I feel dead soldiers are heroes, but not because they’re dead.
Recently I heard where a television opinion show host got into a bit of politically correct hot water for questioning whether those soldiers who died in combat were rightly called heroes. I don’t really know what a hero is, but if I had to guess I’d say it was someone who risks their own welfare for the good of others. Most parents start my list. Those who pay attention to their wedding vows are up there, too. Soldiers who die in combat are not.
That may seem blasphemous to some, especially to those who have lost a loved one in this exquisitely painful manner. I feel dead soldiers are heroes, but not because they’re dead. It seems the criterion for being a hero ought to be about a lot more than whether you’re alive or not.
I’m a big fan of soldiers. At the same time, I find war, generally, an expression of immaturity––as in: “The first person to raise his fist is the first person to run out of ideas.” I have little confidence in the people who make decisions to send their nation to war, and the notion of glory is almost childish to me, as if it takes a special person to help his or her buddy in a moment of crisis. There is also something about glory that reminds me of athletes who win a game and strut around as if they’ve just changed the order of the planets…and thus, by some strange logic, are superior to other mortals. (The delusion that we’re superior or inferior to another may be the core reason there’s war in the first place.) But I have tremendous respect for every person in the military.
That’s why, to me, there is something heartbreakingly empty about the bumper-sticker “Support Our Troops” when I hear the stories of how challenging it can be for veterans and their families to get the support they need to cope with active duty and heal after it. As I write this, a headline in the New York Times states "Suicides Are Outpacing Deaths in War for U.S. Troops."
I don’t think soldiers who die in combat are necessarily making a so-called “supreme sacrifice.” To me, they already made about as supreme a sacrifice as you can make by putting themselves in a position where their lives might be compromised in grotesque ways often beyond imagination. That’s heroic, if anything is. Perhaps some of their actions as soldiers display an additional expression of heroism. But death in itself is not heroic. Death in combat is more often than not a matter of unfortunate timing.
Every dead soldier in my book is a hero, but only because they were heroes while they were alive.