Will Wilkinson on Hero Inflation
Calling “hero” everyone killed in war, no matter the circumstances of their death, not only helps sustain the ethos of martial glory that keeps young men and women signing up to kill and die for the state, no matter the justice of the cause, but also saps the word of meaning, dishonouring the men and women of exceptional courage and valour actually worthy of the title. The cheapening of “hero” is a symptom of a culture desperate to evade serious moral self-reflection by covering itself in indiscriminate glory for undertaking wars of dubious value. A more confident culture would not react with such hostility to Mr Hayes’ admirable, though cautiously hedged, expression of discomfort with our truly discomfiting habit of numbing ourselves to the reality of often senseless sacrifice with posturing piety and too-easy posthumous praise.
Indeed, the adolescent vehemence of the reaction to Mr Hayes’ mild confession seems to me to underscore the idea that America has become so deranged by war that anyone who ventures to publicly question any element of America’s cultural politics of endless conflict will instantly mobilise indignant hordes who will bear down to silence him.
Wilkinson also has a few choice words for the conservatives all up in arms over this:
What does it say about the conservative chattering classes that it has responded to the grievous loss of American life in war by debauching the currency of heroism? Nothing good. What is the conservative chattering class saying to Mr Hayes, and to those of us who agree with his misgivings? “Shut up. Just shut up. Don’t think about it. You’re wrong even to think about it. We don’t want to think about it. Just shut up.”
It does not dishonour the dead to wonder whether our promiscuous praise greased the path that led to their death. Quite the contrary. But to honour life and grieve for loss in this thoughtful way evidently runs afoul of the PC police. So it’s actually a little brave to say what Mr Hayes said. I’m not saying Chris Hayes is a hero. I’m just saying he’s right.
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