Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Musing on Heroes and Warriors

On the Warrior Ethos, From the Army National Guard Recruitment page:

"In the face of a rapidly changing theater of operations, General Schoomaker, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, has personally called for a return to this most fundamental of creeds. The modern Guard, active now on battlefields around the world must be prepared for battle at all times. There is no such place as “behind the lines” any more. Our enemy will strike at us whenever and wherever they can. And we must be, we will be prepared to meet them and destroy them. And we will accomplish this mission by adhering to the Warrior Ethos:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade."

Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously, April 4th, 2005. The accounts that I've read of his heroism and sacrifice clearly describe this man as both a hero and a warrior. You don't have to agree with the motives behind the Iraq War and you don't have to like the ideology that keeps America in the conflict in order to feel a surge of admiration and respect for a man who voluntarily laysdown his own life to protect the lives of his comrades.

Then I found myself thinking about heroes, warriors, and how we value them.

I spent some time perusing the Congressional Medal of Honor page, and the stories of the recipients of the medal. It was an education for a would-be writer of fiction.

There is a certain kind of valor, a level of heroism remarkable in its purity, that seems to transcend ordinary human nature. Perhaps that is why the more cynical souls among us seek to diminish the weight of such acts. I suppose it would be more fashionable, at least among my most radical pc friends, if I were to write and think about Sgt. Smith's medal as a story told by the government at a time when this war badly needs some positive publicity.

I refuse to do that. I can't bring myself to diminish Sgt. Smith's valor that way.

I do want to think about it in terms of stories, though. I want to think about this act in terms of the stuff of heroism. This story is all the more poignant because of the accompanying pictures of the sergeant and his surviving loved ones--the human face. And I wonder if we need to recognize the face of the hero, to love him. If, in knowing and accepting his all-to-human failings, we recognize all the more the power of his transformation.

Our most revered medals aren't awarded for killing the most enemy combatants, like some real-life video-game--God save us all, if our culture ever comes to that.

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

This ethos seems to me to be about selflessness, about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. An effective fictitious hero/warrior must be recognizeably human--and still must embody selflessness.

The tension of the struggle between those two states of being is where the story lives.

1 comment:

Kay L. Schlagel said...

Start grinning because here is my comment. I agree totally and absolutly with your assessment of the hero. There are so many unsung and unrecognized heroes doing their job or just following their hearts. I've never been able to understand someone scoffing or saying "they were only doing their damn job". It's everyday heroes who take on those jobs, those hardships, and incredibly stupid people who have no idea what it is like putting your life and your heart on the line everytime you walk out of the safety of your home to go to those under-rated and mostly under-payed jobs ever day. Most of these heroes never receive a medal and some are never even noticed but I've known heroes and heroines my whole life and I thank God for each and every one of them. We may not always agree with the politics of our government but we must always support and remember those everyday people who are laying down their lives so that we don't have to.