Posted on 27 March 2017
Let's talk about hero worship. This nation seems to be obsessed with ascribing the title of a hero to anyone the people admire. Whether it is a musician, an athlete, a police officer, or a military service member, it seems as though everyone gets to be, a hero. In our “participation trophy” culture it makes sense that we are experiencing this phenomenon of false-hero identification and worship. It is in this climate, however, that we have done a great injustice to those persons who are themselves, true heroes.
So, what is a hero? According to Merriam-Webster, a hero is: a legendary figure, a person endowed with great ability, a person known as an illustrious warrior, a person who has great courage, and is a person admired for noble or extraordinary achievements. For military service members this definition conjures visions of personnel such as Audie Murphy and Chesty Puller. For the civilian population, however, many of these traits are often bestowed upon celebrities who have achieved a significant amount of success and fame. It could be said that an athlete or musician might be endowed with great abilities and may have achieved extraordinary feats within their respective professions, but does that make them a hero? For the men and women of the military, the answer is usually ‘no’. For the general civilian population, however, the answer is usually ‘yes’. Therein lies a great divide in understanding and conceptualization that serves to further disconnect the two components of our society.
Regardless of our society’s treatment of celebrities, when this misconception about heroism is applied to our military members, it allows some service members to assume positions of importance that they do not otherwise deserve. The misunderstanding is then perpetuated by those who are not themselves heroes, but would like to be regarded as such. Eventually, this warped mindset works its way into the military command structure and manifests itself in varying ways, such as awards being issued for actions undeserving of the commendation; like cooks being awarded Achievement Medals for doing nothing more than cooking the food. The entire debacle feeds the attitude of entitlement that seems to be growing within our ranks, and undermines the qualities of selflessness and esprit de corps that motivated Murphy and Puller to be as truly heroic as they were. If this situation is allowed to persist, eventually we will be left with a military full of self-righteous unambitious false heroes who prey on the misunderstandings of the civilian population in self-promotive efforts, fleecing the American fighting forces of the greatness they once had.
Dramatic ranting aside, here’s the deal: I enjoy the appreciation and support my family and civilian friends give me when I return from a training operation or deployment, but I’m quick to downplay any notions of hero worship and delusions of grandeur. I do my job, that’s it. This does not make me a hero. Military service members are brave people, no doubt, but that doesn’t make them all heroes. Cops and firefighters are brave people too, who perform dangerous yet necessary duties for our society, but it doesn’t make each and every one of them a hero. This is a very “counter-culture” thing to say, but it’s true, and more people need to understand it. Don’t misunderstand my intention, I think our troops, police officers, and firefighters deserve all the recognition they get, and more. I don’t want our culture, however, to continually misidentify heroes to the point that it becomes a cliché disservice to call one of these brave individuals a hero.
The point is: educate the uneducated. Be honest about what you do, and give credit where credit is due. I held the same military occupational specialty (MOS) as my buddy Billy, but Billy was a rockstar of a warrior who was put in a situation that warranted some incredible action on his part and was subsequently awarded the Navy Cross. Billy is a hero, I am just a dude who did his job. That’s not to say that I don’t have the capacity for heroics, we all do, I just haven’t been tested in such a manner. I would hope, and am confident, that when the time comes I will rise to the occasion and stand abreast with Billy, but until that moment happens I’m not going to mislead people about my accomplishments. This is the mindset we, as professional military members, need to have. Sure, our jobs can be dangerous and not many people want to do them, but we’re not all heroes yet. We need to be honest, humble, and realistic about what we do and why we do it. This is the only way to allow the true heroes, those who rise above the fray, to receive the recognition they deserve … and raise the bar that the rest of the pack should strive to reach.
Thanks for reading along. Stick around and participate in feedback discussions, thoughtful commentaries, and maybe even contribute to future posts by highlighting other myths and misconceptions pertaining to military service and our nation’s Veterans.
Until next time … keep your heads down, eyes up, and sights on target.