This blog post appeared at Jacobin.
Last weekend, MSNBC host Chris Hayes offered the following sensible explanation for his reluctance to engage in a blanket application of the word “hero” to fallen U.S. military members:
I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.
The validity of his point, however, is underscored in Matt Kennard’s forthcoming book on the earthly identity of various candidates for heroic death: Irregular Army: How the War on Terror Brought Neo-Nazis, Gang Members and Criminals Into the US Military.
Kennard’s 2009 exposé for Salon on the increasing admission of such elements to the armed forces as a result of waning enlistment levels among less unsavory folks reveals that, “since the [white supremacist] movement’s inception, its leaders have encouraged members to enlist in the U.S. military as a way to receive state-of-the-art combat training, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, in preparation for a domestic race war.”
Other sorts of persons who might not be defined as heroes in a nonmilitary context are hinted at in a 2010 Time magazine article that begins:
What does it tell us that female soldiers deployed overseas stop drinking water after 7 p.m. to reduce the odds of being raped if they have to use the bathroom at night? Or that a soldier who was assaulted when she went out for a cigarette was afraid to report it for fear she would be demoted — for having gone out without her weapon? Or that, as Representative Jane Harman puts it, ‘a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.’
There are, of course, non-Neo-Nazi-rapist-gang-member soldiers who believe they are furthering a just cause via military service. Some of them even engage in behavior that would qualify as noble and heroic were it not occurring within an institution that is hugely destructive to human life across the globe. But that, of course, is exactly the context in which it occurs.