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Chris Hayes Is My Hero (Or Almost Was)

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MSNBC's Chris Hayes took  a lot of flack for saying something that needed to be said: soldiers should not be called "heroes." Here is what got him in trouble on his Sunday show, "Up With Chris Hayes":

"I think it's interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words "heroes." Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word "hero"? I feel comfortable -- uncomfortable -- about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don't want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that's fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I'm wrong about that."

  From the sound of his last sentence, I suspect he suddenly realized that he would surely face attack for this politically incorrect point of view. Hayes even issued an apology the next day, which is why he went from my hero to "almost hero" in my eyes.

As I wrote in a blog post  "Our Soldiers: Heroes or Victims?" last July:

"In my mind, our soldiers (even if they are nice people) should never be called "heroes." Whenever we glorify military service and killing, it only makes it easier for our government and the Military-Industrial-Media Complex to sell our perpetual military incursions, the current one, the next ones, and the ones after that."

There is nothing glorious, wonderful, or heroic about war. Gruesome, insane, horrible, hell, and evil are more accurate ways to describe armed conflict between nations or groups of people. As Benjamin Franklin told us, "There was never a good war, or a bad peace."

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I have no problem with defending this country, and we need a strong military for that. However, there is such a thing as overkill, literally and figuratively. It's  been decades since the Defense Department actually did any "defending."  America has moved its focus from defense to preemptive war. Over the last decades in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and smaller conflicts in-between, the U.S. military has inflicted  death, injury and trauma on hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and millions of innocent civilians in other countries.

I'm not against our soldiers, many of whom are individually brave and good people, but I reject even the tiniest glorification of their job. Truth be told, American soldiers are more often victims than heroes, following the orders of rich old men who never served in combat, risking their lives to assist oil and other multinational corporations in the exploitation of natural resources overseas.

Chris Hayes has learned the lesson all advocates for peace learn: you are not allowed to question war without paying a price. Nazi leader Hermann Goering understood the process well:

"it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along"the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

It's sad but understandable Chris Hayes had to backtrack--he does have a prestigious network job he'd like to keep. But he was right the first time: "hero" is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war."

So let's steer away from soldier "heroes," false patriotism, displays of exciting aircraft and high-tech weapons, and the "fighting for our country" and "defending our freedom" rhetoric. For whenever we extol military service and government-sanctioned killing, we make it easier for  the Military/Industrial/Congressional/Media complex to sell and perpetuate our never-ending military incursions.

It's better that we stick to reality. War always results in killing, mayhem, destruction, and harm to all but those who financially profit from it. If we are ever to reduce or rid ourselves of this time-honored but deadly scourge, we have to tell the truth and resist the urge to praise or glorify war.

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Arlen is a writer/blogger living in Monterey, CA. His political blog is He also writes a quotation quiz "What's Your QQ?" at

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