As I left a grocery store recently, I noticed a sign taped to the glass entrance door. It was an older newspaper, with faded ink and curling, yellow paper. On it was a ribbon, half yellow and half American flag. On the ribbon was the phrase, “Support America’s Heroes.” I stopped to think. I’ve seen and heard the phrase “Support our troops” but this was new to me. “Support our heroes"? I felt the need to bring attention to this.
Should we do our soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and our country a small favor by thanking them for their service and letting them know we appreciate them? Yes. Should we call them a hero? Only if they deserve it. A snappy uniform -- or even dented body armor -- is not a magical shortcut to hero status.
A hero is someone who behaves selflessly, usually at considerable personal risk and sacrifice, to comfort or empower others and to make the world a better place. Heroes, of course, come in all sizes, shapes, ages and colors, most of them looking nothing like John Wayne or John Rambo or GI Joe (or Jane). It is at best a risky business to define someone as “extraordinary” simply by virtue of wearing a uniform. In fact, it is potentially dangerous as it makes it too easy to slip into the militaristic attitude that what soldiers do goes beyond “necessary evil" -- beyond even honorable to admirable, to something to celebrate -- an attitude that makes it all too easy to promote additional enlistments, additional weapons, and even additional wars.