November 11th in the United States is marked and marred by a holiday that relatively recently had its name changed to "Veterans Day" and its purpose converted and perverted into celebrating war. This year a "Concert for Valor" will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
In the box at right is a blurb from the concert website. "Thank you for your service" and "Support the troops" are phrases used to get people to support wars without thinking about whether they should be supporting wars. Notice that you're supposed to thank veterans first and ask them which war they were in and what they did in it afterwards. What if you oppose war? Or what if you oppose some wars and some tactics?
Here's the disgusted response to the Concert for Valor from a veteran who's sick of being thanked for his so-called service:
"There is no question that we should honor people who fight for justice and liberty. Many veterans enlisted in the military thinking that they were indeed serving a noble cause, and it's no lie to say that they fought with valor for their brothers and sisters to their left and right. Unfortunately, good intentions at this stage are no substitute for good politics. The war on terror is going into its 14th year. If you really want to talk about "awareness raising," it's years past the time when anyone here should be able to pretend that our 18-year-olds are going off to kill and die for good reason. How about a couple of concerts to make that point?"
I'm going to repeat here something I said in War Is A Lie:
Random House defines a hero as follows (and defines heroine the same way, substituting "woman" for "man"):
"1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
"2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child. . . .
"4. Classical Mythology.
"a. a being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity."
Courage or ability. Brave deeds and noble qualities. There is something more here than merely courage and bravery, merely facing up to fear and danger. But what? A hero is regarded as a model or ideal. Clearly someone who bravely jumped out a 20-story window would not meet that definition, even if their bravery was as brave as brave could be. Clearly heroism must require bravery of a sort that people regard as a model for themselves and others. It must include prowess and beneficence. That is, the bravery can't just be bravery; it must also be good and kind. Jumping out a window does not qualify. The question, then, is whether killing and dying in wars should qualify as good and kind. Nobody doubts that it's courageous and brave. But is it as good a model as that of the man arrested this week for the crime of giving food to the hungry?
If you look up "bravery" in the dictionary, by the way, you'll find "courage" and "valor." Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary defines "valor" as
"a soldierly compound of vanity, duty, and the gambler's hope.
'Why have you halted?' roared the commander of a division at Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge: 'move forward, sir, at once.'
'General,' said the commander of the delinquent brigade, 'I am persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring them into collision with the enemy.'"
But would such valor be good and kind or destructive and foolhardy? Bierce had himself been a Union soldier at Chickamauga and had come away disgusted. Many years later, when it had become possible to publish stories about the Civil War that didn't glow with the holy glory of militarism, Bierce published a story called "Chickamauga" in 1889 in the San Francisco Examiner that makes participating in such a battle appear the most grotesquely evil and horrifying deed one could ever do. Many soldiers have since told similar tales.