Sunday, January 4, 2015

In defense of heroes...

     Many have called me a hero for how I've handled my fight with cancer, and I've never been even partially comfortable with it. That said, the following article really pissed me off, and I'm not afraid to step on the soapbox and tell the world why. I first came across this article when it was linked in a comment regarding a member of the Navy (I'm guessing a corpsman serving as a medic attached to a Marine unit) serving in Afghanistan. He posted a lengthy status update on why his wife was his hero, what he deemed a true hero. The person who shared this had little to say but seemed to think this article would speak in his stead. I very much dislike people who don't have the stones to stand up in a public forum and speak their mind but rather bandy about someone else's words to do the dirty work for them. What follows is the article in question along with my thoughts inserted in where I felt appropriate. 

You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy

Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

     I beg to differ, what makes serious conversations nearly impossible is our own steadfastness in our convictions that our individual way of thinking is THE only way of thinking and we refuse to listen to any other way of thinking. In my opinion nationalism isn’t a bad thing, as to how the author arrived at all those other “-isms” is beyond me. If you ask me anyone who volunteers to place themselves in harms way to protect others is the very definition of what a hero is, I could care less what any dictionary says.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

     Perhaps this author should stop watching the mainstream, 24-7 all-news, all-day in-your-face diatribe and search out some of the good stories out there. Sure, you’ll have to look harder than just sitting on your duff in front of the jumbotron tv in your living room but there are stories out there that showcase what the good police officers and soldiers are doing. In this day and age “shock value” is what gets people riled up and keeps them glued to the tv for the latest update on the current tragedy. Exhibit A- this article… 

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.
Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.

     I’ll cut to the chase here, war is hell and it does unspeakable things to men and now, women as well. Not to sound chauvinistic here but women demanded to be allowed into the military and then went further demanding equal treatment and access to the same jobs that men did. I’m not saying they are in any way asking for rape, far from it, but the cold hard truth is that war is messy and we are, every time we send our military members into a combat zone, asking them to kill another human being. I won’t say women are incapable of dealing with that, hell many men aren’t! What I’m saying is this, we live in a society where we are inundated daily via the media of many of these same unspeakable acts committed by civilians and in essence, we’ve become desensitized to it. We also live in a society where young men and women spend countless hours playing video games depicting these same unspeakable horrors (death and gore) and we see it in out “entertainment”. So how is it really that shocking that our military are acting in the same way when they pass the time watching YouTube videos of combat footage? Having served in the military I can assure you there are far more good servicemen and women than there are bad and in many cases we have a tendency to take care of things in house, preferring that the victim be kept anonymous but to a few who act on their behalf. 

It is undeniable that there are police officers who heroically uphold their motto and mission to “serve and protect,” just as it is indisputable that there are members of the military who valiantly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Reviewing the research proving cruelty and mendacity within law enforcement and the military, and reading the stories of trauma and tragedy caused by officers and soldiers, does not mean that no cop or troop qualifies as a hero, but it certainly means that many of them are not heroes.

     So by that statement we should treat them all as if they never do anything heroic so that we never give accolades to the few who are undeserving of the moniker “hero”? Hogwash! I’m sure you’ve all heard or seen it written that a US Serviceman is a man/woman who writes a check to their country up to and including their life. Here is the Oath of Enlistment that every soldier, airman, sailor, marine and coast guardsman swears not only upon enlisting but each time they reenlist: "I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the
Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”  Here’s something you might find interesting, Those who swear to support and defend the Constitution are no longer covered by it. They now are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Isn’t THAT ironic? 

Acknowledging the spread of sadism across the ranks of military also does not mean that the U.S. government should neglect veterans, as they often do, by cutting their healthcare options, delaying or denying treatment, and reducing psychiatric services. On the contrary, if American politicians and pundits genuinely believed that American military members are “heroes,” they would not settle for sloganeering, and garish tributes. They would insist that veterans receive the best healthcare possible. Improving and universalizing high quality healthcare for all Americans, including veterans, is a much better and truer way to honor the risks soldiers and Marines accept on orders than unofficially imposing a juvenile and dictatorial rule over speech in which anything less than absolute and awed adulation for all things military is treasonous.

