Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.61.4: HEROES AND MARTYRS

V061-04_heroesmartyrsF“Heroes”


A Walmart television ad pumps their new “American Heroes” campaign. It’s always a good idea in America to hook your support of the troops to selling your crap made mostly in China. That’s because every American who dies or is wounded in our wars of choice is, as we are told, a hero. That makes all of us “heroes” when we go to the mall, flip out the plastic, and show those damn terrorists that we won’t be deterred from achieving the greatest private debt in the history of capitalism. Meanwhile our camouflaged preemptive protectors of the American Way will keep the infidel bastards at bay while sprinkling their lands with a gentle rain of soi-disant democracy. We are told that they are “fighting for our freedom,” no matter what contortion of logic, history, or common sense is necessary to factor that into our reality, so they are heroes.


The bellicose among us like the appellation of “hero.” It’s rather like when we decided in school that nobody “failed,” but was held back or put in some other, more “special needs” category. The euphemization of the “challenged” disabled is perhaps even closer to some of the “heroes” that war creates. So the soldier who returns with some limbs missing from, with PTSD, or in a metal box, is axiomatically a “hero,” whether he or she feels like one, or not. Indeed, in the wee hours when reality is a cruel companion, he or she might just feel like a victim. If so, they are doubly a victim when they are exploited with the term “hero” by the militarists and certified cowards like Bush and Cheney who march them out like Walmart ads, displaying Marines as crusading knights and others as an Army of One (leg, arm, or eye).


Jessica Lynch is a hero. She drove into an ambush early in the Iraq war, was wounded, and probably had her life saved by the ministrations of a Iraqi doctor. Seems she never fired a shot, but the Pentagon turned her into an amalgam of Wonder Woman and Boadica. She probably sees her Iraqi doctor as a hero.


The Pentagon called Pat Tillman is a hero, too. He was the pro football player who gave up his lucrative contract to be an Army Ranger in Afghanistan. He was killed by his own troops and the whole was a cover-up so he could he canonized a “hero” until the truth came out.


We need a new ad, one that says the “The Military does not give a rat’s ass for you and reserves the right to exploit you even after you are maimed or dead. And, the politician who trots you out as dressing for his war speech has probably just voted to cut your Veteran’s benefits as a sop to the anti-tax warriors. That’s how we treat our ‘heroes’.” Walmart is free to exploit the “heroes,” too; but Target might be a more apt purveyor of such distortion—because that’s what so many of our “heroes” were and are—targets.


“Martyrs”


Targets of the “martyrs.” Martyrs are the Muslim counterpart of the American Hero. Their militarists (and mullahs) employ the same bullshit to sell this faux form of heroism that is the mirror of the (scarcely) secularized version of the American hero come-on. Martyrs, like our “heroes,” need the corresponding evil enemy to throw themselves up against, and there seems almost a co-dependency between the American country boy with few positive identity prospects better than being a “war hero,” and the similarly-situated Iraqi or Afghani young man, motivated by the immortal appellation of hero or martyr. Admittedly, a suicide-bomber martyr doesn’t end up in being much of a expense for whatever for of “veteran’s benefits” their side offers; but the distinction between our “heroes” and their “martyrs” is merely one of degree, not kind.


War is often first waged linguistically. Language is used to construct a rationale for conflict, demonizing the enemy, and then building a fighting force with noble-sounding terms and, finally, fictionalizing the whole (often) foolish and bloody experience with parades of “heroes” and monuments to “martyrs.” Language itself becomes a casualty when “hero” is cheapened from the extraordinary selfless deed to a political slogan and martyrdom and suicide become synonyms.


There is even a dumb NBC TV series called Heroes, with people traveling trough time to right wrongs they have committed and other really dorky plot lines for . . . well . . .the kind of people who watch this sort of drivel. But the point is that anybody—the Little League coach, the killer of a women’s clinic doctor, your favorite quarterback, , the NRA “Minuteman” at the border—can be a hero in America. Hence the term has become meaningless.


But the surest way to called an American is to be wearing some sort of uniform. If you are a cop, a fireman, or maybe even a security guard, you can be a “hero” in America. So that Walmart greeter in the greeter shirt, the one who might have to deal with a crisis such as when a sale on Barbie Dolls, or the new X-Box, is on, and the shoppers are surging in at a dangerous pace and number—that overweight, superannuated, underpaid Greeter is a HERO. This is America, man, Land of Heroes.*
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© 2009, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 11.6.2009)
See also, Archives No. 13. 3: The End of Heroism; and No. 49. 4: True Heroes
*In the extremely unlikely event that such a Walmart Greeter also might also be a Muslim, or more likely is a bit too overweight and overaged, he,or she, could qualify for “martyr” as well.

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