Are Soldiers Heroes?

My friend Adam just asked about the eligibility of soldiers as heroes. My answer was that I think the basic definition says there must be perceived risk, and selfless intentions to be a hero. So the choice to enter the armed forces could well be considered heroic, but once a solider, there is a difference between doing your job and being a hero.

Kasi at the Loving a Soldier, Living the Life blog has written a post saying neither she nor her husband consider him a hero because he’s in the army. Here’s what she had to say.

But I’ve talked to my husband, and he talked to his teammates, and to them the word ‘hero’ is reserved for people who do something extraordinary, and most of our guys don’t see themselves as heroes at all. ‘Hero’ is reserved for people who throw themselves on grenades to save others, or who die recovering the treat of the wounded. Or for the medic who strips off his body armor in the middle of the street because he can’t do a proper job of what he needs to do to treat the wounded in it. To my husband and his co-workers, the inappropriate use of the word hero not only cheapens the sacrifices of the true heroes, but also makes the person misusing the term look bad.

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33 Responses to Are Soldiers Heroes?

  1. Adam Resh February 16, 2008 at 11:07 am #

    I agree with what she said to a certain extent. Those who throw themselves on grenades to save someone is definitely a hero. But I think it is possible to be considered a hero in different ways to different people. It is very rare that you would ask someone that is in the army or fire fighter or police officer and ask, “do you consider yourself a hero?” and have them tell you they are. So I agree if I were in the army, I wouldn’t consider myself or my teammates a hero until one jump on a grenade for me or some other type of sacrifice to save my life, but I think that is how people back home see soldiers that are off to war. They are in a way “jumping on the grenade” for us by going to war for us and leaving their lives behind so we can live ours while they take care of business. So I would say, although they don’t consider themselves heroes, people back here do.

    Does that make sense? Does you agree?

    • andre January 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

      What I would consider a hero is a man who wants to live his own life for himself, and not for the pleasure of others. What makes it worth the effort and risk that he is going through? That he gets a parade when he comes home? I think he is either a mindless puppet for going blindly into war with no ambition in his life or he is suicidal.

      • Anonymous March 31, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

        That’s just it, they DON’t expect a parade, or even any actual recognition beyond their friends and family.

  2. Kit February 17, 2008 at 1:55 pm #

    I agree with you Adam, there are certain careers that involve a regular risk and although sometimes small, there is a regularity to this risk. As we are asking children to do the small things to culture a heroic attitude, these men are women are doing it on a regular basis and by their job choice have accepted the associated risks, quite possibly enhancing their sub-conscious to truly perform when they need to. I think as with many things it is a degree to which you describe someone and the way you convey it. I think we would agree that their choice is heroic but that is relative to everything else and as said above, the choice to jump on a grenade is clearly more heroic.

  3. Anonymous February 17, 2008 at 3:43 pm #

    I recently read a book titled “hero’s among us” which has different soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors. The stories in the book are about servicemen who won the medal of honor, distinguished service cross, navy cross. The author of the book said the hardest thing to do was tell these decorated fighters that they are in deed heroes. I believe that if someone has the courage to volunteer to serve their country then they posses a heroic quality. For the most part as well, I believe what many soldiers feel “the real heroes are the ones that never make it home”

  4. steven February 17, 2008 at 3:43 pm #

    sorry Matt, that “anonymous” post was from me…new computer didn’t have my info saved for your blog

  5. Matt Langdon February 17, 2008 at 3:57 pm #

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. I think this is an issue that has many different angles. There are so many influences on opinions of the armed forces…

  6. Anonymous February 19, 2008 at 10:05 am #

    There is not greater love than to lay down you life for a friend.

    I beleive that there is one greater love, to lay down your life for a complete stranger which is what most of our service men and women overseas do every day.

    They may not physically die, but every day they are away from family and friends in the service of their country, they die a little mentally and emotionally.

    Any one who has the courage to put on the uniform of the U.S. military and go into harms way in countries whose people have been brain washed into hating us are most definitely heros.
    Those who do not make it home along with those who do.

  7. Kit February 19, 2008 at 10:17 am #

    ‘Brain washed’ or inevitable? America’s actions on a world stage unfortunately encourage hate as their persistence in seeking democracy in other countries and forcing their cultural values on others is the cause of hatred and rightly so. Added with the hypocrisy that democracy and equal rights does not really exist here either…It is not America’s place to tell the world how to live and govern themselves…

    But at the same time I still have compassion for the military who do risk their lives, they clearly are heroes, but not necessarily for the above comment by anonymous.

