Ground Zero and the Definition of a Hero

I was at Ground Zero yesterday with my brother and father and saw a wall listing all the names of those who died on 9/11. It was labeled the “heroes of 9/11”. There were unquestionably some heroes on that list, but all of them? They were definitely victims of an atrocious act, but doesn’t calling them all heroes reduce the meaning of the word for those who performed truly heroic acts that day? What happened that day is incomprehensible to someone who wasn’t there, and maybe to many who were there. Similarly the actions of some people that day are almost impossible to imagine – we should absolutely celebrate those heroes. But let’s make sure we give them the status they deserve and not remove the meaning of the word by sharing it so broadly.

7 Responses to Ground Zero and the Definition of a Hero

  1. Whitney Johnson September 28, 2007 at 6:13 am #

    Matt —

    When I worked at Merrill Lynch, our offices were at 4 World Financial Center, and so for many months after 9/11 I would be feel a great sense of sadness, especially loss, loss for our more innocent days as a nation.

    Your willingness to write what you wrote is appreciated, and an important distinction. If I had to distill it, I think I would say a hero is a person who acts rather than is acted upon.

    My best,


  2. kit84 September 28, 2007 at 10:36 am #

    I think the listing of the heroes is difficult, whilst I agree that not all the people on the list may have produced a heroic display, is it too harsh not to credit the majority so a minority are recognized? Or through our study of the heroic persona, does it not really matter as a hero does not feel the need to be hailed as one? Therefore not hailing anyone as a hero would be a better conclusion and that the memorial refer to all the casualties as something completely different?

    With regards to Whitney’s comment, the distinction between acting and acted upon is a good one, but I’m not sure if this is suitable in all cases. As a hero can still be someone who is asked to do something in a split second and they fulfill the act irrespective of the consequences. Taking it to the most basic level that they needed to have their attention focused on the problem or task at hand, before their heroic nature can be put to good use.

    I apologise if I have misinterepreted you comment and would love to here what you think Whitney.


  3. Matt Langdon September 28, 2007 at 3:25 pm #

    Thanks for the comments guys. Just in case anyone was wondering, I am definitely not suggesting that everyone who died that day should not be memorialized. It was simply the heading above their names that I question.

    Kit, I think you agree with Whitney. Action is required, whether it is initiated by the hero, or not. Responding to something happening is still action.

  4. steven September 28, 2007 at 11:36 pm #

    “Who were the heroes of 9/11? Everyone who died?”

    In my opinion, the heroes of 9/11 are the men and women who risked their lives by going into the towers and or helping other people out. The heroes were also the men and women who day in and day out searched through the debris to search for survivors and other victims.

  5. FAUST100F September 30, 2007 at 9:43 pm #

    The only hero’s at ground zero were those souls who placed their lives in jeopardy in order to save the lives of others, they know who they are, many of those poor souls died and did in fact sacrifice their lives in an attempt to save others, they were and are true Hero’s. Their names should be memorialized as heros; those they tried to save should be recognized for what they were, victims. Most people who get killed or lose their lives are not hero’s they are victims, if death makes one a hero, then the word means nothing, since we are all going to die. There should have been a death benefit including scholarships for the children of those who sacrificed themselves for others, but the awarding of a death benefit to victims is a slap in the face, otherwise the same benefit should be awarded every citizen who dies in this country.


  1. Anonymous - September 28, 2007

    Heroes of 9/11?

    Who were the heroes of 9/11? Everyone who died?

  2. Getting it Wrong « The Hero Workshop - December 11, 2007

    […] who has not done something heroic. These people have been victims of circumstance. I wrote about the victims of 9/11 being called heroes earlier and today I read an article calling someone who was at Pearl Harbor a […]