Soap Box:  Heroes

September 4, 2003

Do you have any heroes? Are there certain people that you know, or have read about, that you consider as heroes? What does a person have to do in order to be a hero? Sadly, I think the term "hero" is thrown around much too loosely in today's society. It seems that hero is now synonymous with famous.

The point of this article is to tell you what I personally think it takes to make a hero and why I think some of the famous people in the news are not heroes. My definition of hero is much more strict than what you might find in a dictionary. Being admired for your achievements or just being legendary doesn't garner you hero status in my eyes.

Let's tackle the sport's figures. I've heard quite a few people call basketball legend Michael Jordan a hero. He went to college, he played good ball, and he makes millions of dollars. Does that mean he's a hero? I've also heard people refer to golfing pro Tiger Woods as a hero. He plays good golf and also makes millions of dollars. How about NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnheart? Is he a hero because he drove well and died while racing at Daytona?

None of these people are heroes to me. Being good at a sport and being rich doesn't quality a person as a hero. Being a hero means bravery to me. It means overcoming a fear and facing down dangers that ordinary people would not. It means putting yourself at risk in order to help others. It means risking your life for the safety of your common man. None of these sports figures have done this. They might have given a portion of their wealth to charity, but it didn't change their wealthy status or cause them any hardship what so ever. They had the extra money and they gave. While that might make them good people, it isn't enough to make them heroes.

And what of the military? Quite a few people in the military have been branded a hero and given a medal. And some of them deserved the title and medal. There has been many cases of soldiers and sailors putting their fellow man above their own safety. Some have charged machine gun nests during war. Some gave up their life vests in shark infested waters to help other sailors. Some have fought to the bitter end, knowing it meant their lives would be over, to keep others safe. These are real heroes. But just being in the military and performing dangerous duty doesn't necessarily quality one for hero status in my eyes. You have to do something beyond the normal. One reason I have such a harsh requirement for being a hero is that I don't consider myself a hero. That means if you're doing something that I would do without hesitation, you might not be a hero.

Do you remember Captain Scott O'Grady? He was an Air Force pilot shot down in Bosnia in 1995. He was feared dead, but then found alive six days later. He survived by hiding in the bushes and eating bugs. He was declared a hero, given medals, and came home to tickertape parades. I say that he was not a hero. There's nothing heroic about losing a multi-million dollar plane and hiding in the bushes. He was doing his job as a military pilot. It's something that I would have gladly done. He wasn't considered a hero before he was shot down, so he shouldn't be considered one afterwards. He didn't do anything heroic. If he deserved a medal for heroism, why didn't the military give it to him before he lost his plane? Now if he had purposely flown his plane into enemy fire to save another pilot or gather crucial information for the United States, then I might think of him as a hero. But he had no reason to suspect he would be shot down and for him, it was a routine mission.

What about Jessica Lynch? She was a 20 year old Army private that had the misfortune of being in a convoy that made a wrong turn in Iraq during the "search for weapons of mass destruction" war. After being rescued, she also came home to a hero's welcome, along with medals. Did she do anything heroic? Let's see, she made wrong turn, got in a wreck, and got hurt pretty bad. She was a prisoner of war for a while, then got rescued. I see nothing heroic in her actions at all. If she wasn't given a medal before getting captured, why should she get one afterwards? About the only medal she should get is the purple heart, because she got hurt while being under fire. (By the way, just being hurt while performing military duty shouldn't mean you get a purple heart metal. They hand those things out like candy these days.) Being captured doesn't mean that you're a hero. If that were the case, then thousands of Iraqis should also be considered heroes.

Who are heroes? People that risk their lives for others, that's who. People that run into a burning building or leap into a raging river in order to save someone else. People that put their own safety aside in order to keep others safe. People who purposely do heroic acts are heroes. Sports figures who are good at their sport and rich because of it, are not heroes. Military personnel who have the accidental misfortune of being caught or injured are not heroes. Lowering the bar of heroism to include these kind of people tarnishes and diminishes the actions of those that are truly heroes, in every sense of the word.

Jeff Polston

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