  8. Matt Langdon February 20, 2008 at 11:17 am #

    This is from Chuck who is having trouble posting comments for some reason.

    Surprisingly I agree with Kit on this one. United States foreign policy
    through out the twentieth century has been one blunder after another.
    It has been a misguided effort of our own arrogance. There has been no
    heroism in it, only a self centric drive to feed our own self-interest.
    Under the veneer of his observation Kit posses an interesting question,
    does a country or society have a responsibility to other countries or
    societies to act morally? To act ethically? To act heroically? Should
    a society set aside it own self-interest and the interests of the people
    it is sworn to serve and serve the interest of another society? Or
    should a society place the interests of its own citizens first, even at
    the expense of another society. Or is it best to just not interfere at
    all? Proceeding from the belief that any attempt to impose the will of
    its citizens upon the will of another society’s citizens, regardless of
    if that will is altruistic or nefarious, makes it un-heroic at best and
    immoral at worst. For the United States I agree with Kit, no action
    would have been the best policy, that way the United States would
    clearly not be regarded as the single most dangerous, most evil country
    on the planet; that ironically enough everyone is trying to come to. I
    can run down the short list of un-heroic foreign policy mistakes that
    the United States has made since entering the world stage in 1898.

    World War I
    League of Nations
    World War II
    United Nations
    Truman Doctrine
    Support for Israel
    Korean Conflict
    Vietnam Conflict
    Desert Storm
    Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Sierra Leone
    Iraq War

    Much of the United States foreign policy of the last sixty-seven years
    can be traced to Winston Churchill’s belief that an “Iron Curtain” had
    descended across Europe and Eisenhower’s “Domino Theory”. Eisenhower’s
    theory never really bore fruit and Soviet expansion into Western Europe
    is unclear. The United States would have been far better off staying
    out of these conflicts and policies. It is a clear sign of our arrogant
    imperialistic attitudes that the United States has militarily occupied
    Western Europe for over 70 years. That needs to end. It is time to
    bring back our troops from the United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway,
    Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy,
    Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungry, Romania, Bosnia,
    Serbia, Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Morocco,
    Senegal, Egypt, Kenya, Somali, Djibouti, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,
    Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, U.A.E., Qatar, Oman, Georgia, Azerbaijan,
    Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
    Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Japan, Australia,
    and the Oceanic Islands. What the United States has been doing during
    the last century with foreign policy, military action, the threat of
    military action, economic sanctions, economic aid, food assistance, and
    trade is no less then disguised colonialism. It is time to return to a
    moral opposition to colonialism, time to return to the Monroe Doctrine.
    Clearly it is moral hypocrisy to persist in seeking democracy in other
    countries and forcing our cultural values upon them. These countries
    affected by our century of colonialism would have been far better off
    pursuing their on Monroe Doctrine, their own Manifest Destiny.
    Societies must have the right to be free of the imposition of will, no
    matter how well intended or evil intended. Societies need to have the
    right to stand up for them selves free of interference. The United
    States needs to remove its unwanted influence from these societies and
    have the moral courage to say no when ask by elements of those societies
    to interfere. The United States needed to have the moral courage to say
    NO to the above list, to say NO to interference, to say NO to economic
    aid and sanctions, to say NO to food relief and heath care assistance,
    to say NO to anything other than isolationism. The world and Europe in
    particular would have been a far better place had the United States had
    the moral courage to do this the first place. That would have been the
    heroic thing to do. Right Kit?

  9. Kit February 20, 2008 at 1:53 pm #

    From my stand point as an anthropologist certainly and as a historian without a doubt…best example being the ‘war of miscalculation’ or Cuban Missile crisis, where a first hand example was delivered in a talk at my school. That a Russian sub commander did almost cause a full out nuclear war, but his instincts ‘got the better of him’. He was about to launch an attack on a US ship, but for reasons he cannot fully remember he decided not to . That sub commander should not have been put in that position in the first place. People generally forget that the victim in many situations is blamed rather than the processes going on around them. Fundamentally the US conveys the idea that it is always one particular country’s fault but do not look at the greater context , which can far more revealing….

