Heroes, Even if You Don't Believe in the Mission
'Forward, the Light Brigade!'from "Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Here is my answer. Our service members are heroes by any reasonable commonly accepted definition of the word. A hero is someone who is seen by the people as displaying heroic qualities, with an emphasis on courage and bravery. By that common definition, yes, our service personnel are heroes. They are heroes in a world where heroism is all to rare because it requires believing in a cause greater than yourself. In our morally-impoverished our post-modern madness we don't believe in anything except that nothing is worth believing in.
One does not have to agree with the decision to fight whatever war they are engaged in to believe that they are heroes. For example, I opposed our intervention in Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and they were no threat to the United States. To the contrary, we were imposing a no-fly zone and otherwise meddling in their country. Still, our service members who fought in that war were American heroes.
How can I say that? It is not up to a 22 year old private to morally evaluate the decision to engage in war with another nation. As with the light brigade, his is not to reason why, his is but to do or die.
For those not familiar with it, the poem celebrates a unit of young British soldiers battling the Muslim Turks in the Crimean War. Because of a mistake, their outfit and their outfit alone was ordered to advance into a line packed with hostile guns. Though the order made no military sense, they charged the guns and were beaten back with heavy losses. The reason this poem still stirs the heart is that it speaks to a truth about heroes. There is nobility about being brave and following even commands that you don't always understand. The moral responsibility for any error in such a case falls on those who issued the bad orders rather on those who faithfully and courageously executed them.
So long as his fight is with enemy forces and not looting or terrorizing civilians, we should not judge the soldier by the justness or injustice of the war he or she fights. This is not their call to make. Rather, it is the nation's leaders we should hold accountable for taking the nation into unnecessary and ruinously expensive and bloody wars which have clearly done nothing to make us safer or more free. The major outcome of such adventurism is to transfer wealth from the middle class of the United States to the Military-Industrial Complex which is rapidly becoming a Military-Police State Complex.
But does that mean that in World War Two the German soldiers were also heroes? For Germans, yes it does. Many of them fought bravely and well. The cause for which they fought was evil, but the young men who fought for the Wehrmacht did not understand all that. They were fighting for their nation. Many were drafted against their will.
This does not mean that all men in uniforms were heroes though. Consider the Nazi S.S. units who rounded up Jews and political opponents of the Nazi Party. These men were not heroes by any definition. It takes little bravery and courage for a group of men with guns to roust terrified civilians out of their beds at night and send them off to the camps. Not all men in uniform with guns are heroes. Some are villains, whose villainy is made all the worse for their wearing the adornments of those we recognize as true heroes.
At the Nuremberg trials the world did not accept the pleas of these villains that they "were only following orders." The typical German soldiers followed orders heroically, and were excused for any hurt resulting from their actions. Not so the S.S. units. The world recognized that there was no heroism in guns turned on civilians, prisoners, and political opponents.
I fear that very soon, the people of the United States will come to understand this distinction all too well. Will we ever see the day when villains disguised in the clothing of heroes come and turns their guns on the civilians of our own nation? Will we ever see the day when we are rousted from our homes and sent to camps simply for doing things that formerly were considered our God-given right? I hope not, but if we do, I pray that our heroes know what to do about it.