Saturday, March 24, 2012

What is a Hero?

Heroes.  From super-powered to Soldiers, we have many examples of Heroes.  Some are fictional and have no real basis.  Sure we'd all like to be Spiderman, until we got our asses handed to us by Venom or any of the hundred odd baddies that are always trying to kill him.  There are even Heroes that have no opponent, but Nature or Adversity.  Christopher Columbus, The Pilgrims, The Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell are all fine examples of Pioneers whose quite frankly heroic actions inspired others to greatness.

To the Greeks, Specifically the Mycenaean Period (the Era of the Trojan war) but also into the Classical Period (Marathon and Thermopylae) a Hero wasn't necessarily a "good" guy.  If you actually read the Odyssey or the Iliad a lot of the "Heroes" depicted are not really good guys.  Ajax goes nuts after the death of Achilles and pretty much kills everything in his path before being killed himself.  Achilles gets pissed that his trophy girl is taken so he sleeps with a random slave girl, then gets pissed that Patriclos his cousin is killed while wearing his armor so he kills Hector (one of the few actually decent people in the whole saga and he's with the"bad" guys from the Greek perspective) and drags him around the city.   Odysseus, is a royal dick who uses his cleverness to pretty much cheat everyone that comes along (including Ajax, who he has a hand in driving insane) and while he spent 7 years at war, and 7 years getting back home to Ithaca, he bedded pretty much every woman that came along, while his faithful wife waited for him. 

The Classical Period is if anything worse.  You know the movie 300?  Yeah the culmination of their initiation they don't go kill a wolf in forests that look suspiciously American.  The would sneak out and kill a Helot.  a slave.  They wouldn't be punished for killing the Slave if they got caught, they would be punished for being caught.  Pretty brutal.  But for all that, tell me, does Leonidas's  pronouncement "ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ" have any less impact.  When someone tells you to lay down your weapons and you say something to the effect of "come and take them if you're man enough" (a lot of insinuation in the original Greek language) does that inspire you any less?  A small force staring down a force that outnumbers them 200:1 +/- and not only holding their ground but doing it defiantly will inspire anyone.  Even though they lost. The Alamo was chalk full of real life honest to God Folk Heroes from the Early American West, they all died.  Does that inspire you any less?  

Perhaps the fact that even though our very real heroes are fallible, they rise above their failings to do things that many thought impossible.  Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, All heroes.  All in very different ways.  Indeed rare are the heroes that are always complete paragons of virtue.  Jefferson had slaves, Adams was cantankerous, Franklin was a playboy, Hamilton was a snob.  Yet these very disparate men somehow found in themselves virtues that they managed to play off the other, the result is one of the most amazing countries in the history of the world.

Audie Murphy was a hero whose bravery is beyond question, but his much less known battles with Hollywood elites and his  own battles with very real (and sometimes debilitating) PTSD are if anything far more heroic.  He faced down his demons time and again.  You can tell it cost him.  He actually stepped forward to talk about PTSD before anyone really had a clue what the hell it was.But every war has their heroes.  Some are unexpected, far to many die in the process.  Any student of WVU should know Thomas Bennett a Medic for 1/14 Infantry who died trying to save his fellow soldiers.  He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. 

What about the Crews of Apollo 1, STS 51-L, or STS-107.  They are Heroes.  More for the enormous risk they took, and the eventual cost of their lives in advancing the space program.  Indeed images of Challenger's break up are seared into our national consciousness.  We forget the bravery it takes to climb into a rocket that has a million moving parts and fly at nearly 15 times the speed of sound, but it takes skill, desire and most of all daring.  Their legacy is their passion which inspires us not to fear, but rather to reach out as they did.  "To slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of God"

In the end Heroism is not complex.  It is rather simple.  Its taking a risk, and rising above your fears.  Beyond that simple fact every aspect of what makes a Hero is almost ineffable.  The qualities that define and make a Hero to us are always out of reach, and perhaps it is better that way.  That we may always have someone to look to that stands tall even when all hope seems lost.  Perhaps knowing where their strength, conviction or drive comes from is beside the point.  One thing is clear.  No one, ever chooses to be a Hero.  It is always a circumstance of time and place as much as the actual person.  But we all hope that should the time come, should the demands ever be placed upon us, we would not only rise to the challenge but inspire others to do so.  In the end isn't that what a Hero really is?


Anonymous said...

"A hero is a scared man that won't walk away"

-Kenny Thomas, from the song Hero

Argent said...

There are quite a lot of heroes in my book. Some of them earn such in an instant of bravery and others work away at it with dedication for years. Some may protect us from harm, or heal the harm or forge ahead in new areas.

I am not so enamored of heroes of illusion or religion. I think I prefer them as human and real so they may inspire me and others to better things.

Some are very reluctant to call a mil a hero but why not if it is true so therefore it is. Not that I think every soldier is a hero but still the pattern is there.

And yes at the same time a hero is good in one major sense but not always good overall or in every sense. I'm quite sure many have done dark deeds and quite a few have tasted society's punishment as well as adoration, presuming they were noticed in both cases.

But I think it emphasises the humanity of it. We're all called to greatness, we can all slip and slip badly too. That it can happen in the same person is no great surprise.

A hero doesn't exactly choose to be a hero but they may chose the action which is ultimately heroic.

I think quite a lot of heroes chose for love of someone or something.