Lately I’ve been wondering a lot about heroes. What makes a person a hero? I used to think it had to do with a selfless act for the benefit of others, like a fireman rushing into a building to rescue someone. Or, better still, a bystander jumping into some ice cold river to save someone from drowning.
Somewhere along the line however, the idea of heroism has devaluated. A man who was shot down over Hanoi and who has consequently spent a long time in a notorious prisoner of war facility is suddenly a hero. Why? What did he do, other than following orders to bomb the shit out of people and failing to come home from his mission? Somehow that strikes me as odd, not in the least because it seems unfair to those who did come home that day.
Of course, if you buy into the prevailing ideology of the day – the infamous domino theory which stated that all of South East Asia was going to fall to Communism unless it was stopped – you could see John McCain as a fireman rushing in to save the people. But if the prevailing ideology of the day is to be the standard by which we measure things, then how do we look upon people fighting for Saddam Hussein, for Idi Amin and of course – for Hitler?
I don’t think you need examples of what the ideology of the day made the Germans do – so let’s not go there. In any case, I don’t think many in Vietnam would agree that McCain was trying to save them by bombing them – there is something decidedly unfiremanlike about lobbing high explosives at people. And let’s not fool ourselves into believing that the people of the United States benefited from what he did in Vietnam.
Let’s get down to basics with McCain: he did his job. Yes, he ‘served his country’ but let’s cut that down to size really quickly: so did Joseph Mengele, so did I, so did millions and millions of people on all sides of any conflict between states. It’s a meaningless phrase. He did his job. That makes most of us heroes.