     I agree with everything here except that last statement. I don’t know where the author gets the notion that there is anything treasonous about speaking out, he is certainly speaking out… In addition to agreeing with the above statements I’d like to add a few words. First, never forget that politicians by and large only ever think of themselves and what personal gain or detriment may come of their decisions or votes on any particular bill. How often do they tack on frivolous riders to bills just because they know that otherwise they’d never pass or to kill a bill they don't like? Those politicians who are brave enough to stand on principals for what is right and good don’t seem to have very long careers now do they? As for the treatment veterans get, once again I’m sorry to burst the author’s bubble of bravado but he’s only hearing or reading about the worst case scenarios. There are a number of extremely amazing facilities out there, most of the ones I’ve been to in fact fall into this category. Yes, there are some really bad examples as well but as we have seen by delving deeper into the facts they are NOT indicative of the system as a whole. They are/were facilities run by people who had no business assuming leadership positions. As to universal healthcare I can honestly say, after visiting half a dozen VA hospitals and clinics and nearly as many civilian hospitals I can only agree there. Some of the hospitals I have gone to, because they were closer than the VA hospital, I will never set foot in again. I feel as though my life was in far greater peril than had I chanced the hour longer drive to the VA facility. In the future I’ll take my chances with the longer drive, at least when I get there they will be able to pull up my records, in their entirety, in seconds and can contact all the necessary doctors right away. My first time in a civilian hospital I was there over 24 hours before I even SAW a doctor and he couldn’t tell me anything. My first time at a VA hospital I saw several of my doctors and knew within minutes of arriving what the plan was to take care of me. The only problem with “Universal Healthcare” is that it would require more tax money from people who already feel that they are being “taxed to death” out of some sense of entitlement. God forbid anyone should tell them what to do, I mean we’re all FREE!

One of the reasons that the American public so eagerly and excitedly complies with the cultural code of lionizing every soldier and cop is because of the physical risk-taking and bravery many of them display on the foreign battleground and the American street. Physical strength and courage is only useful and laudable when invested in a cause that is noble and moral. The causes of American foreign policy, especially at the present, rarely qualify for either compliment. The “troops are heroes” boosters of American life typically toss out clichés to defend their generalization – “They defend our freedom,” “They fight so we don’t have to.”

     So… Saddam Hussein was an upstanding leader and didn’t need removed? He was totally justified in his invasion of Kuwait? It was his prerogative to gas his own citizens? (more to follow after the next few lines…)

No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists. It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II

     I’ll jump back in here… Saying that all wars are fought for freedoms is a bit naive. Afghanistan was started to hunt down terrorists that attacked us on American soil, just in case you forgot about 9-11. I don’t know exactly why we went to Iraq but take it from this Airman who served during the first Gulf War, no one on active duty wanted to leave that country without finishing what we started! Even those of us stateside were extremely upset that we didn’t remove Saddam from power. Here's the thing about the United States Serviceman/woman, when an order is given, we execute it to the best of our ability. Now, obviously if my superior told me to jump on a grenade to save himself I'm not obliged to do so, there are exceptions. Now, given the history of world wars, since you brought that up, let’s just let our imaginations wander for a moment… Is it entirely outside the realm of possibility that Saddam could have taken Kuwait and all it’s riches and then a year or two later another small country, and then another and another? Sound eerily familiar? Like, oh… Germany under the Nazis! Now ask yourself what might have happened had some country had the stones to tell Hitler NO! and beat him back to within Germany’s borders and removed him from power at the first sign of invasion. Will Putin stop with his small conquest or is he just biding his time waiting for that whole thing to blow over before pushing just a bit further? The world has become, scratch that- the world has ever been a cruel hard place to scratch out an existence. Just because we’ve had it good for a while doesn’t mean that’s how it has been or how it will be. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble. If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.

     Good sir, far more men and women have fought for, and died for, the right to free speech than any litigator. I assure you of that. Oh, and your welcome...

Wars that are not heroic have no real heroes, except for the people who oppose those wars.

     EXCUSE ME?!? Ask those with a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross or Silver Star or a Purple Heart if those who stand in protest are on the same playing field… ALL wars have heroes, whether or not the cause of war was justified in your eyes. NEVER forget that!

