Campos on Hayes’ Unnecessary Apology


Paul Campos reacts perfectly to the emotionally-charged reaction to Chris Hayes’ entirely reasonable statement that merely being a soldier does not make someone a hero, for which Hayes has now issues a completely unnecessary and tortured apology.

We live in a culture in which someone like Hayes cannot suggest, even the most diffident, nuanced, and self-deprecating way, that automatically labeling every American soldier who dies in war a “hero” might be an oversimplification of a difficult set of moral and political questions without thereby releasing such a storm of indignation that he is forced to immediately recant such a terrible heresy.

When it comes to war and peace nothing less than full-throated stupidity is acceptable in our public discourse, and any sign of ambivalence regarding the righteousness of the various causes for which around 1.34 million American soldiers have died is to be stamped out as an offense to the memory of the honored dead. (This view produces some logical problems in the context of America’s bloodiest war, but logic is never an impediment to pseudo-patriotic fervor).

Note too the perniciousness of the idea that Hayes’ civilian status is assumed even by himself — or at least his contrite persona –to disqualify him from having a valid opinion on such matters — a disqualification that obviously doesn’t apply to the armies of chicken hawk pundits who deploy their keyboards to celebrate whatever foreign adventure they and their masters have deemed worth the cost of someone else’s life.

Bingo. What we are seeing is a perfect example of how public discourse in this country works to punish anyone who dares to question the government on matters of war. It’s a very effective way to silence dissent without needing a law to do it. This is what happens when you turn patriotism into a marketing slogan. Don’t believe me?

Comments

  1. Taz says

    I have no problem labeling every American soldier who dies in war a hero. I also have no problem questioning the legitimacy or necessity of the war in which they died – I’ve heard combat veterans do the same. Argue against the conflict and the politicians who caused it. Leave the foot soldier out of it.

  2. d cwilson says

    I see the same thing with people calling 9/11 “Patriot Day”. I can see down the line when we commemorate the deaths of 3000 Americans with a Toyotathon.

  3. uncephalized says

    @Taz, I disagree, but it’s a matter of subjective preference, not fact, how you or I want to use the word. I think there are plenty of soldiers who join up for nothing but the money, who aren’t particularly brave or good, and who die either because they did something stupid or by basically random chance, in a morally meaningless way that means nothing. Calling these people heroes just for showing up to their job–even if it is a dangerous one–and happening to get killed is a waste of a good word IMO. I’d rather save it for people who risk themselves above and beyond their ordinary duty and accomplish something memorable and worthwhile doing it.

  4. says

    Taz,
    You must have a very low standard for calling someone a hero. I define a hero as someone who, with no thought or expectation of personal benefit, puts themselves at significant risk of injury or death for the benefit of someone else.
    Most soldiers, sailors and airmen/airwomen, don’t fit this description merely because they die in war. For many members of the armed forces (and I was one for 27 years) it is a job, albeit, often a job that members (including me) feel is in support of a higher purpose. I can assure you that most military members would not do the job for free. They are taking risks (yes, risks they consider moral) because that is their job and what they are being paid for. I don’t see this as any different or more heroic than a member of any other profession who dies on the job. A cabbie, for example, who is murdered by a passenger is rarely considered a hero despite being in a very dangerous profession which provides a vital public service.
    There are heroes in warfare. The soldier who runs into machine gun fire to save an injured comrade, for example. I would be hesitant, however, to cheapen the meaning of the word by including those who are really just unfortunate victims who were doing their job.

  5. Michael Heath says

    I’m near the end of Gordon Wood’s masterpiece Empire of Liberty, a history of the U.S. from 1789 – 1815. In the chapter regarding the War of 1812 Wood reports a primary motivation for the U.S. to go to war was contentious trade policies on the high seas between the U.S., France, and especially Britain.

    Dr. Wood reports two very distinct voting patterns amongst members of Congress voting for or against that war. The other context needed to understand this pattern was his analysis that the policies started during the Jefferson Administration which ultimately led to the war were totally incompetent. In an enormous volume exceeding 700 pages it’s one of the few occurrences where we get a subjective opinion from Wood.

    The first pattern was the further a Congressman’s district was from the ports and people in the U.S. effected by these trade disputes, the more inclined they were to vote for war – and contra for those with affected sea ports in their district. The second pattern was the more impactful those disputed trade policies were to a district or state’s economy (e.g., goods from a landlocked district which depended on trade with Britain or France), the less inclined the Congressman was in supporting war where those not impacted much were more eager for war.

    I saw this as related to how our modern day chicken hawks are so eager for both war and to squelch debate about the necessity of war and our actual performance at war.

  6. says

    Argue against the conflict and the politicians who caused it.

    Argue against the citizen morons who think that sending some kids to kill or be killed for the rich and powerful is somehow a noble act. They’re the reason it keeps going on.

