It all started with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes who has developed an aversion to calling fallen soldiers “heroes”, not because they aren’t heroes (unless of course they didn’t die a certain way), but because calling them heroes might lead to more war. Oh, and because they’re not heroes… except when they are:
HAYES: Thinking today and observing Memorial Day . That will be happening tomorrow. Just talked with Lieutenant Colonel Steve Burke, an officer with the Marines. Had to tell people. Beck, sorry. I think it’s interesting, because it is, I think very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen, without invoking valor, without invoking the words heroes. And why do I feel so (un)comfortable about the world hero? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. And I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine tremendous heroism, you know, in a hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me we marshal this word in a way that’s problematic. Maybe I’m wrong.
Note to Chris: You’re wrong. Why? Because “fallen soldier” means that they died in line of duty (don’t get ticky-tack with me). And if you knew anything about what soldiers are usually doing when they die (hint: don’t think too hard), then the “hail of gunfire” example you gave won’t seem so much like an “individual circumstance”.
The pretentious bullsh*t continued:
MCWHORTER: Words take on resonances, and that happens to almost any word. And sometimes you need to revise, I would almost rather not say hero and come up with a more neutral term, which of course would take on partisan resonances as time went by. But that’s true of the word sacrifice, that’s true of the word valor, that’s true of a word hero. Instantly you get — a certain way percent of looking at things. It is manipulative. I don’t think necessarily deliberately. We use language unconsciously. But nevertheless, I share your discomfort with those words, because they are argumentational strategies in themselves often without wanting to be.
GOLDBERG: Well, they’re a little bit empty there are people who are genuine heroes. But the kind of implication is that death is what makes you a hero. As opposed to any affirmative actor, any moral act or I mean -
So McWhorter’s solution is to f*ck up some other word in the dictionary (or make up a brand new one) because that’s just what we do around here and Goldberg has lost her mind since she seems to think that now everyone who dies will be labeled a hero. To calm her fears might I remind her that last year there were 318 executions performed by the state of Texas and never once did anyone claim that any of those people where heroes.
Nevertheless, maybe they have a point. Maybe wars are justified because we call soldiers heroes. I remember in the lead up to the second Iraq War, Bush II kept saying that Iraq was stashing Heroic Soldiers of Mass Destruction. That certainly justifies any country invading another country.
In an effort to mitigate the backlash for what was said on his show, Chris Hayes issued an apology today:
On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.
As many have rightly pointed out, it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation’s citizens as a whole. One of the points made during Sunday’s show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.
But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don’t, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.