Far from being the heroes of recent wars, American troops are among their victims. No rational person can blame the soldier, the Marine, the airman, or the Navy man for the stupid and destructive foreign policy of the U.S. government, but calling them “heroes,” and settling for nothing less, makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely to happen. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make much sense to call their mission unnecessary and unjust. It also makes conversations about the sexual assault epidemic, or the killing of innocent civilians, impossible. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make any sense to acknowledge that some are rapists and sadists.

     Well if that isn’t just about the most backward way of thinking I’ve ever heard or read… Allow me to clear something up here bub, every member of the armed services knows what they are getting themselves into. Sure recruiters aren't exactly truthful but by the time you get through BMT (Basic Military Training) you have learned, each and every service member, how to fire an assault rifle. If it comes to it even the laziest desk jockey can be called to fight. Clearly this author is a pacifist and would simply “talk” his way out of any conflict, though I doubt he would be successful with words like that.  Instead I think he would only entice some foreign bully dictator to invade us all the sooner! Look, you call a hero a hero and you call a rapist a rapist and you call a sadist a sadist. I would hope any published author would know the definitions of those words before he began blathering on about what we should call these people. Furthermore, the ONLY thing that will bring about honest and critical conversations is a group of honest individuals who CAN be, but need not ALWAYS be, critical. People who can listen with an open mind to the opinions of others and concede when their opinion is not the popular opinion.

The same principle of clear-eyed scrutiny applies to law enforcement agencies. Police departments everywhere need extensive investigation of their training methods, qualifications for getting on the job, and psychological evaluation. None of that will happen as long as the culture calls cops heroes, regardless of their behavior.

     Again, I strongly disagree… Just because we hold them up as heroes does not mean they are beyond reproach. If ANYTHING it means that we hold them to a higher standard and place them under closer scrutiny. Additionally I’ll reiterate my previous point, there are bad cops and there are good cops. Show me some examples of good cops. It’s hard to and I’ll tell you why- they don’t go above and beyond the call of duty for glory or to have the spotlight shone on them. They don't do good things, like helping a single mother with three kids get her car to a gas station, put fuel in her tank and but her groceries because they’re looking for accolades, they do it because they are good hearted individuals, just like a good many civilians are. For what it’s worth many police officers are former military and the military, last I knew, encouraged helping out those in need… 

An understandable reason for calling all troops heroes, even on the left, is to honor the sacrifice they make after they die or endure a life-altering injury in one of America’s foolish acts of aggression. A more helpful and productive act of citizenship, and sign of solidarity with the military, is the enlistment in an antiwar movement that would prevent the government from using its volunteer Army as a plaything for the financial advancement and political cover of the state-corporate nexus and the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eishenhower’s nightmares.

     “Foolish acts of aggression…” Ok, I’ll grant you that we have engaged in some conflicts that we probably didn’t have any business being in. But let’s look at it this way- a tool unused becomes dull and tarnished. That is to say that if generations of soldiers “practice” war but never actually engage in it, eventually they won’t be an effective deterrent or defense. While I’m bringing up deterrence let’s not forget that each time we go poking our nose into other people’s fights we’re generally on the side of “good” fighting ruthless dictators and the like. How do you think the rest of the world sees that? Sure, those who have the ability to defend themselves may balk at it, but to some would be dictator it likely will give him cause to rethink that coup he has been planning. I can recall a conflict in some West African country on the coast where people were being grossly mistreated and the government had fallen to shambles. We simply parked a carrier fleet off the coast within sight but not in their territorial waters and like blowing out a candle everything suddenly got quiet and things were worked out. That is because people the world over know that our “war machine” is deadly and should we decide to use it, it won’t end well for someone… THAT is DETERRENCE! 

Given the dubious and dangerous nature of American foreign policy, and the neglect and abuse veterans often suffer when returning home wounded or traumatized, Americans, especially those who oppose war, should do everything they can to discourage young, poor and working-class men and women from joining the military. Part of the campaign against enlistment requires removing the glory of the “hero” label from those who do enlist.