  7. says

    Taz – Only American soldiers? What about British or Canadian soldiers? Are they not heroes when they die in a war? What about Iraqi soldiers? What makes their death (in defense of their homeland against a foe that both outnumbers and outguns them massively) non-heroic? What about civilians who die in a war? They’re not heroic, even if they die saving the lives of those they live along side? If an American civilian gave his life to kill soldiers of an invading army, and so save the lives of others, would he be non-heroic because he’s not a soldier? What about a foreign civilian who gives his life to kill an American soldier to save his friends and family?

    Is this all heroes heroically killing other heroes? Or do people only get to be heroes if they’re a part of your tribe?

  8. Michael Heath says

    Taz writes:

    I have no problem labeling every American soldier who dies in war a hero. I also have no problem questioning the legitimacy or necessity of the war in which they died – I’ve heard combat veterans do the same. Argue against the conflict and the politicians who caused it. Leave the foot soldier out of it.

    MarkNS responds:

    You must have a very low standard for calling someone a hero. I define a hero as someone who, with no thought or expectation of personal benefit, puts themselves at significant risk of injury or death for the benefit of someone else.
    Most soldiers, sailors and airmen/airwomen, don’t fit this description merely because they die in war.

    There are arguable points to be made on both sides (though I predominately side with Hayes’ original argument), but this debate is different than the one Ed reports and therefore avoids the criticism directed at Chris Hayes. That’s the attempt to squelch debate on this issue. It’s reprehensible some attempt to shame him into silence, or get him ostracized from the position he enjoys in the public square.

    This is just one more example of conservative opposition to having a quality debate; instead they’ve become and remain completely dependent on politically winning with only fatally flawed arguments. I think because of their co-option of evangelical and fundamentalists who are now the predominant voting base, who also are completely dependent on fatally flawed arguments. I do not use such absolutist language as obvious hyperbole, I simply don’t observe any quality arguments from these two over-lapping groups.

  9. katkinkate says

    It’s a very cynical and political use of the term ‘hero’. Also why is only the dead soldiers heros? I think its because it costs nothing to call the dead heros. Many of the live ones have been through just as much hardship and persevered, short of the death thing. Many are wounded and handicapped during their service, but they aren’t considered heros. At least they are not treated as heros from what I’ve heard about veteran services and the suicide rate among returned soldiers.

  10. Taz says

    MarkNS –
    You make some legitimate points, but they concern the semantics of the word “hero”. To me that’s not all that important an argument. I’m more concerned with stopping politicians from starting and continuing idiotic wars. I find I get a lot further by sticking to the legitimacy of the conflict itself.

  11. Taz says

    katkinkate – I don’t think it is only the dead, it’s also the wounded. Again, I’ve heard combat veterans make this distinction – that the heroes were the ones who paid a high price. The underlying assumption was that they were all willing to do their duty.

    Of course, if I really want to see the right-wingers go crazy I point out that it makes all the dead and wounded enemy soldiers heroes also.

  12. Stevarious says

    I have no problem labeling every American soldier who dies in war a hero.

    I happen to know of a man I went to school with who joined the military a few years ago for the sole purpose of ‘killin him some sand ni**ers.’ He became a sniper and oh did he get his wish.

    He lost his life to a roadside bomb. When they went through his stuff, they discovered that he had kept a little piece of nearly every person he had killed – mostly eyes and ears, though there was a couple nipples – in jars of alcohol, carefully labeled with a number and location.

    There was over a hundred jars.

    Was HE a hero?

  13. Taz says

    To restate my point: I don’t give a shit about the jingoism that labels all our dead soldiers “heroes”, I do give a shit about the jingoism that labels all our wars “good”. The first may be a part of the second, but it’s a small part and not where you want to start the argument if you’re looking to convince someone that we should bet the hell out of, say, Afghanistan.

  14. says

    We’ve got everything from heroes to “regular soldiers” to war criminals and disturbing individuals like the one Stevarious describes @13. I won’t default to showing deference towards soldiers because simply being a soldier doesn’t tell me where on the spectrum he is.

  15. andrewlephong says

    Is this all heroes heroically killing other heroes? Or do people only get to be heroes if they’re a part of your tribe?

    Campos actually raises this point when he says:

    This view produces some logical problems in the context of America’s bloodiest war

    The bloodiest war in American history was of course the Civil War. If we adhere to the logic of “any American who dies in war is a hero,” we’d have to conclude that Americans are still heroes even when they kill other Americans.

  16. Ichthyic says

    Most soldiers, sailors and airmen/airwomen, don’t fit this description merely because they die in war.

    indeed.

    I’ve heard the argument that they are still “heroes” because simply in signing up for service, they knew there would be inherent risk of death attached.

    the problem with that argument, is that then I must be a hero for driving my car to work.

    I knew that there is an inherent risk of death associated with driving, after all.

    or just existing, for that matter.

  17. sosw says

    When was the last time the US was in a war because it had its entire existence, it’s freedom realistically threatened? When has the US been attacked by a country capable of conquering it completely?

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