  10. Michael February 25, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    Sounds like a fine line between Heroism and Stupidity

  11. Michelle June 1, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    I know my thoughts usually come across to people as being quite crash in theory, but when I come across allot of war vetereans of the past I listen to their stories and think of the way the old days were compared to the wars we have today. Maybe Im wrong but fifty years ago if someone jumped on a grenade to save my life then yes I would consider him a hero but today jumping on a grenade just seems stupid and like someone is just trying to kill themselves, we as a army have gone past that point in the training we have been given. I know first hand that the requirements for foot soldiers let alone those that dont even think of fighting hand to hand with anyone unless they come to their AO is so much more that we would instead of jumping on a grenade we would sucessfully take cover and pull our buddy with us to make sure neither of us died. Then when the battle is over and no one is hurt we dust ourselves off and go on about our daily mission to protect our country because honestly even though we know we might die in our field or work one death is just to many so when everyone comes home we do have heros and allot of them. Its the reason when you become part of the forces you become part of a family that you will never forget. Its what the brotherhood and sisterhood is all about.

    • Matt Langdon June 1, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

      I guess I don’t think stupidity negates heroism. Certainly if everyone could have been saved by taking cover, then jumping on the grenade would be the wrong choice. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that the jumper did something for the good of others, despite a clear risk to them self. That’s heroism.

  12. fouroboros June 2, 2009 at 12:20 am #

    I began reading Michelle’s comment thinking I would be agreeing with her, but I found my sympathy derailed. My partners and me work with young kids on problem solving and finding ways around the inevitable conflicts they’ll face in their lives as members of teams–or even just as individual participants in life. The key attribute that we use to explain integrity in action–heroic choice–is conscience mated with compassion. And, we explain that in most cases we know what’s the right thing, that it’s almost reflexively apparent to all but the most extremely stunted individuals.

    This conscience is the motivator and ladder over more considered obstacles at that point–peer pressure, what others might say in the future, fear of failure. And we tell them that as we age, the pressures against action only get more numerous and more considered–paying the mortgage, viability for promotion, fear of being an outlier. Yet, most usefully, we help them discover that conscience is the precursor to the “courage” that they hear grownups talk so much about–often to the point of “heroism” being more about uniforms or job descriptions or over-hyped acts of simple duty. That’s awful for kids because they come to believe heroic choice is not a choice but rather something you earn or grow into–something that can wait. It’s doubly awful because it dulls their innate sense of justice or what’s right and necessary at a particular moment, and there are too few adults prepared to validate that seed of integrity and offer the tools and methods with which to act on it wisely and more safely. Maybe here Michelle loses me on suggesting the hand-grenade angle as being silly.

    That explosive analogy is the extreme example of conscience mated with compassion as heroic action. Each vet who has survived that situation says virtually the same thing: “I didn’t think, my instinct made me act.” Why? In most cases, the person doing the jumping did so because of one of two things: The other soldier was either incapacitated physically already–unable to move to safety–or incapable of responding because they were unaware of the hand-grenade tossed into their vicinity and, therefore, likewise unable to move to safety. That knowledge of immediate danger, and the retained ability to move against the danger, is pre-cognitive and one that allows little time for consideration in the face of conscience and compassion elements mentioned above, clicking in nano-seconds. “Courage” or “Heroism” was the last thing on their minds because their conscience had already made the choices.

    I’ve rambled far too much so I’ll finish with this. When we upgrade these ideas with grown-up audiences of business-persons on the topics of both innovation and ethics, we use an analogy to begin conversations on why business has gone so far off the rails of late: “Nobody ever threw themselves on a hand-grenade for a spreadsheet.” As jaded as a room full of executives inevitably are, it clicks, and they all nod in unison.

  13. samantha September 22, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    i agree with matt that when someone jumps on a grenade and knows they are risking their life for someone else, that is true heroism. i also believe that while some soldiers may not see themselves as heroes because they dont jump on a grenade, etc.; they are still heores in the eyes of many people because they do risk their life for millions of people of whom they have never even seen. i think we sometimes forget to be thankful for our soldiers and sometimes we dont give them enough appreciation for what they do.

  14. bill January 1, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    War is messy business and rarely has any heroes, when a solider sacrifices there life for his troop, yes that is a hero. That being said, when a soldier enlist in a army
    he is paid for his service and is not a selfless act which merits being called a hero. we have to remember that we are being sent in to battle and are being paid to do unspeakable things and even if I did have the chance to sacrifice my self for my troop I would not want to be called a “hero” because I would just consider myself to be braking even for all the awful thing I had to do for the sake of my government.
    Yes I said “government” because this is really who we serve not our country because the majority of my country doesn’t want me in a war and I don’t blame them.

