Chris Hayes Apologizes For Stating the Obvious
MSNBC host Chris Hayes has apologized for pointing out the obvious: By equating war deaths with heroism, we risk run the risk of romanticizing war and chilling dissent.
If every fallen soldier is a hero by default, that implies that the war itself must be a worthwhile undertaking. We don't usually call people heros for extraordinary efforts on behalf of unworthy causes.
Here's what Hayes said on his show, Up With Chris Hayes, this weekend:
I think it's interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words "heroes." Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word "hero"? I feel comfortable -- uncomfortable -- about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don't want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that's fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I'm wrong about that.
The fact that right wingers leapt in demonize Hayes proves his point. The "hero" label is a rhetorical tool to squelch criticism of U.S. wars.
The mainstream anti-war left wants to support the troops--as human beings, as professionals, and later, as veterans--while simultaneously condemning the war they are fighting. There's absolutely no contradiction here. But the right wants to say that any criticism of the war is tantamount to disrespecting the troops. That way, people will shy away from criticizing the war for fear of being perceived as troop-haters. If the frank illogic of the right wing's position were generally understood, it would lose a core ad hominem weapon in its rhetorical arsenal. That's why Hayes was singled out.
Heroism is an inherently fuzzy concept. It's more a literary ideal than a rigorous ethical appraisal. Your definition of heroism probably has more to do with what epic poems you've been reading than any coherent ethical theory. If this weren't a such a loaded rhetorical issue, the true nature of heroism would be up for debate. People of good will could disagree. Nobody would have to apologize for voicing a "deviant" definition of heroism.
If heroism just means bravery, you could define most members of the armed forces as heroes because they serve the public at some personal risk. But on this view there's nothing special about dying in war, per se. What matters is the service, not the death.
The armed forces deserve our respect and gratitude for the work they do on our behalf, like all public servants. We should keep in mind that our troops don't pick the wars they fight. That's a very good thing for democracy. As long as the troops are following legal orders issued by legitimate civilian authorities, we should respect their service even if we disapprove of the war. As Hayes initially observed, we can respect the sacrifices of fallen troops without automatically according them hero status.