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Sunday, January 25, 2009


So, as always I'm johnny come lately when it comes to posting about recent event. Too busy to put thought to finger to keyboard, but this news item annoyed me and brought up feelings that have annoyed me for quite some time.
Last week US Airways pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger successfully brought his plane down on the Hudson river after the engines we supposedly destroyed by birds. All over the news we heard about "Sully" the hero and his amazing feat. Ok, you've likely heard it all by now, seen the pictures, joined the facebook groups and said your meaningless prayers - maybe even sent around a chain letter about it.

But, is he really a hero?

Over at Merriam-Webster you will see a number of definitions for hero. I think the only two that people might be attributing to "Sully" are:

  • c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
  • d: one that shows great courage
Let's break down each one a little bit with respect to what very little I know about "Sully".

c) acheivements and noble qualities:
He's definitely acheived something more Americans have not. He is a professional pilot. I always wanted to be an astronaut. I knew I'd need to be a pilot first (at least back then that was the expectation). However, the reality that I'd have to either join the military or have a significant amount of money to do that set in quickly. Yeah, for the vastly most part folks, you have to be wealthy or come from money to become a pilot. I don't know that enlisted "men" can be pilots, I should ask my dad - who was a jet mechanic for a while early in his Air Force career.
Noble. Is he more noble than most? What makes him such? I know that there have been a significant amount of nice things said about him by his friends, family and neighbors, but what are they going to say about a man who the media is calling a hero? Catch-22 if you ask me.
Were his actions noble? Well, it was his job to make sure his passengers didn't die. That's not noble, that's called employment.

So, to sum up the first part... he couldn't have even been a part of this "heroism" if not for it being his job and what his career was about - flying planes.

d) one that shows great courage:
This one confuses me. It's really a chicken and egg problem. Of course it takes courage to not choke when a plane is facing the possibility of crashing and killing everyone inside. But then again, isn't that what a pilot is trained for - not crashing a plane? Is it courage that has him at the helm in the first place? Well, like I said, I'd have just as much liked to be in that position.
For the most part, his job is pretty damn safe though. Modern planes practically don't even need pilots. The truth is, once you're up, unless there are odd circumstances, a plane is a very safe place. I believe Mythbusters proved that a novice could be talked through a relatively safe landing.
Therefore, what was there really to be afraid of that he hadn't already been trained for?

Part d summary... woop de doo. Again, his training to not screw shit up kept him calm enough to not screw shit up.

Now, to the question, is he a hero?
I enthusiastically say, no, he is not. What he is, though, is a competent man who did his job and did it well. He was put into a situation where the trouble was sudden and unexpected. But he did his job. He saved the lives of the passengers and realistically, the lives of others who might have died had he not been around or easily accessible to the river instead of say a road or park.

There we have it. The media is wrong. You might be wrong. The man isn't a hero. The man did his job. In fact, if he had crashed the plane and everyone buy him died, he'd likely have lost his job for not doing his job correctly. There would have been an investigation into it where someone would have tried to find a way to blame him for it. That's how things in the US work. Hero worship is about making certain type of people heroes but in strange twists of fate, those same people can be looked at as monsters or cowards or just plain old regular people.

I do not attempt to detract from his professionalism. He doesn't seem to be taking the "hero" speak to heart too much, he's been caught off guard as much as anyone.

I'm not done.

We're still in a war. In fact, we're still in a war that involves no one that invaded our own land. We invaded other countries. Bush lied, thousands died, right? Well, why are we constantly expected to call our military personnel "heroes"? Really, explain this one to me. Because they die for our freedom? Well, sure thing, if our freedom is in danger from the forces being fought - which it isn't, our freedoms are only compromised right now because of a lying fear/war monger who just left the Whitehouse.
So, we are barraged by media and religious nuts and right wingers and "patriots" constantly calling our soldiers heroes. Don't get me wrong, I respect the military. I was an Air Force brat for 14 years - my dad was a 20 year career Air Force man, I was plenty proud of him. He never killed anyone, but if he joined the military to kill people, he wouldn't be a hero to me, just a mad man.
And then there's the current situation.
Take this example. I have a student who wants to join the Marines when he graduates. Forget that if he can't work harder to get passing grades he might not even get in - or he shouldn't get in, morons with guns are plenty dangerous. His plan? Front line. He wants to kill people. So, let me get this straight. A kid plans in advance to join up with the military with the full intention of being sent over to a war-zone (that is not, in my liberal opinion, a legit war) and being on the front lines to shoot people, and we're in the end supposed to treat him as a hero? Fighting for our freedom?
Obviously there are military men and women who are fighting because they are told to. They enlisted before the war or enlisted not expecting to be sent off to fight and now they are doing the executive branch's wishes - my understanding is they don't particularly have a choice once that order is set. There are plenty who are over there helping to rebuild what others destroyed and looking to create positive relationships with civilians who are just caught up in it all unwillingly. Are they heroes? Hard to say. But with respect to the killing itself, the only heroes are those who refuse to fight an illegal war just because the president told them to. And if your solider son ever comments on "killing those 'rag-heads'". Rest assured... he is far from being a hero.
This will make me insanely unpopular, I'm sure, but as I pointed out above, if it's your job, you're not a hero.

Another example that's always gotten at me. Firefighters. Two types that I know of. Career firefighters and volunteer firefighters. You already know my reasoning for saying that those who earn their living by fighting fires are not heroes. If they didn't save someone would others say "you're so not a hero". Maybe, but more than likely, there would be a job security issue.
However... a volunteer is a hero. My bro joked that the volunteers are just fire-bugs.
I'm not sure I can laugh about that, as I'm sure there are lots of fire-bugs fighting fires, some of whom set their own fires, but I doubt highly that is even remotely the standard. But a man or woman willing to plunge into a burning building to rescue others, putting themselves in obvious danger, by the shear nature of some set of altruism, they are heroes.

I could go on, but I won't, not on that line of thought.

Who are heroes?
I've hear people call teachers heroes because they (we) can save the world by training the right people for the future. Well, I care about what I do. I went into teaching to make a difference, but if I do anything remotely "heroic", assume it's because I thought it was the right thing to do in the line of my duty as a teacher. Perhaps some day I'll step outside my comfort zone as a teacher and do something well over and above. I'm not sure what that would be for me to consider it "hero"-worthy, but that will be then. For now, I do what I am supposed to do and really hope it's the right thing.

Snitches. OK, this is where the kiddies and punks will get all defensive and say trash like "snitches wear stitches" and other shit like that. With respect to reporting some illegal acts - like acts of violence or other crimes that effect the greater community, or just some poor soul, it is black and white. You're either a hero or a coward. If you know and do nothing about it, you are a coward. It's easy, and I hold no ill will toward you, unless you are only being a coward because you know that someone else has something on you, etc.. But those who step out of safety and speak up are protecting the greater good. In business and government they are called whistle-blowers. They are people who very well may be scumbags themselves, but are doing the right thing in situations where something better or right should come of their actions.
When you see someone committing an illegal act on another - not of their will, even though I think it is a moral imperative to do something about it, I still think it's heroic.

Anyone who speaks up against their own better good for that of others is being heroic.

What do you consider heroic? Do you think I'm wrong? Are you offended by my thoughts (imagine that)? Feel free to comment. I have to admit that I do not hold these thoughts as absolutes and I could easily find some holes in them just as quickly as others. There's always exceptions to the rules, but my main point is that too many people use the word "hero" far to easily and quickly. It's a big word - too big to be thrown around like penny candies.

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