  15. Dan Glesac January 4, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    heroism…a word that is misinterpreted by everyone everywhere…i believe heroism is defined as the qualities or attributes of a hero and or having heroic conduct. some may say the glass is half empty but our true heroes out there gaze upon the glass and ponder. they are never quick to jump to asumptions but at the same time react at an alrming pace if needed. in other words we owe our tax money to heros everywhere and if not then i dont know what is…Sharptin for president yall. im outt. 8====> ~~~ ()

  16. Halley May 30, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    Plain and Simple- All Soldiers are serving THIS country, being in a war zone or NOT, they are still Heroes, Because anything can happen at anytime..One day they can be helping people from Haiti, and another day there could be a terrorist attack (god forbid) By Joining, you never know what to expect, IT’S THE MILITARY…Nothing remains the same…by joining..they took that risk..and a person who has the courage and the bravery to take a risk I consider that individual a hero. What do you think?

    My boyfriend is the same….he is in Iraq, and he doesn’t believe he is not a Hero, because he has not been in a situation where he had to save a life. I don’t think that should be the case. But then again, I understand how they think, NOT entirely, but I have a idea. We just have to remind them that they are doing a great job .

    • Matt Langdon May 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

      Halley, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I totally agree that the decision to join the armed forces can be heroic. However, I am sure you’d agree there are clearly some people in the military who do bad things. With today’s expansive media coverage and YouTube we get to see a lot of nasty things done by military people.

      With the high risk involved in much of the service, there are many opportunities for heroism – big or small.

    • fouroboros May 31, 2010 at 4:01 am #

      Halley, I think your boyfriend seems to have a pretty good sense of what he’s about. He sounds like a person of Character, and I’d bet that description is more wearable, and maybe more pride-inducing, to him, partly because it may feel more honest and practically durable for him. Let me explain. To you, he’s a Hero, most likely for many reasons extending beyond what his job is and what he wears to do it. And that’s great. But merely making people into heroes because of their choice to perform difficult duties has some secondary effects. 1. It draws people into professions who seek something that life has not given them up to that point – chances to excel, be admired, feel settled in their own minds. Problem is those things are all externals requiring others to constantly feed an individual’s insecurity or hunger for mattering and to tends to bend reality and the meaning of words and the power of actual exceptionalism. Look at it this way – have you noticed how even a small business owner, say a dry cleaner or construction company with maybe a a half dozen employees is no longer just “Owner” or “Principal.” In my job as business consultant and adviser to many of these types, I see more and more with “CEO” on their business cards. Why? Because the simple honor of running a business has been replaced with the need to appear outsize and more special – to seem super glamourous and extra-savvy: things that “CEO” are supposed to say about you, thanks to media messages and hype supporting that idea of specialness. Now exchange Hero with CEO and ask if you can see that a word can lose its value and meaning sometimes from over-use and misapplication? Some of those business owners are Courageous, Compassionate and Creative people. Many are not, or have not been, otherwise I wouldn’t be in their office helping them out of a jam, often a problem created out of their own heavy focus on what they need and how they can seem like more than they are and do so faster. They are often awful listeners or very callous about the needs or wisdom of others – customer or employee. These latter types who are struggling are often the ones who most resist the application of real, down to earth and useful titles as we go about restructuring their business. Returning to your boyfriend, there’s a good chance that he falls into that former group – the Courgaeous, Compassionate and Creative types – who just want to be recognized for living the Character that matters to them, to merely be regarded as a person you can count on when it counts, as well as when it doesn’t. That make sense?

      • Sandi July 2, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

        As I see it – when a person joins the military, (or, as in the past – is drafted) that person basically signs his/her name/life on a blank check for our country. To me, it takes courage and a real hero to do support my country and my freedom. I, for one, was going to join in the early 60’s, but lost courage – I thought of myself and not my country or my freedom. At that time, I did not qualify as a hero, although it’s true – there are heroes in every facet of life. My dad, a WWII Veteran, is a hero to me – he was sad and afraid to leave, but believed he was protecting his family and is country – at all costs, and lost many friends in the front line in the Philippines. As a husband and father of 2 small children, he went to war, and he did return home.

