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Bridging the civilian-military divide

about the word "hero"?
Chris Hayes
Story of the Week
Chris Hayes,
on Up w/ Chris Hayes

I cringed when I saw the headline used to decribe comments I made on this show last Sunday: "msnbc's Chris Hayes Feels 'Uncomfortable' Calling Fallen Soldiers 'Heroes'".

Here are the remarks that headline was referring to:  

It is, I think very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words "heroes." Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word "hero"? I feel comfortable -- uncomfortable -- about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don't want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that's fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I'm wrong about that.

Those two words, "uncomfortable" next to "heroes" went viral, and I can understand entirely why someone reading those headlines would think, at a miminum: what a jerk. And in fact I heard from a lot of people saying that and worse.  Many of the responses I received on Twitter and via email were profane. Some, including from veterans and active service members, were supportive, or respectfully critical, and some came from people genuinely anguished by what I said. One basically said, "My brother died in Iraq. Who the hell are you to say he wasn't a hero." And "uncomfortable"? Really, Mr TV pundit, it causes you discomfort that someone might call my brother a hero. Well too bad."

And reading those messages I had to agree. Who was I to say who is and isn't a hero? It hardly seems a designation that is mine to deny, or even, really to confer. 

Which is, in a clumsy way what I was trying to say, or at least what I wanted to discuss. Not what makes a hero, or who is a hero, but rather this: We have a society that on the one hand has become comfortable with war and on the other hand wants to distance itself from it as much as possible, to outsource it to to contractors, to robots, and to the 2.3 million volunteer men and women who have been asked to serve for longer durations than at any time in recent history.

Our political culture sometimes seems engineered entirely to make us hate each other. What we're trying to do here on this show is to talk about sometimes quite sensitive topics in good faith, to explore ideas and perspectives that don't always get a hearing and to think through the news with understanding and empathy, to wrestle with our shared public life grounded in real experiences. 

We tried to do that last week, but I think I fell short in a crucial moment. So I want to try it again.