Are American Soldiers Automatically Heroes?

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 21 2012 @ 3:02pm


Last month, Stephen Marche said no:

To be a hero is to do the heroic, to reach above the call of duty. The men and women returning this year are just less selfish and privileged than everybody else. They have done their job. In a previous era we would call them something else — normal Americans.

Ari Kohen counters:

What he’s saying is that it was never heroic simply to serve, even when everyone was doing it. It was just doing one’s duty. But what he neglects to mention is that it used to be compulsory; we didn’t have the option not to do our duty.

Now, of course, one chooses to enlist, one makes the active assertion that military service is one’s duty. And that’s what opens up the opportunity for heroism. Because enlisting is optional, one must actively choose to make sacrifices, to put oneself in harm’s way. Without the choice to stay home, it’s much more difficult to make the case that there is a measure of heroism simply in someone’s service in the armed forces. But since it’s not necessary, and since the rewards often seem not to outweigh the risks, it makes sense to me to praise those who enlist.