     Ok, stop right there… I'll concede that returning war veterans from Vietnam weren't treated fairly, but is that their fault, or the fault of anti-war protestors who very wrongly blamed the tool for what the operator did. Why do you think Americans are so quick to stand up and applaud returning soldiers now? Because we learned from our mistakes. Let me also put something else into perspective for you. Additionally there are approximately 42 million American veterans and they were ALL trained how to use assault weapons. Granted not all are capable of hardcore combat but still, that's a sizable number of folks no one wants pissed off at them. I don't know how it is that you came to the conclusion that they've been neglected or abused... Current military enlistment of both active and reserve troops is around 2.3 million with less than a million being reserves. Let’s say you “discourage” young men and women from enlisting, what then are they to do to earn a living? How are they to acquire the skills that can only be acquired through military enlistment? Military life, even that of non-combatants, gives an individual a sense of camaraderie that won’t ever be found on a sports team or in a Union working on a production line. Logistics such as that aside, what then happens when we have to enter a conflict and we have no troops trained and ready? Would you have us sitting by idly twiddling our thumbs whilst people such as you try to talk down some aggressor like Putin? I’ll take my chances on the giving end go an assault rifle thanks...

Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of divinity studies at Duke whom Time called “America’s best theologian,” has suggested that, given the radical pacifism of Jesus Christ, American churches should do all they can to discourage its young congregants from joining the military. Haurwas’ brand of intellectual courage is necessary, even among non-Christians, to combat the hysterical sycophancy toward the military in a culture where even saluting a Marine, while holding a coffee cup, is tantamount to terrorism.

     Time called this guy America’s Best Theologian eh? Well good for Time… I didn’t vote for him. You might do well to read through the bible a bit and see just how many times God sent people into war. You might also try to convince the muslim extremists, the Iranians and the North Koreans that they should likewise be pacifistic like Jesus. Go ahead, we’ll wait… Oh, and good luck! You’re sure as hell going to need it!

The men and women who do enlist deserve better than to die in the dirt and come home in a bag, or spend their lives in wheelchairs, and their parents should not have to drown in tears and suffer the heartbreak of burying their children. The catastrophes become less common when fewer people join the military.

     You’re right, they shouldn’t have to endure those things. But the cold hard truth is that the world will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t meet it head on. Millions of Jews didn’t deserve to die in the holocaust either, nor the countless other victims of countless ruthless actions against civilians who died and were dumped in mass graves, the children in Africa who saw their parents murdered and were kidnapped and forced to fight… I disagree 100% that the catastrophes become less common when fewer people join the military and I would in fact be so bold as to counter that those same catastrophes become more numerous and more horrendous when there are fewer people trained to stand and defend both themselves and the ones they love. To defend freedom and liberty, to stand against tyranny and oppression… 

Calling all cops and troops heroes insults those who actually are heroic – the soldier who runs into the line of fire to protect his division, the police officer who works tirelessly to find a missing child

     Neither the soldier or the cop in the previous statement works alone, they are a part of something greater than themselves. What then of the soldier who stood up from his place of cover to provide the soldier covering suppressive fire? I guess to you he’s not a hero either? What of the countless police officers who also looked for that child, often in dangerous conditions? I guess because they weren’t THE ONE who found the kid they’re likewise not heroes… Who’s cheapening the word now?!?

by placing them alongside the cops who shoot unarmed teenagers who have their hands in the air, or the soldier who rapes his subordinate.

     That “unarmed teenager” didn’t in fact put his hands up, but as we now know from the forensic evidence attacked the officer while he was still in his patrol car. You bet your ass he’s a hero! That same “unarmed teenager didn’t surrender when he was caught stealing form a local convenience store but instead beat the clerk who tried to stop him. As for the soldier who rapes his subordinate, no act of heroism justifies or negates such heinous actions and if I had things my way he’s be dealt with like any Roman Centurion who committed a crime, by the very troops he led. That sends a message to the next soldier who is promoted to that position. Those actions will be met with swift and terrible justice. We could learn a lot from history...

It also degrades the collective understanding of heroism to the fantasies of high-budget, cheap-story action movies. The American conception of heroism seems inextricably linked to violence; not yet graduated from third-grade games of cops and robbers. Explosions and smoking guns might make for entertaining television, but they are not necessary, and more and more in modern society, not even helpful in determining what makes a hero.

     I won’t debate this, you can’t mix real life with fantasy, fiction with non-fiction. By this reckoning we should all be wearing hockey masks and bladed gloves and murdering countless scores of people, simply because we saw it in a movie.

