Are Soldiers Heroes?

This is kind of a trick question.  It’s a question that is causing great debate on Facebook with a group called “Soldiers Are Not Heroes” created to combat the many pro-soldier groups.  It, in turn, has spawned a group created to remove them from Facebook – “Petition to remove “Soldiers are not heroes” from facebook”.  These two groups were pointed out to me by Kathy Blau who has been working on the Heroic Imagination Project with Phil and Zeno.

The trick of the question is that there’s not a yes or no answer.  Anyone giving a concrete yes or no is generalizing to an extreme.  Unfortunately most people on Facebook like to generalize.  How’s that for a generalization?

Soldiers at RestOne argument is that soldiers are heroes simply for signing up.  That’s possible.  There is undoubtedly an element of sacrifice and risk involved in volunteering.  However, what do we know of their intent?  I can think of a few possible reasons for volunteering.  There are plenty more.

  1. Serving your country
  2. Wanting to kill people
  3. Needing money to pay for college
  4. Boredom
  5. Wanting to protect freedom
  6. Family pressure

So, there are some soldiers that made an heroic act in choosing to serve.  There are some that did not.  I won’t dare to assume which is the larger group.

Can you be a hero if you chose to join the armed forces to help you pay for college?  Certainly.  What you do once you join opens you up to many opportunities.  We’ve seen soldiers throw themselves on grenades to save their comrades.  No question of the heroism there – Michael Mansoor is a prime example.  Acting alone to save a soldier’s life against great odds is another avenue – Leo Major did that.

I’ve just finished watching the HBO series, “Generation Kill” that was based on a book of the same name.  The author was an embedded journalist from Rolling Stone.  His observations shown in the TV series inspired this post.  I saw soldiers and officers consistently refusing to follow orders from their superiors (interesting use of the word) because they saw how morally wrong they were.  That was heroic – it was done for the good of others and with risk of repercussion.  I saw an officer get out of his humvee to direct traffic during a night-time ambush.  That’s heroic.

That’s a lot of heroes.  What’s the opposite of the word hero?  There are plenty of them.  In “Generation Kill” I saw marines firing on fleeing civilians.  I saw an officer twice attempt to bayonet a captured enemy soldier.  I saw officers call down bomb strikes on civilian targets.  I saw soldiers and officers committing immoral or dangerous (not for them) acts in order to further their careers.

From this article (read this and the comments if you’re interested in this subject), I found YouTube videos of many unheroic acts.  Quoted here: “We refuse to blame those who shoot civilians even when the attacks are clearly acts of vengeance; we downplay the war crimes and the routine cruelties; we make excuses for those who shoot the wounded or torture prisoners; even when official Pentagon reports casually mention how a US soldier summarily executed a wounded fighter and shot another wounded, unresisting fighter twice in the back, we pay little notice.”

LarryE, the author of the above article, concludes with this: “Soldiers are not heroes. They can be heroes, they can act heroically, they can do heroic things – but the act of putting on a uniform and agreeing to put your conscience in a lockbox for the next so many years does not make your life more important than others, it does not make your opinions and insights more worthy of respect than others, it does not exempt you from moral judgment. It does not make you a hero.”

Soldiers are people.  They’re capable of acts on either end of the moral scale, just like you.  Just like me.  They tend to find themselves in situations that require heroism, or tempt barbarism, more often than you and I are.  This is why so many people are quick to label all soldiers as heroes or all soldiers as menaces.

Soldiers are people.

So are firefighters, so are police officers.  The people that died in the World Trade Center were people.  There are heroic firefighters, there are heroic police officers, and there were heroic victims on 9/11.  There are also plenty of bad people in the police force and the fire brigades.  Bad people died on 9/11.  And then there’s the middle people; the people who haven’t done anything heroic or evil.  Perhaps by choice, perhaps by chance.

Soldiers are people.

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14 Responses to Are Soldiers Heroes?

  1. alexander July 21, 2009 at 6:17 am #

    No doubt Soldiers are Hero. Because they serve the nation and they work for other not for self.

    • Dee Lillie September 9, 2009 at 5:58 am #

      All to often the discussion reverts to 9/11. People see this attack as justification for killing thousands of innocents and invading a country based on a lie. Lets think about the bigger picture here… the reason behind the attacks. The hatred that fueled 19 people to blow themselves up and take 3,000 innocents with them has its genesis in a history of the U.S. government’s exploitation of people in oil-rich nations around the world. Does this warrent an invasion killing hundreds of thousands?

      Who are the victims?

      Soldiers fighting these illegal wars are in no way heroes. They are puppets to a corrupt Government. They have a moral obligation to say no.

  2. Jake Speed September 9, 2009 at 5:25 am #

    I think that any act of heroism is completely negated if fighting in an illegal war; the bad far outweighs the good – supporting the death of over a million innocents in Iraq is definitely not heroic.

  3. joe September 18, 2009 at 9:07 pm #

    Soldiers are heros. And anyone who tries to demoralize there effort has a spot in the lowest section of hell.

    • Dee Lillie September 21, 2009 at 1:18 pm #

      What a load of tosh. What actually makes them heroes?

    • The Nihilist December 15, 2009 at 10:24 pm #

      “And anyone who tries to demoralize there effort has a spot in the lowest section of hell.”

      That’s a bit harsh. Nobody is trying to demoralize their efforts. The role of a soldier is commendable. Soldiers are courageous. They generally deserve due respect. They are not necessarily heroes, though. That logic looks like this:

      1. Soldiers are heroes.
      2. The people that shot and raped civilians, acted in vengeance, committed war crimes and tortured prisoners are soldiers.
      3. Therefore those people too, are heroes.

      Matt, good article. I have also written on the topic here: http://nihilistology.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/soldiers-are-not-necessarily-heroes/

  4. Andrew Black December 29, 2009 at 12:44 am #

    I certaintly think that the reason you enlist into the armed forces is one reason to decide on whether or not they are consider heroes. From what I’ve seen, most soldiers are true patriots and are not fighting for their own personal gain.

  5. Andrew Black December 29, 2009 at 12:45 am #

    considered* excuse me

  6. Wyyvern1978 December 31, 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    This article is dead on. Some soldiers are heroes, and some are not. And just because I say so does not make me un-patriotic. It just means I am smart enough to be practical. As with any PROFESSION, some people are good and some are bad. Simply applying for a JOB of ANY sort, does not automatically make you a great person. I know many people who have served in the military, and most are just average people that signed up for the money and benefits, not ever expecting to see an actual war. And by the way, with the exception of Afghanistan (which harbored terrorists that committed an act of war), it has been a LONG time since US soldiers have actually fought to protect our rights (World War 2 actually), but that is our government’s fault, and not the soldiers’ fault.

  7. Miki February 17, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    There is one thing I never understand about any argument for one side or the other. WTH is an “illegal” war. Last I checked the UN backed the war, and our President (oh…ah, wait-now people are going to start President bashing). Forgive the cynicism, but please educate yourself before you go ranting on a post that is obviously only opinion, but not researched thoroughly. Just because people don’t support the war completely, doesn’t mean they don’t support it at all. So, end the term “illegal” war. It’s very legal, and very real. If you don’t understand the law, the consequences, or the application-don’t post.

    • Matt February 17, 2010 at 9:17 am #

      Well said Miki. An individual war has no bearing on the question of whether soldiers are heroes. So the reasons for the war are even less important. The idea that a soldier is a hero goes a long way back before any of us were born. And we’ve certainly had plenty of wars.

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