Small Wars Journal

How Modern Wars are Changing the Definition of Heroism

How Modern Wars are Changing the Definition of Heroism by James Wright – Military Times

… By any definition with which I am familiar, John McCain, a Vietnam War prisoner of war, was a hero. McCain deserves the honor not simply because he served. Not even just because he was captured — although he and the other Vietnam War POWs demonstrated remarkable courage and endurance and deserve the praise they have received.

But McCain was a hero because of his conduct as a pilot and as a captive. The descriptions of his captivity and the citation of his Silver Star award make this clear.

Today, approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the military. They are not from a demographic or geographic cross-section of the country. Most Americans do not know anyone who currently or recently served. No one under the age of 63 has ever faced being drafted

One consequence of this distance from the military is less public understanding of what serving means. Perhaps, ironically, this has resulted in a greater public approval of those who do serve, describing all in uniform as “heroes.”

There is ample evidence that most troops are not comfortable with the general label of hero: if all are heroes, what remains to describe the truly heroic? …

Read on.