A hero is not necessarily someone who survives being in a war, or who happens to pull someone out of a car wreck. We call the former a survivor and the latter a brave person.
The term hero has been diluted and abused by movie "heroines " who call the most average guy "my hero " because of some simple thing he does for her. Today's dictionaries do define a hero as someone with courage who risks his life. I don't buy it. That was not the definition until recently. In the 1806 edition of the Johnson Dictionary, hero is defined as "A man eminent for bravery." or, "a man of highest class in any respect, as a hero in learning"
There's a difference between signing up in the military and really earning a reputation for bravery. Courage is good. Bravery is better, eminence for bravery is better, heroic is even better. Just as in schools, the feel-good error of easy grading has led to graduating of illiterates, the mislabeling of heroism has affected our language so now, we truly face a dearth of real heroes.
The true heroes and heroines among the GIs who have gone to Iraq have spoken out against the war. They have gone in as innocent brave souls, have seen wonders and horrors, made allies, fought and killed enemies, learned the arts of war and perhaps, arts of being a whole person, and they have come through the fire of war with new eyes, new heart and a different kind of courage. Not the courage to heft a powerful weapon. Rather, the courage to face truths that are different than they started with, truths that challenge the ideas about themselves and their world that they first travelled to their destination with.
The true heroes in Iraq have seen other GIs torture prisoners and have, against the "code of silence " reported these despicable acts, putting themselves at risk. This kind of heroism is not reported often. It is hidden, kept from the press, because the whole war in Iraq is based on the opposite of consciousness, the opposite of finding the higher truths
I routinely ask people who are the living heroes they value and respect. Many people refer to parents, siblings or other family members. Sometimes they seem justified, describing people who have been on real heroic journeys. There are very few famous people mentioned though. Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama ....
In these times, we need real heroes, not brave people who get mislabeled as heroes. We need exemplars who set inspiring examples we can look up to. While it is a kindness to call brave soldiers heroes, it is a disservice to our value system, a disservice to our children, who need to learn what it really takes to become a real hero. They see real heroes in some movies. Even Harry Potter, fails the test in his latest movie.
The thing about becoming a hero is that the journey is the reward. When the hero returns to the ordinary world he departed from, with the "holy grail " he successfully acquired to save his world, he has already saved himself and has grown beyond that old world. In movies, the hero often gets a huge reward --a kingdom, the girl, a lot of money, power --but these are not the real coin of the realm for heroes. The true success for the hero or heroineis raised consciousness --knowing who he or she really is, deep inside, and being true to that person.