James M. Flammang, author of 30 books (including
six for children), is at work on several more,
including the title described below.
An independent journalist since the 1980s, Flammang
specialized in the automobile business. During
2016, he turned away from cars and into more vital
topics: work/labor, consumer concerns, and especially,
the emerging outrages of the Trump administration. His
website, Tirekicking Today (tirekick.com) has been
online since 1995.
In other situations, however, heroism is a word that gets tossed around way too freely. When President Obama's order to eliminate Osama bin Laden in 2011 resulted in the terrorist leader's killing, the reactions were both predictable and surprising. Opponents of the President, as always during this Administration, decried the manner in which the deed was accomplished. At the same time, many of Obama's supporters on the Democratic side began to speak of his order in praiseworthy terms, as a signal of the President's strength and resolve, perhaps even bordering on the heroic.
Now, wait a minute. Three things are wrong with those opinions from prominent Democrats (or anyone else):
1. Ordering someone killed by one of the military forces under your command can be construed as a heroic Presidential act only by dredging up a really serious stretch of the definition of that word. Not only was the murder done by someone else, but its target was someone who resides on the other side of the world. This is murder by proxy, far removed from the scene of the order for its execution.
2. While the murder of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seals may have been necessary as a possible means of stemming near-future terrorist attacks, killing should never be something to boast about, and take pride in–regardless of how horrific the victim has been in life.
3. It's fair to wonder if all other possible means to remove bin Laden were seriously considered, including a concerted effort to capture rather than kill him.
The wildly overblown reactions to this incident signal a broader question that needs to be asked, but seldom is: Who's heroic, anyway? Is it ever heroic to do a great deed that's a regular part of your job–the duty you signed on for? Does everyone who performs what's deemed a heroic act deserve the honors and medals that are issued?
More generally, can you be heroic if you're not afraid to step into the fray?
Take an unprovoked street fight, for example; or an assault by a group of thugs on a passerby. Is it cowardly to deal with an aggressor by simply accepting his blows, whether physical or verbal? Or, are those who put up with life's bullies actually exhibiting courage in some perverse yet admirable way?
In urban American society, five "tough guys" with weapons beating up a defenseless person typically see themselves as heroic and the victim as cowardly. Viewed objectively, this is bizarre. Most often, this distorted personal appraisal of their valor (and their victim's presumed "weakness") is echoed by their cohorts–especially the younger, up-and-coming thugs searching for behavior to emulate. How can this be? How could such distortions of reality have become accepted as reality?
Several years ago, TV comedian/commentator Bill Maher was fired from his network job because he questioned the wisdom and logic of calling military men who do their fighting from afar–pushing buttons rather than engaging in up-close encounters–heroic. Such questions have been around ever since warfare started to move away from hand-to-hand combat. When the first primitive man developed an ability to throw a rock a long way, accurately, the concept of battle was altered forever. Every advancement since then is merely an elaboration of the notion that fighting doesn't have to be up close and personal.
Eons ago, then, the definition of heroism should have changed accordingly. Yet, few of us ever bother to question it. Instead, we simply accept that every participant in battle, whether sitting in a plane cockpit or a far-off command center, is on equal footing with those who are facing immediate danger down on the ground. Do the far-removed button-pushers warrant the same level of acclaim as those doing the actual fighting, or holding themselves in position to engage at the appropriate time?
How about the teacher who goes every day into a tough school, attempting to convey knowledge to reluctant young minds? What about the doctor who practices in a war-torn part of the world, or in an urban "jungle" in America? Are these people not the true heroes of humanity?
Only occasionally are everyday people declared heroic, even if they face real, tangible dangers each day. Most of us acknowledge that firemen and policemen are engaged in potentially heroic occupations. Even if a police officer never has to draw his or her gun, that person is facing the prospect of danger and grave harm on a regular basis. Still, those officers signed on for such duty, exchanging various benefits from the job for the possibility of one day enduring physical harm and possibly death. Should that happen at some point in the course of an officer's duties, does it–can it–qualify as heroism?
Sometimes, it clearly does, when that officer stretches beyond the ordinary call of duty and takes an enhanced risk to prevent disaster or harm to others. But what if the "heroic" actions are essentially in keeping with the risk that every officer is expected to take, by virtue of being issued a badge and a weapon? If you're simply doing your job, is special commendation appropriate, compared to regular citizens who intervene in a bad situation that has nothing to do with them, personally?
Seen from another perspective, many a victim of bullies or attackers has suffered the indignity of regret and/or guilt for the rest of his life, because he did not resist the assaults with sufficient vigor and emerge victorious. The fact that he may have been–and probably was–outnumbered, or faced brutes who were far stronger physically, untroubled by conscience and vastly more skilled in the ways of street "warfare," does not absolve the guilt-ridden victim from his failure to retaliate.
Worse yet, what if the incident occurred while the victim was accompanied by a woman–one who'd bought into the absurd notion that a "real man" would fight back and likely win, even if grossly outnumbered and outgunned? That unfortunate fellow won't be given much opportunity to put the assault behind him and move on. In all too many eyes, he's demonstrated his cowardice, while the attackers may even perceive themselves as perversely heroic.
What's going on here? That's absurd. When will we wake up and begin to recognize, and applaud, the true heroes of civilized life, rather than cling to militaristic, gladiatorial themes from the distant past?
If the bin Laden assassination could be construed as "murder by proxy," what are we to make of the drones that have been flying overseas, targeting American citizens who are suspected of posing a terrorist threat. Using unmanned planes to kill presumed enemies, controlled from far away, is trivializing the very act of assassination. At least, the gladiators of ancient times did their killing up close, with their own bloodied hands.
Publishers: For further information on availability of Absurdities and all other book projects from James M. Flammang, editor of Tirekicking Today (www.tirekick.com), please e-mail us at JF@tirekick.com.