Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chris Hayes, Soldiers Are "Heroes". Please Just Shut Up, Already.

I'm not the biggest fan of MSNBC host Chris Hayes. Perhaps moreso than any person on TV, Hayes seems to embody the ultra-liberal, cocktail partying, apologist pantywaist image that many on the right ascribe to those on the left. The guy's soft as Cottonelle, and seldom, if ever, has anything pertinent to say. I didn't particularly care for him when he subbed for the network's primetime shows like Rachel Maddow and Countdown, and his weekend show Up makes me wish I'd stayed asleep.

So with all that said, I kinda think the guy's getting a bad rap for a slightly out of context comment he made this past weekend.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes sparked controversy and debate on Sunday when he said that he felt "uncomfortable" calling soldiers killed in action "heroes" because the term can be used to justify potentially unjust wars. He later apologized for the statement. (See apology below.)

Hayes spent a large portion of his Memorial Day-themed show on questions of war and of the people killed on all sides of military conflicts, from American soldiers to Afghan civilians.

After speaking with a former Marine whose job it was to notify families of the death of soldiers, he turned to his panel and, clearly wrestling with what to say, raised the issue of language:

I think it's interesting because I think it is 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.

Hayes' fellow panelists expressed similar discomfort. Linguist and columnist John McWhorter said that he would "almost rather not say 'hero" and called the term "manipulative," even if it was unintentionally so.

Hayes then said that, on the flip side, it could be seen as "noble" to join the military. "This is voluntary," he said, adding that, though a "liberal caricature" like himself would not understand "submitting so totally to what the electorate or people in power are going to decide about using your body," he saw valor in it.
If there's one thing I sorta admire about Up and MSNBC's offerings on whole, it's that they generally have longer segments that allow the hosts/guests to actually discuss issues at length, which provides more time and space for nuance, making these shows generally less combative/sensationalist like that other network which shall not be named. What Hayes was trying to say is that while what the soldiers do is noble and honorable, it's probably not in the best taste to refer to them as "heroes". After all, for every soldier returning home, there are many more people left dead when that solider departs, many of whom are for all intents and purposes innocent. It's the unfortunate and ugly side of war: someone has to lose, and those on the losing end aren't always "bad guys". Nobody is (obviously) blaming these soldiers for merely carrying out orders, merely stating that the unintended consequences of those actions might sometimes be less than heroic.[1]

So yeah, Hayes should have picked his words better, and oh yeah, probably refrained from saying something of this sort on, I dunno, Memorial Day!!!

Question: Was Hayes' comment stupid, misconstrued, or a little bit of both?!?

[1] That said, if volunteering to serve your country, knowing that your life could be at risk and that your assignments might include unintentionally harming innocent people isn't "heroic", then what, exactly, is? Pitching a no-hitter? Putting out a fire? Teaching school in a dangerous neighborhood? Donating a kidney? I dunno, but in the grand scheme, I'd say "soldier" and "hero" go hand in hand better than any two other phrases.

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