Civil service is commendable, but worshiping soldiers and police for doing their duty has gotten out of control.
Once upon a time, you had to do something truly exceptional to qualify as a full-fledged hero: single-handedly hold off a battalion of enemy soldiers to allow your platoon to escape, or rescue 100 children from a Nazi concentration camp. But today, just showing up at your Army recruiting station makes you an instant hero -- and getting yourself hurt or killed doubles your heroism, even if you were sound asleep when your supply convoy went over an IED.
The empty rhetoric of heroism is everywhere these days. You know what I mean. Pat Tillman -- the former NFL star -- is "an American hero," apparently because he volunteered for duty along with several hundred thousand other people, then had the misfortune to be accidentally(?-G) shot by his own side. Every wounded service member is a "hero" too: Sen. Hillary Clinton proudly sponsored the "Heroes at Home Act of 2007," intended to improve medical care for wounded military personnel, and the Defense Department recently sponsored the "Hiring Heroes Career Fair" to encourage companies to hire wounded veterans. No soldier left behind!
But it's a big mistake to mix up the idea of service -- or the idea of sacrifice and suffering -- with the idea of heroism.
Distinguishing heroism from service and suffering is important for two reasons. First, it's always worth fighting the Lake Wobegon effect because, in a world where "all the children are above average," the truly special child gets no recognition, and genuine acts of exceptional courage are trivialized.
But there's a deeper reason to be wary of the "everyone's a hero" rhetoric. Simply put, it fits neatly alongside other terms beloved of the powers that be, such as "warrior" and "the Homeland": It's part of the language of fascism.
For a chilling account of another society in which "the devaluation of the concept of heroism" was "proportional to the frequency of its use and abuse," check out Ilya Zemtsov's "The Encyclopedia of Soviet Life." In 1938, Zemtsov notes, the Soviet Union instituted "the title 'Hero of Socialist Labor'. . . . Thousands of those heroes emerged. . . . The hero was supposed to die in the name of Stalin during wartime [and] give his or her all in labor on communist constructions. . . . [But] a person upon whom the title 'hero' is bestowed has often performed no heroic deed whatsoever, but may receive the title . . . merely in return for displaying loyalty and/or diligence. . . . With time, the awarding of the title came to be used as a token to be disbursed or withheld according to political considerations. . . . "
In other words, comrades, whenever it seems as if they're handing out "hero" medals for free, look out: There's usually a hidden price.
For each loyal bastard to whom Bush awards the