eradicate all traces of what currently defines the word “hero.”

Heroism is a nasty disease at the moment, one that is the excuse for all kinds of bad behavior. This is especially apparent in the current wars around the world. The Times of Acadiana recently awarded its prize for 2004’s Person of the Year to the Acadiana Soldier, proving two things: 1) soldiers are great and 2) we really need to stop worshiping them.

This isn’t to say anything bad about our soldiers; far from it, in fact. They are brave and take deadly risks for the rest of us, which deserves incredible admiration. I just have issues with the current concept of heroism. Though society has always needed heroes, these bleak times have elevated that need to an addiction on the level of, um, heroin.

Nowadays it seems that everyone on the planet has, or is looking for, someone to emulate. We long ago applied hero-level status to professional athletes, actors and everyone in between. The apparent mentality behind this was that people who get their picture taken a lot are not only perfect human beings, but must be charged with babysitting our children.

After 9/11, firefighters, police officers and paramedics also became godlike—not that it translated into pay raises or anything, but it did make us feel caring for a while. Remember the aftermath of Hurricane Lili in 2002, when electricians and the battery of public-works contractors were being praised as heroes? As admirable as these people were, equating them with heroism was kind of a stretch. Even the typically backbone-free local newspapers said so, which should tell us something.

Now we are molding soldiers into heroes, walking concepts of invincible warriors rather than thinking, feeling human beings. It’s hard to tell whether we are doing this out of genuine love and affection for the soldiers or if this is a coping mechanism to ease the pain of loss and the futility of the war. Maybe it’s both.

The need for heroes, however well-intentioned, has caused us to tolerate much more tragedy and political nonsense than we should. Some people call George W. Bush a hero, a ridiculous idea if ever I heard one. Heroism requires a certain degree, however minimal, of risk and sacrifice. Between the Secret Service, faraway First-Amendment Zones and his own skittishness, Bush is the safest man on Earth. And with his self-admitted shielding from much of the significant news reports of the day, he’s also the least likely to see the consequences of his decisions. No wonder we’re always at war.

Equally sickening is the tendency—both here and across the country—to celebrate each individual death as an example of why we must continue this pointless war. Several Lafayette-area soldiers have already died in Iraq, and each one has been accompanied by pleas to realize “what we’re fighting for” or similarly related nonsense. In a way that’s true; those deaths make it clear, at least to me, what we’re fighting for in Iraq: more dead soldiers. Holding up each person as a hero hurts more than it helps; the more we glorify such tragedies, the more willing we become to accept them.

Real heroes do not need to be glorified by the media or by anyone else. Those who personally know and love our soldiers have already made that decision for themselves. Find your own hero, whether it’s a soldier, a teacher, a parent, or someone else you know and admire. Better yet, be your own hero. If you’re not who you want to be, then what’s the point?

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