There’s a ruckus out there right now because Chris Hayes, on his weekend MSNBC show, questioned whether “hero” was an appropriate word for those killed in battle.
I think Hayes was wrong. Indeed, my position on this is that in a democracy we should be far more open to recognizing the heroism of the many, so I support calling those who serve in the armed forces heroes of the republic – and I also support calling our politicians and other political actors, without whom a democracy cannot function, heroes of the republic. That’s not to devalue anyone’s particular heroism; it’s to emphasize that in a democracy, it is ordinary citizens in our ordinary citizenship that calls for us to constantly renew and redeem that citizenship, whether it’s by fighting for it on the field of battle or by living it in our legislatures.
But what he was wrong about comes down, really, to semantics. It’s something worth thinking about, and certainly not a lack of respect or support for the troops.
The best thing you’re going to read about this is what Conor Friedersdorf said, and I’ll just point you there for most of it, but I want to bring out one point:
But thanks to the Schlichters and Hustons of the world, and the Fox News folks who put their segment on the controversy together, a lot of military families were told on Memorial Day weekend that some smug liberal elitist at MSNBC thinks the troops "are all knuckle dragging, murderous, bigots that just want to shoot someone," to quote one Hayes critic. There's no getting around it. The people who demagogued and egregiously misrepresented Hayes caused far more upset to military families than his actual remarks, especially in context, ever could.
Yet no one is outraged by their behavior, or calling on them to apologize.
Well, I’m outraged, and I’ll call on them to apologize.
Just to be clear: a set of partisans are deliberately and falsely attempting to convince those who have served and returned home, many of them bearing the scars of battle, and the families of the heroes who lost their lives in the service of their nation that a large group of Americans – perhaps a majority or close to it, given that after all their candidates win about half of all elections – have nothing but contempt and scorn for them. To begin with, it’s a lie. A clear, no question about it, lie. That folks engaged in this sort of thing lie is par for the partisan course, although, yes, it’s a particularly ugly lie. But in this case, it's even worse. Friedersdorf is correct: this is a lie that is particularly targeted in such a way as to harm those who serve and their families by falsely convincing them that the nation is not, in fact, united on their behalf.
It was, to be sure, once the case that (some) opponents of the Vietnam War blamed those who were willing to fight there. Those days are long gone. One of the things that people really got right after Vietnam finally ended was to decide to never again blame people at the bottom of the chain of command for the decisions made in Washington, and for over thirty years mainstream liberals (and as far as I know even the fringe left, although I wouldn’t be shocked if there are exceptions) have lived up to that, even in cases in which they strongly opposed subsequent wars. In my view, the nation has been better off as a result. Those who really support the troops should be praising that consensus, not trying to undermine it – and certainly not falsely pretending that it does not exist.