FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Heroes

Heroes and heroines are scarcer than they’ve ever been,
So much more to lose than win,
The distance never greater.

–Mary Chapin Carpenter

Thirty-seven years ago, I was shipped off to fight in a war we would later be told had no heroes. Most of the people who told us that, of course, were guys who never went to that war. Some had daddies who kept them out of harm’s way and others simply had sympathetic draft boards that agreed when they said they had “other priorities” than getting their butt shot off in a war. The rest of us came home to wrestle with real time animosity from those we were told we were protecting and nightmares that echoed equally with the screaming of the wounded and the stillness of the dead.

Times and circumstances change. When yesterday’s counterfeits become today’s commanders, all soldiers, we are told, are heroes. It’s a delicate thing, this juggling the illusion of heroism with the reality of heroes. We bandy the word “hero” about quite frequently these days and lavish it on people who have done little more than become millionaires by playing kids’ sports or starred in movies pretending to be something they aren’t. That’s no surprise as fewer and fewer Americans have any experience in national service of any kind and fewer have combat experience.

Those who know the terror of combat know the hollow ring of the word “hero.” One guy who served in the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam summed it up best for most combat soldiers when he said, “a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich.” Ernest Hemingway said that after so much meaningless talk about abstractions like glory, honor, courage, hero, and hallowed, that “only the names of places had dignity.”

That is not to say, of course, that there aren’t legitimate, bona fide heroes. Some us walk the earth and pound keyboards because of honest-to-God heroes. A man named John Holcomb saved my life in a fire-swept landing zone near the Cambodian border. He did so at the cost of his own life. His reward was the Medal of Honor. Mine was the chance to live and the responsibility to remember. Verily, heroes and heroines have made their mark on the world and on our nation in ways that have little or nothing to do with war. One reason many of those real heroes go unrecognized due to our skewed perspective. At a time when news pages are for sale and the government is an eager purchaser, perception management has become more important than military strategy. So to make the life and service of the soldier something to envy and admire, perception managers make all soldiers heroes. Media outlets, anxious to appear patriotic and eager to avoid the obscenity of the treatment inflicted on Vietnam veterans, are enthusiastically buying in to that idea. How else can you explain the Thanksgiving Day editorial cartoon in the Buffalo News? That illustration included the names of the 22 (now 23) Western New Yorkers killed in under the headline “22 REASONS TO BE THANKFUL THIS YEAR.” Unless we embrace the notion of everyone as a hero, how do we accept the notion we should be “thankful” for his or her sacrifice? In the general assignment of heroism, we blur the lines between true heroics and honorable service. All those who have died are honorable but all are not necessarily heroic.

More importantly, there is something more pernicious underlying the perception management of this war. If the governors of this war can sell notion of universal heroism, it is easier to deny the universal fact that those serving and dying are victims. We can only celebrate heroes. We can only be “thankful” for the death of heroes. We don’t celebrate victims. We mourn them. When we mourn them, we question the reason for their deaths. When we question the reason, we must face the truth of how we chose to go to war and the purpose for which lives are being sacrificed. The fallacious reasoning and flawed planning and inept execution of the war lead, inescapably, to the victim-ness of all those serving and dying. The military’s own studies have pointed out the shortcomings of consequences of our rush to war. Even if one accepts the reasons we were told that war was acceptable, faulty equipment, inadequate supplies, profiteering, fraud, and sheer incompetence have been the watermarks of the Iraq war.

If you send a soldier into combat without functional body armor, he or she could become a hero but they begin as a victim.

If you send vehicles in a convoy without proper armor, your soldiers could become heroes but they are always victims.

If radios don’t work, if machine guns are in short supply, if the armed forces of the world’s last superpower are badly equipped, soldiers are victimized no matter how much spin-doctors try to lionize them.

I tendered a Veterans Day speech to a group of Jewish war veterans. It was an honor to be in the midst of so many proud and patriotic men who did their duty, primarily in World War II. I sat with a violin virtuoso who played in the Philharmonic for half a century. Across the table was a renowned artist whose work hangs in many prestigious galleries. As proud as I was to be in such company, there was an undeniable sadness when I wondered how many artists and musicians and doctors and authors and humanitarians never got a chance to realize their futures because war stole it from them.