        I have written a poem titled, Our Servicemen, Our Heroes…pleases view that and others on my site –


  17. Sandi July 2, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    I don’t yet have it mentioned on my site, but I have t-shirts and sweatshirts I sell with my military poems on the back. The shirts with poems on the back include, “POW/MIA”, “Thanks To The Vietnam Vet”, and “Our Servicemen, Our Heroes”. T-shirts sell for $20 + shipping, and sweatshirts sell for $30 + shipping. There will soon be additional items listed. Sandi

    • Carl Street October 17, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

      How utterly disgusting to discover that 42+ years later there are still war profiteers vampirically gorging themselves on the blood of so many of my dead comrades while they hide behind the mask of patriotism.

  18. Carl Street October 16, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    Wow Sandii, what Vietnam war are you referring to??? I was in the one (8 aug 66 – 7 aug 72; D-6-2/101st Airborne/503 INF/95Bravo) where we rarely saw enemy combatants; shot up a lot of women, children, livestock, dogs, to make our body count quota – anything dead was counted as V.C.

    As salvation democracy pedaling “heroes” we also destroyed wells, crops, and food supplies; forcibly relocated thousands of villagers from lands they had occupied for 1,000 years into camps where they got diseases from poor sanitation; polluted water; and garbage level food rations.

    It was also the one where we helped develop the local economy by forcing illiterate displaced persons into situations where they had no choice but to support themselves with prostitution, drug-dealing, petty theft, etc. Most of which was patronized by military troops and contractor types who actually took the lion’s share of any proceeds and, when, the occasional I.G. whistle was blown; then hypocritically turned them in for draconian punishments and even death.

    Now that I am in my 60’s and my mortality looms before me I fear the eternal punishment of a just God who will have no choice but to damn me for all that I did and/or failed to prevent — erroneously believing that following orders would absolve me. I can only pray that in some small way I can forestall damnation by speaking out against misguided idtiots like you.

  19. Briana. November 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm #


  20. Briana. November 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    Soldier are heroes (:

  21. Briana. November 30, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    My boyfriend fights so your doesn’t get drafted (:

  22. Steve December 11, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    I had this discussion last night with a friend.

    In the UK, we have a registered charity called ‘Help for Heroes’ and I tried to explain to him why I thought this was wrong and they were not heroes. It is something that is very difficult to do without being attacked for having an opinion because it is deemed as ‘disrespectful’ to soldiers. But I think this charity has demeaned the word.

    To me, heroism is for someone who in the face of great danger, makes a sacrifice for the greater good. This can extend to a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his comrades etc, those individuals are heroes.

    But, the general armed forces are not heroes. They are paid for the work they do. They are tasked with a job which in some instances, can be deemed as completely unheroic (such as Carl’s comment above). A hero in that situation, would mutiny or go awol.

  23. Alexander Supertramp December 24, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    No, of course not. Some may be but all soldiers are not.

    Here’s great article

  24. Thomas Merriman April 28, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    Surely a hero is someone who undertakes a completely selfless act to aid someone else, knowing that they themselves will receive no benefit from it.

    I know many people who have joined the armed forces for the adrenaline rush, or to be seen as a better person in the eyes of the people at home, that’s not heroic really.

    And wars which our government fight in this age no longer seem to directly affect us at home, so you can’t say they’re “protecting us” like you could in WWII.

    I think there are many soldiers who are heroes, in the same way that there are many people who are heroes in society, but being a soldier does not make you a hero automatically.

    There are many more motives to become a soldier (many in self interest) than just to help people around them by putting their life on the line

  25. Anonymous July 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    In my experience, the people I have known who brag about their military service and all the great they have done turn out to be the ones who really aren’t “heroes.” The people I know who like to tell tales and brag about military accomplishments were either in for only 2-4 years or less than honorably discharged. These are facts they leave out when telling their tales. I do know one or two people who are decorated Vietnam Vets. I knew they were there, but I never knew about their medals, I found out years later from other relatives. It seems like the real heroes never brag or draw attention to themselves.

    I don’t believe that everyone who is sent to Iraq is a hero. They’re sent because they’re doing their job, a job they signed up for. I know three people who’ve been over there and all three said their part in it was easy, “cake” to be exact. They were nowhere near any action, had internet access, and basically made it out to be a slight inconvenience. To me, they’re not heroes. My friend who came back in a wheelchair because of another soldier’s stupid decision? Is he a hero? Maybe, maybe not. He didn’t lose the use of his legs saving anyone, he lost the use of them because of one of his own men making the wrong decision.


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