Recently Jon Stewart had a man named Andrew Harper on the show who works for the U.N. in a refugee camp in Jordan. The area of course is flooded with refugees from Syria. Jon talked about how much of a hero this guy is for doing this every day. It can’t be easy.
An interest concept to me is the idea of a hero. It feels like to me that those we laud as heroes are often not the ones we should. Maybe this is cultural and is not true everywhere. Is there such a thing as a true hero or is it always subjective to a particular person or culture? I am sure most would agree that the latter is more the case. Although I always find it interesting how much people want to get you to appreciate what they consider a hero. Maybe it’s the same sort of mentality that convinces someone to push a belief system on you.
The subjectivity of a hero made me think about military heroes. I find this to be the be a bit paradoxical at times. In the U.S. there is a strong emphasis over all others to consider those in the military as heroes. It occurs to me that an enemy to a warring nation has their heroes too, so can the person that kills Americans be a hero and also the American who kills the enemy be a hero? Who has the moral authority? The one that wins the war? Of course each side would not consider the other to have heroes even though arguable both fighters would be brave, adept, strong, etc. There is also a strange dichotomy between those in the military and then the larger context of the war itself. There is no doubt in my mind that the men and women are brave and heroic for being willing to put their life on the line. But what if the war is unjust? I am sure Nazi Germany had their heroes; ones that were elevated to hero status for killing the most allied soldiers or even killing the most Jews. In the context of their fight those people were heroes. We of course would not view them as such.
In Shakespeare’s Henry V, King Henry pretends to be a soldier and walks among his men to gather their mood. At one point he questions one of his men, well what if the cause be unjust? The man simply responds that if the war is unjust it is matter for the conscience of the King who leads them into battle and not the responsibility of the soldier. This idea makes me uncomfortable, and of course was not supported during the Nuremburg trials, and probably with good reason. And though it makes me uncomfortable I still find some merit to it. It must still be a difficult choice though, to know you will be jailed, possibly killed for not supporting your country’s cause. In a democracy perhaps we are all responsible for fighting an unjust war. So perhaps the soldier is a hero, since in a way many are responsible for giving that soldier the motive even if it is not a just motive.
Of course heroes are someone that we connect with. Some people connect with military heroes, I perhaps do not connect as much with them as those who take part in humanitarian efforts. It bothers me that these people are not celebrated in the same way we are asked to celebrate those in the military. Support of our troops does make a difference to their morale, so shouldn’t we also support the tireless efforts of those who bring humanitarian relief to people who are struggling? There is a lot of it in this world and these people also work long hours, in less than ideal conditions to provide aid and relief to others. Do their tales not deserve the spotlight are they not the source of inspiration?
And how often do we praise the everyday heroes? What about people who volunteer in soup kitchens, good cops, firefighters, or teachers, doctors and nurses who go the extra mile? What about a single mom who works hard every day to support her children and give them a chance for something more in life? Should we define heroism only by the level of danger that one faces? It seems like this is the most commonly used criteria. The one thing that seems clear is that true heroes do what they do because they are driven to do so, and not to be elevated by society at all.
Many heroes have their flaws too. I am sure there are bad days when they want to give it all up. They may be extremely good at what they do for people, but as a result neglect other parts of life and thus not live up to our elevated expectations of morality. Nobody is perfect, not even heroes. Perhaps the best we can do is try to be heroes ourselves while at the same time never forget to celebrate all those who demonstrate the best in human virtues. They are all equally as important. A person who is willing to die for our freedom should be at least as important as one who is willing to live for our freedom.