In World War I, Siegfried Sassoon wrote “in war-time, the word patriotism means suppression of truth.” It is tragic how the lessons of Sassoon’s war have been lost. We are still trying to suppress the truth, to distort it, and to manipulate it.

In the end, though, we are faced with the same task that faced Rudyard Kipling faced in writing the epitaph for his son who died in WWI. Kipling’s pain stripped away the specious pretenses of “the Great War” and he was left to confront the truth when he wrote these words:

When they asked why we died here
Tell them it was because our fathers lied.

Stephen T. Banko III was awarded two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, the Air Medal and four Purple Hearts. He has long been active in veteran’s affairs. banko@counterpunch.org

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 08, 2020
Melvin Goodman
The Impact of COVID-19 on the Body Politic
Eve Ottenberg
Amid Plague, Sanctions are Genocide
Vijay Prashad, Du Xiaojun – Weiyan Zhu
How China Learned About SARS-CoV-2 in the Weeks Before the Global Pandemic
Bill Quigley
Seven Disturbing Facts About COVID-19 in Louisiana
Joyce Nelson
BlackRock Takes Command
Geoff Dutton
Coronavirus as Metaphor: It’s Not Peanuts
Richard Moser
From Strike Wave to General Strike
Gary Leupp
Could COVID-19 Kill Capitalism?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Corona, Capital and Class in Germany
Tom Crofton
Aspirational vs Pragmatic: Why My Radicalness is Getting More Radical
Steve Kelly
Montana Ballot Access Decision Suppresses Green Party Voters
Jacob Hornberger
Muhammad Ali’s Fight Against the Pentagon
Phil Mattera
The Rap Sheets of the Big Ventilator Producers
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19?
Rick Baum
When “Moderate” Democrats Lead the Ticket and Win, Down-Ballot Candidates Soon Suffer Losses
Jake Johnston
Tens of Millions Will Be Pushed into Poverty Amid COVID-Induced Recession
Kim C. Domenico
Healthy and Unhealthy Fear in the Age of Coronavirus
John W. Whitehead
Draconian Lockdown Powers and Civil Liberties
Binoy Kampmark
University Bailouts, Funding and Coronavirus
Luke Ruediger
BLM Timber Sale Increases Fire Risk, Reduces Climate Resilience and Harms Recreation
John Kendall Hawkins
Slavoj Žižek’s Virulent Polemic Against Covid-19, and Stuff!
Nyla Ali Khan
Finding Meaning and Purpose in Adversity
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
Matt Smith
Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back
Kenneth Surin
What The President Said (About The Plague)
Patrick Cockburn
The Chaotic Government Response to COVID-19 Resembles the Failures of 1914
Marshall Auerback
The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Opened the Curtains on the World’s Next Economic Model
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Trump Sends Gun Boats to Venezuela While the World Partners to Fight a Deadly Pandemic
Jeremy Lent
Coronavirus Spells the End of the Neoliberal Era. What’s Next?
Dean Baker
The Big Hit: COVID-19 and the Economy
Nino Pagliccia
A Simple Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela: End All “Sanctions”
Colin Todhunter
Locked Down and Locking in the New Global Order
Robert Fisk
Biden Says He ‘Doesn’t Have Enough Information’ on Iran to Have a Vew. How Odd, He Negotiated the Nuclear Deal
Wim Laven
GOP’s Achievement is Now on Display
Binoy Kampmark
Boastful Pay Cuts: the Coronavirus Incentive
Dave Lindorff
It’s Spring and I’ve Turned 71 in a Pandemic-Induced Recession
Steve Brown
FLASH! Trump Just Endorsed Bernie’s Medicare-For-All Health Plan
Marc Haggerty
Class and COVID-19: Those Who Can and Those Who Can’t
Manuel García, Jr.
A Reply to Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”
George Wuerthner
How Fuel Breaks Fuel Fires
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail