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American Soldiers: Heroes or Victims?

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"There was never a good war, or a bad peace." -- Benjamin Franklin

Clint Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor Monday by President Obama, but with "mixed emotions" as he thought about his fallen American comrades in Afghanistan. As is typical in these situations, Romesha was repeatedly described as a "hero." Sorry, I don't buy it.

That same day there was a memorial service for legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, apparently killed by a mentally unbalanced fellow soldier he was trying to help. Kyle was honored as the military's deadliest sniper, having killed at least 160 enemy soldiers in Iraq. The term "hero" was freely used for this extraordinary marksman. In this case, too, I don't buy it.

I cannot accept the concept of "heroes" in combat. I cringe whenever soldiers are glorified, no matter the circumstances. In the words of Harry Patch, the last surviving  soldier of WWI, "War is organized murder, and nothing else." There is nothing heroic about killing for your country, especially since World War II, our last legally declared war. Soldiers are victims for sure, but not heroes. There is nothing glorious about killing in wartime. War is senseless, stupid, and as William Tecumseh Sherman described it, "hell."

I don't doubt that Romesha and Kyle were exceptional and brave soldiers, and probably decent human beings.  But no soldier should be considered a hero when his accomplishments involve killing  "enemy combatants" who, when you come right down to it,  are defending their country from foreign attackers (Americans) in our country's lastest destructive, unnecessary, and bogus war/occupation.


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Let's not perpetuate the myth that our soldiers are defending American soil or preserving our freedoms. Again, you have to go back to WWII for that. However brave those two decorated men and thousands of other American soldiers were, the fact that they were invading foreign countries primarily for the benefit of oil companies and other multinational corporations does not earn them the right to be called "heroes." As former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan admitted in his memoir The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

You can make a case that invading Afghanistan was justified, as they were harboring the al-Qaeda that planned 9/11. But we quickly took care of al-Qaeda, and replaced the Taliban government. Does anybody know a good reason why we've been occupying that sorry country for the last decade? Afghanistan and Iraq are just two of many examples of wasted lives and bodies in American wars, interventions, and occupations since the Second World War.

And unfortunately, referring to soldiers as heroes only perpetuates what is indefensible, namely the glorification of war, the most ignoble of all human enterprises. When soldiers are portrayed as warriors to be honored and admired, it encourages recruitment of future soldiers and the waging of future unnecessary armed conflict. I prefer the old saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came." That would be a dream and a goal worth pursuing. Exalting the young men and women going overseas and risking their lives, limbs, and minds to kill foreigners in our name for the benefit of America's corporate economic interests is dangerous and immoral.

The soldiers involved in our overseas conflicts today-- no matter their fate, no matter how brave and able--are really just victims, never heroes. They shouldn't be going around the world helping build an empire. They should be coming home.

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Arlen is a writer/blogger living in Monterey, CA. His political blog is He writes a weekly quotation quiz "What's Your QQ?" (Quotation Quotient) for the Monterey Herald, as well as a website and (more...)

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Being a hero in wartime involves at least some kil... by Arlen Grossman on Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 at 9:40:01 AM
These men go because they believe what they are do... by Ivan Boatwright on Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 at 4:39:26 PM
I understand what you are saying. My intention is ... by Arlen Grossman on Sunday, Feb 17, 2013 at 12:06:38 AM
... invading for resources, shooting down passenge... by Ad Du on Sunday, Feb 17, 2013 at 10:30:39 AM
Neither. Mercenaries would be more accurate.... by Marta B on Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 2:45:44 AM