Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Enough Already!!

Once again, I have confirmation of two central tenets of my life beliefs:

1) The rest of the world's radicals are right to think organised American radicalism idiotic.
2) The dumbest act of organised American radicalism was to demonise, rather than enlist, the rank and file serving in the Vietnam war.

We continue to pay for this act of arrant imbecility.

The latest piece of over-compensation for the public's scorn of Vietnam service personnel is the "Fallen Heroes" Act. The act's objective is to increase the death benefit for those killed on active duty from the insulting to the barely adequate. Fine, I'm for that. I'd be even more enthusiastic if compensation for past slights extended to providing an adequate level of health benefits for veterans over 55, many of whom have no other resource. Alas, on that score I'm probably delusional.

While we're about it, can we please get over this compulsion to pin the label "hero" on nearly any animate object?

Shortly after the September 11 attack, The New York Times carried a story that described New York City firefighters in the WTC, who found a "foreign-looking" man in the fire escape, handcuffed him there, left him to die, and boasted about it to the reporter.

Were they heroes?

Was Pat Tillman, shot by friendly fire whilst apparently doing nothing in particular, a hero? Would anyone but a former NFL player be a hero under those circumstances? Would he still be a hero if he'd listened to his agent, pulled strings and jumped ship after doing his time?

John Kerry rightly pointed out that no one in uniform gets to choose the circumstances of their death, and that the sponsors of the act were attempting to draw unrealistic distinctions. Even in a war zone, circumstances vary. If your Hummer is blasted into fragments as you return from running commissary goods to your local black market contact, you're just as dead as if you were killed trying to pull wounded comrades out of danger in a firefight. According to today's overheated rhetoric, the dead in both cases are "fallen heroes," even though there's a difference in effort and emphasis that pundits, or even Senators, should appreciate.

Some of us have a higher standard.

35 years ago this month, I watched a Navy corpsman struggle back from the edge of death in a Philadelphia recovery room, minus half his intestines. It was an all-night battle, far from the war zone in distance, if not in time (he'd been wounded scarcely three days before). I nominate the duty intern, nurses and corpsmen who kept him going as heroes. I watched this same corpsman crawl out of his rack on a crowded, cruelly understaffed naval hospital ward, unable to stand upright, to add what he could to the healing, not three days later. I'm naive enough to think maybe that was heroic.

When I was young, the USSR used to make every factory worker who exceeded a quarterly quota a "Hero of the Soviet Union." We ridiculed that at the time, and we still should.

It's a good word, hero. It means something when we apply it to acts of exceptional courage and self-sacrifice. Suppose we stop throwing it around so carelessly? Senator Lieberman, the Senate's answer to Janus, seems to think that if we turn "hero" into an acronym, everything is fine.

Everything is not fine, Senator, as long as you contribute to the erosion of a something really valuable.


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