“My daddy never fought in a war. He never stood out in a crowd, but he always put food on the table. He was a hero to me.”
Bullshit—when did a man doing his duty become heroic? When did the song of the ancient standard, above and beyond the call of duty get lost? The military academy at West Point has a standard: Duty, Honor, Country.
The Coast Guard has a saying, “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.”
Doing your duty is a harsh standard. It may require your death, and this death may only be poor luck and by no definition heroic. A man stands for something. When ordinary decency is used to define heroism, it says something sad about the standards of our society. It paints us as weak and pathetic. The old British army had a dictum: death from the front may be possible. Death from behind is certain. Men the Duke of Wellington described at Talavera as “the scum of the earth” destroyed Napoleon’s army.
Being cornered in a fight and surviving from skill and luck is not heroism, neither is standing up for the downtrodden: the first is a skill, and the second is the definition of being a man, and as wonderful as it is to have athletic talent, its public exhibition is not heroic. The Duke of Wellington has often been quoted as saying “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” His biographer, Elizabeth Longford, disputes the authenticity of the quote, citing that Wellington was Irish and hated the English public schools. Heroism runs deeper than a public relations gimmick. Medal of Honor recipients have almost universally said they accepted the Medal in honor of those unnamed others who did just as much or more but never got the recognition. Mostly, they didn’t want the recognition.
To seek heroism is a fool’s mission, reducing it to recklessness, which is not the same thing. Only a fight against unacceptable odds where everything could be lost, and the person has the choice of backing away can be counted as heroism. Anything less in action or circumstance is no more than the definition of being a man.
The ancient standard of heroism should be known and studied and find a place in everyman’s heart. Everyman has his moment when fear threatens to paralyze will, when breath seems sweeter than duty, when he looks around and sees others breaking in the face of the odds, and he sees his chance to survive, if only he’s willing to do that one little thing, pretend the need he sees doesn’t fall to him to fulfill. When a society allows heroism to be painted cheap, fewer men will answer the ancient call.
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