A social worker who commits to the care and advocacy of adults with developmental disabilities – helping them find employment, group home placement and medical care, and just treating them with love and kindness – is a hero. A hospice worker in a poor neighborhood, providing precious comfort and consolation to someone dying on the ugly edges of American healthcare, is a hero. An inner-city teacher, working hard to give essential education and meaningful affirmation to children living in neighborhoods where bullets fly and families fall apart, is a hero.

     I’m going to have to disagree with this too. None of those people risked their lives in defense on another life. Sure, they all perhaps went above and beyond the call of duty and are deserving of recognition, but that doesn’t make them heroes. What you’re saying in that statement is the kind of thing that cheapens real heroism. Which side of this argument are you on here anyway? In the military there exists a number of medals and awards, letters of commendation and the like for people who go beyond what is expected of them. Their actions save money, make processes more efficient etc. but that by no stretch of the imagination makes them a hero.

Not all teachers, hospice workers or social workers are heroes, but emphasizing the heroism of those who do commit to their clients, patients and students with love and service would cause a shift of America’s fundamental values. It would place the spotlight on tender and selfless acts of solidarity and empathy for the poor. Calling all cops heroes too often leads to pathetic deference to authority, even when the results are fatal, and insisting all members of the military are heroes too often reinforces the American values of militarism and exceptionalism.

     I’ve already debunked the first part of this by pointing out that these people, based solely on job performance, aren’t in the least heroes. As to the last part, you try defying the authority of a policeman or woman and see how that works out. Our society has always been taught that when you’re in trouble find a policeman or dial 911. We are also taught that when you are stopped by the police you don’t get smart with your responses. If you know you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. Let’s be honest, what are the odds that you will run into one of the few corrupt cops? I was not aware that “militarism” was an American value? But exceptionalism? You bet your ass I think we’re exceptional! Where else in this world can a person like this author spout off such nonsense and not be thrown in jail or beaten for writing these things? Even the enlisted servicemen and women who protect his right to say such ridiculous things won’t harm him. Why? Because in this, as in many other things, we are exceptional... Additionally here's how we protect your "freedoms", by keeping politicians in check. I'm sure more than one federal politician has had designs of changing or abolishing parts or even the whole of the Constitution. So what stopped them? Oh right, our armed forces and veterans. You know, those good old folks who swore to support and defend it? Yeah, those folks...

The assignment of heroism, exactly like the literary construct, might have more to do with the assignment of villainy than the actual honoring of “heroes.” Every hero needs a villain. If the only heroes are armed men fighting the country’s wars on drugs and wars in the Middle East, America’s only villains are criminals and terrorists. If servants of the poor, sick and oppressed are the heroes, then the villains are those who oppress, profit from inequality and poverty, and neglect the sick. If that is the real battle of heroism versus villainy, everyone is implicated, and everyone has a far greater role than repeating slogans, tying ribbons and placing stickers on bumpers.

     You got me there, we could all do better in taking care of those who are poor, sick and oppressed. How about if you start by trying to write something helpful about those people here in America instead of trying to tear down and belittle our bona-fide real American Heroes. Write about the kids who don’t have decent clothes or adequate shelter or good, fresh food to eat. Write about the horrible things companies like Monsanto are doing to our food all in the name of profit. Try doing like the real heroes do and lead by example. For what it’s worth, you’re a pretty shitty example of how things ought to be done… 

David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). He writes regularly for the Daily Beast and Splice Today. For more information visit

     The preceding was an article written by David along with my responses interjected in a point by point manner. I thought this was the best, and easiest way for me to address this. As I’ve said, I have never been comfortable with the moniker of “hero” where as it concerns my battle with cancer. But if that is how people see me, I think they could certainly have a far worse opinion and in truth, it’s not something worth arguing. In my humble opinion real heroes never really do get comfortable being called that. It’s part of what makes them heroes. All i know is that one can not ever call oneself a hero. Much like a nickname it’s a title that is given by another and not oneself. 

     As to why I wrote this, I was genuinely offended by the words written by David. I get that some folks aren’t cut out for military life, they don’t have what it takes to pick up a firearm and defend someone else or they just don’t think it’s “right” to kill another person. I guess that’s fine but as far as I’m concerned I will always support our military 100% and if me or mine ever need defending, woe be it to the aggressor. That’s a game with no rules and a game which I have no intention of losing. I’m fully willing to be the sheepdog, even if the entire flock consists of people like David… 

     Molon labe! (Come and take them…)

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