A Hero is Discovered in Harlem:" . . The headlights of the No. 1 train appeared. “I had to make a split decision,” Mr. Autrey said. So he made one, and leapt. Mr. Autrey lay on Mr. Hollopeter, his heart pounding, pressing him down in a space roughly a foot deep. The train’s brakes screeched, but it could not stop in time . . . . "
Read the entire story: 1/2/2007 New York Times
Quasi Heros and Real Heros
We are getting carried away from important ideals and their English vocabulary definitions, for the sake of feel-good emotional docu-drama. We are calling the wrong people heroes and we are afraid to acknowledge truths to squelch our own collective emotions regarding the September 11th massacres. Former mayor Gulliani of New York City is not a hero. The firefighters and police or New York City are not heroes. George W. Bush is certainly not a hero.
What is a hero? Is it someone who does his job, or someone who goes beyond his or job and into danger or humility when he doesn’t have to? I say it’s the later. Take for instance the firefighters at the scene of the world trade center massacre; are they heroes for attempting to save lives, forsaking their own lives and going into the scene, either into the buildings to get people out, or toward the catastrophe of rubble to evacuate pedestrians in the disorder of the collapse of the towers? Heroes are the pedestrians and otherwise civilian bystanders who risked their lives to do the same. They were not expected to, yet some did. If heroes are civil servants and rescue personnel who carry on their persons their own resignation papers, for quick turnover to their immediate supervisors in case a situation gets scary, then yes the NYC firefighters and police were heroes for not resigning upon viewing the tragic circumstances of the moment.
A hero is the boy out for a walk who notices a man bobbing up and down in a large ice hole in the middle of a frozen lake. The boy takes off his shoes and coat and jumps in to hoist the man to safety. A hero is the man driving his car on the highway, he sees a burning wreck on the side of the road, he stops, he runs to the vehicle, reaches into the scorching hot car and pulls another driver to safety, saving a life. The boy walking and the man driving are not rescue trained civil servants performing obligations for pay and to meet performance expectations of their peers and supervisors, these hypothetical people are real heroes.
Enter into the melodrama of television cable (“we’re more patriotic than that other network”) news squawk shows. The faces of military personnel killed in the illegal action of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, face us from the dead, in memoriam. The show-graphics announce them as American Heroes, and or “they died so we can be free.” Where is the logic is these statements? Nowhere. Emotion dilutes and clouds logic but it increases cable ratings! Your average Joe Military young man signed up with the understood knowledge that the great majority of his comrades will eventually come home alive, just like WWII or from any other war of our past, no matter how bloody history has recorded them to be. As a bonus, their recruiters promised shoeboxes of money for college, health care delivery. Besides it was better than hanging around a dead-end town and becoming losers like so many of the young men they had known. Joining-up made their parents proud and gave them and their family hope for their futures. We all know the cliché dogmatic philosophy born out of the “good war,” that we tell young men who don’t know what to do with their lives: “It will make a man of you. You’ll gain confidence. You’ll learn leadership. You’ll come back and anyone will be glad to hire you!” Does a hero require these perks? Is it love of country and angelic selflessness that drives these eighteen and nineteen year olds into the services? Lets get real. These young men are given protection, given numbers of brothers to surround them for increased safety. They bond with their units, they feel the “got your back,” pact of their unit. They are not the lone highway traveler who with all choice to do nothing, chooses to rescue a trapped motorist from a burning vehicle. They are not the boy who disrobes to dive into a freezing lake to rescue a drowning person from a break in the ice.
Its wonderful to show appreciation for a dead or wounded serviceman. To show our gratitude for a task that held the possibility of great danger is a needed commission and in the case of those vulture-like cable news shows, its really the least they can do.
Time magazine had chosen to make Rudy Gulliani “person of the year,” like the firefighters he has been called a hero for doing his job. The cliché phrase “man of the year” is generally an honor of positivism bestowed on someone, or something for being the best at something in a year’s time. Time magazine’s honor traditionally is neither positive nor negative, it is supposed to be for an individual who has affected world events the most in that preceding year, for instance Adolph Hitler was given this dubious honor.
Three weeks before the magazine announced it had placed terrorist Osama BinLaden on the “short list” for man of the year the criticism started rolling in. Americans couldn’t understand the acknowledgement. They said it gave him publicity he didn’t deserve. They suggested good people by our standards, they suggested Mayor of New York City Rudy Guliani, and they suggested the court selected president George W. Bush.
What did mayor Gulliani do that any other mayor of any other city would not have done? Nothing. Is there precedent for a mayor to run and cower when his city is besieged with calamity? No there is not. His and any mayor’s job in a time of crisis is to keep the city running, to provide for emergency assistance the best that the office of the mayor can do. He did his job. Do we shower him with praise for not running to a motel room to take cyanide tablets? Is he a hero for not freaking out and going on a three-week alcohol and drug binge?
What did president select George W. Bush do that was hero like? It couldn’t have been his drunken AWOL service to our country in the Air National Guard. Might it have been the heroic manner he jumped around from military base to military base in Air Force One on September the 11th? Must be all the brave teleprompter readings he gave and continues to give on network television? If his speeches had some substance I might grant him a small degree of hero worship in that department, but the hyperboloid rhetoric that is contained in every speech reminds me more of a salesmen’s convention than substantive information for the public.
Evidence of our national denial in a sea of emotional docu-drama is the ABC television v. Bill Maher incident: when one man dare to point out the inconsistencies of president select Bush’s child like speeches, he gets fired by his boss. Bill Maher’s well made point that the hijackers of the planes could not have been cowards, as the president select had told us a few nights before, was light hearted truth that was met with ignorant and emotional bitterness. He became blacklisted for his subversion to patriotic mushy mush.
Lets remember who heroes are before half the population is wearing a hero medal and suing for hero pay and television time. Lets honor substantial speech and continue to criticize talk that makes little logical sense.
James G. Mason
This editorial was first published