Someone asked me a question about what a ‘hero’ is. I replied that this was going to start off like a Laches Discussion – bring on the robed philosophers. I said ‘what is it to be a hero?’ He said that I was a soldier and I was classed as a hero, but what about the other side? Were they not heroes? It all depends what you class as a hero. Is it someone that walks into a wall of fire and rescues a person from a burning house? Is it someone who stands up against a system, take for example Martin Luther King, Mario Savio (loved his speech), Nelson Mandella or Ghandi? Or is it somebody who goes to war whether it’s for the right reason or the wrong reasons. What about those poor soldiers during the War in South-East Asia – were they classed as heroes? I bet to some they weren’t – reprisals and attacks were made against returning GIs from the war in south east Asia (I loath to say Vietnam, because it spilled over to many other countries). Why were they persecuted for being in that age bracket and sent over to stop a load of red dominoes from toppling into the China sea and creating waves over Indonesia and eventually Australia. Weren’t the dreaded communists already in the US anyhow? Weren’t they already in central America? Back on track.... I don’t think they were treated as heroes because many thought the war unwinnable and unmoral – thanks to the media for bringing the war to peoples’ living rooms through television. Governments can’t gag or fool the public now, so they’re treading carefully.
So what makes a hero? Strength, Courage, Nobility? Fighting for a cause? Surely not. There are a lot of British and American soldiers who weren’t born into the dictionary’s definition of nobility. Nor are many fighting for a cause. And some show strength in many other ways. Why did I automatically choose British and American Soldiers? Why not a Taliban Commander? Why not a member of the Einsatzgruppe during WW2 in Eastern Europe? It’s all about where you stand, where your allegiances are and more so when it comes to ideology to a group like the Einsatzgruppe.
I went over to Afghanistan as a British soldier and helped fight off Taliban attacks. Does that make me a hero? It probably does to some people – the simple fact that I served in the Army would grant me that title. Classically a hero was some ‘man’ with superhuman strength fighting for a cause.
This stands in the classical sense especially when we’re talking about Gilgamesh, Cu Chullain, Hercules and Achilles. How long ago did they live? Oh, millennia, or if there were such words – billennia or trillennia ago. They disappear into ancient history and rank along the fantastical, but the likes of King Arthur, Mohammed, Jesus and Robin Hood; they are in the bounds of the Common Era (CE or old AD). These have shrugged off their superhuman strength; it seems it takes more than a couple of thousand years to warp their images. King Arthur had his sword but fought for a cause, Robin Hood had his bow and merry men, he fought for a cause, Jesus fought peacefully for a cause and like Mohammed is claimed to be the son of a deity. Are these heroes? We’ve got loads of heroes in the 20th Century. Why? Heroes are made out of times of trauma, but we keep on saying that the 20th century was the worst? If we had this many people on the planet 1000 years ago, would the death toll have gone up? If we look at the parallels we see that ‘perhaps’ as many people on a percentage level died then as they did now. It’s only on the industrial nature of fighting equipment and the clash of doctrine that many died on the fields of France during WW1. How many people got out of their trenches and walked, not stormed or ran, but walked into a hail of bullets – are they not heroes? How about the soldiers who refused to fight, those who rebelled against the fighting? Are they not heroes – they fought for a cause, surely? I don’t think it was the German intention to eliminate a race of people back then. Would Europe have been a better place run by the Germans? We’d have a unified currency and probably a load of guerrilla, resistance groups (idea for a story there!).
So there we have it. There are heroes in every aspect of our many cultures. We each have our own individual idea of what a hero it. I see it in the unselfish work an Ambulance Crew might do to save a life or as the media has us believe it’s the soldiers who we send over to warzones to fight. I keep on going back to the soldiers again, because I used to be one. And I went ‘over there’ as well. For some, it’s a job, they didn’t go over to Afghanistan to help stabilize the area so that the Taliban don’t have a foothold in Central Asia and use a dirty bomb (from Pakistan’s arsenal) our cities. Most of our soldiers don’t even know where Afghanistan is on the world map or that we’ve been over there several times already. It becomes a fight for survival and the public’s perception is ‘For Queen and Country’ – our boys... Well, it’s not like that over there. Most of us don’t give a Monkey’s fart about the Queen over there. We just want to do the tour and get out of there with all our arms and legs. I’m not a patriot, I’m a realist and my family and friends are where my loyalties lie. You could argue that all the boys and girls over in Afghanistan are heroes, but then again not everyone over there leaves Kandahar airbase or Camp Bastion. Some might spend all their time in Camp Bastion doing the laundry. Compare that service person to someone who is actively clearing compounds with grenade and rifle. So in my conclusion, a Hero is something different to everyone.
Another thought on this – what if you were a conscientious objector to a war. There are objectors to any war, the war of 1991 with Iraq, WW2 and WW1 etc etc etc. It would take immense strength to go against a regime who are fighting a common enemy and say it is morally wrong to kill. It would take immense strength to fight for your cause, despite being branded a ‘traitor’, a coward etc etc. Would you call those people heroes? Wouldn’t it be easier to just go ahead with the draft and become a Clerk in a rear echelon? Would that be considered weak? Lots of questions raised and I haven’t fully answered them, but no time here for that.
More on the Taliban question... Would they be classed as heroes? I would say that they are brave to take on a superpower much like the Vietcong of the 60s and 70s. But their ideals are different to mine and they’re treatment of other people goes against my way of thinking, perhaps that is why I didn’t really have a problem of going over to Afghanistan in the first place. So, to me, they’re not heroes. Perhaps the Royal Marine who fell back onto a grenade and shot a Taliban fighter dead as he did this (Hollywood style exaggeration here) should be classed as a hero. He saved a lot of people from a whole world of pain while only suffering bruising to his back (he was wearing body armour). – this happened in Kajaki, Afghanistan, March 2008, if anyone knows of the story I’d love to hear about it. That's a hero in my eyes, which takes on near Hollywood proportions... But the tale has travelled and it takes on many nuances and bias, so it probably never happened like this.