Sun Tzu (Chinese General and Author of the 'The Art of War')
I have always had problems with the concept of heroes. Let me rephrase that; I have reservations about the way society creates heroes. Also, I am eternally wary and as a matter of course, distrusting of people who partake in verbal diarrhoea, in pursuit of building up the so-called great and good. There is a certain Nigerian journalist that has perfected this art, but his main error was in picking a very average man to idolise, a rich one, but one of very average character indeed. Anyway, I should return to the topic at hand and ask; what is it that makes a hero?
The Greeks in their old mythological ways, told us that a hero would be gallant, of noble background and possess copious amounts of courage. I only ask the question concerning the hero, because of the recent flak directed at the returning troops from Iraq by a small minority, when they decided to parade the streets of certain UK cities to celebrate their 'successful' campaign in the pursuit of Iraqi 'liberty and democracy'. It appeared the small minority had not read the scrpit produced by the big majority, who were intensely upset that anyone would not join them in celebrating their heores. The thing that makes my mind boggle of course, is the heroic status that countries attach to these soldiers and the unquestioned reverence that the majority of people demand that the rest of us accord these fighting machines. Afterall, they have fought for our security and they have ensured that we sleep without fear of attack from a crazed enemy.
But does this make them heroes? Let's face it, most foot personnel in armies come from lowly backgrounds and are in the armed forces because they have gauged their possibilities in life, and deemed it the only viable place to secure three square meals and a roof over their heads. You can correct me if you feel I have overstepped the mark again ( I often get carried away like that), but as you do that, please bear in mind that I do have one or two friends in the British and American armed forces and I can guarantee you I am not that far off the mark. Most soldiers join at a ridiculously young age and their desire is to belong and feel they are part of something special - a need that develops from an often purposeless life. Actually, the more empty your life is, the easier the army recruiter's job is supposed to be. Although, there is always the odd one. I will never forget the young black man from Chicago (I think it was Chicago anyway) in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, who upon being shown pictures of a supposedly ghettorised part of Iraq as a reason to join the army, came back with a great retort; 'there are parts of my neighbourhood that look exactly like that!' It was priceless and very telling.
So, do these kids from the economically depressed part of town, deserve any glowing accolades once they have completed their tours or is the need to give them some gravitas, driven by governments fully aware that a 'Purple Heart, Victoria Cross or even a mere State funeral, would only further the desire to join the world's top milltaries. Just think about it, if those who lead the world cannot create some type of status for our soldiers, who would ever want to risk their lives in the first place? That heroic badge firmly reserved for these men and women has been made so symbolically powerful, coupled with generous help from the media, so much so that the overwhelming evidence of abject veteran care is not sufficient to stop the wave of new recruits. Saying all that, could my cynicism be blinding an obvious reality and could it just be that I am missing an undeniable fact.
You see, my definition of a hero is; someone who has in the face of plenty, denied themselves to assist others and in the process risked their lives and possibly that of their nearest and dearest. In line with those words, I have only ever managed to place four individuals in that category; Mohammed Ali, my late father (nepotism is alive!), Gani Fawehinmi and Nelson Mandela. But something did occur to me recently. The soldiers we send to war are doing a job which is clearly not in line with the wages and shelter we provide for them, furthermore, the risk to life is palpable and although they are not superior to everyday-life heroes like Nurses, Doctors and Firemen, they are still worthy of our praise and adolation.
Everytime I question their 'Superman' status, I almost feel like I am in the presence of a defiant millitary type, kissing his teeth as he recounts the immortal words of the Jack Nicholson character in a 'Few Good Men':
'.......I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then question the manner in which I provide it. I prefer you said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand to post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to! '
Nuff said......by the way, do Nigerian soldiers qualify for hero status too?