History & Culture / Politics

Thinking on American Heroes

Heroes

In our personal lives, we have heroes – those we look to for inspiration if not emulation. Some are family, others further afield. Sometimes it is worth looking again, widening the aperture, thinking bigger, and rethinking why they are heroes.

For me, the Nation’s founders, plus Lincoln, TR, Churchill, Reagan, Powell, and men like the Apollo astronauts, writers, warriors, scientists, and inventors all inspire. Colin Powell’s hero was George Marshall. These choices are personal, but I wonder whether we rethink enough.

In exploration and science, we remember those who took risks “for all mankind,” Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins, and Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11, the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews, who died pioneering, Lewis and Clark, the Mayflower settlers and early American pioneers.  

We recall inventors like telephone pioneer Alexander Graham Bell, agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, automobile inventor Henry Ford, biologist Ernest Everett Just, and in our time those who pioneered medicine, computers, nanotechnology, and other discoveries.

In faith, philosophy, and transcendental writing, we have other heroes of a sort, those to whom we turn for guidance, compass, wisdom, and reflection, who help put things in perspective.

Among musicians, Mozart, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and dozens of classical composers were followed by innovators like Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, early rock innovators, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Joanie Mitchell, Travelling Wilburys.

Main point is that, as individuals and as Americans, we turn to the past for inspiration, upliftment, and forward thinking.

Now, here comes the turn, big question: How can we be so divided, at odds and preoccupied by the present that we forget the larger picture, values that bind and lead us to hold common heroes?

Today, we have Americans who see themselves as one subgroup or another, all drifting toward their own group’s heroes, often celebrated for being against, for opposition, for tearing things down, not for finding common ground. Is that the modern premise on which we make heroes? What about celebrating those who personify goodness, creativity, insight, courage, invention, risk-taking, peaceable leadership, or humanity? 

Dozens of factions today identify themselves first by ideology, geography, skin color, language, national origin, political party, socio-economic status, state citizenship, occupation, or how “green” they are. They are gung-ho to tear down other groups, but what of the Nation?

Think with me on this. We are all Americans. What that should mean is we believe in the Bill of Rights, upward mobility, equal opportunity, individual liberty, free markets, entrepreneurship, belief in each other and each other’s freedom, and are all proud of path-breaking American history. There has never been a nation like this.  

That is why we are Americans first, we must be. We should know what the entire world knows: When the chips were down, WWI and WWII, Cold War, Space Race, need to turn the dial to save the world’s health, security, and stability, we – big-hearted and determined Americans – made it happen. That is not rhetoric, it is a fact.

So, back to heroes. I think it is worth noting, while sectarian heroes are good for reinforcing our individual, ethnic, or national affinities in a pluralistic society, the real point is we should all be elevating those who elevate us all – regardless of race, gender, or any other affiliation.

One more point, the proudest times in this nation’s extraordinary history have not been when we divided, picking divisive heroes, but when we understood what held us tight and helped us fight, and drank deeply of the genius of America.

No one compared to George Washington, or for that matter Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, or Franklin in their time. No one compared with Lincoln for his wisdom, nor the Wright Brothers, TR, Lindbergh, Salk who ended polio, or Einstein – all European Americans.

And no one compared with George Washington Carver, whose discoveries are used today, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, whose musical genius still fills music halls, Percy Julian whose insights produced cortisone and steroids, mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Gladys West, and Annie Easley who got us to the moon, astronauts Mae Jemison, Ron McNair, and Robert Lawrence (who would have flown Apollo but died), neurosurgeons like Alexa Canady and Ben Carson – all of African American extraction.

No one compares with Arab-Americans like Elias Corey, a Lebanese Christian who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, heart surgeon and pioneer Michael DeBakey who won the Congressional Gold Medal for lifesaving, Nobel Laurette in chemistry Ahmed Zewail of Egyptian extraction, Lebanese American geneticist Huda Zoghbi who changed the way we approach Parkinson’s, Alzheimer, and autism – all Arab-Americans.

Pick your nation, region, religion, sector for achievement, area of highest concern – and you will find Americans, drawn by the same beacon, our history-changing liberty. They gave their all – because here you can do that. They are worthy of being thought heroes, by all of us.

So, when the leaves fall, when spirits rise and flutter back to earth in November, when things seem better or worse in the moment, remember that we are all Americans, share something special, and it matters not at all our skin color, creed, extraction, distraction, or affiliation.

If we believe in the greatness of this nation, we are – in a blink – one. In that oneness, we become strong. From it, rise real heroes in every walk of life, every discipline, sector, race, gender, and discriminator. What matters is that we understand what makes a hero, the devotion to what matters, a full heart. That, we can all admire. And note: America makes a lot of them.


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Tom
4 days ago

Heroes???? The past gives us examples of what we consider hero material. Today I watched about 80 people walk by a hungry man with a small sign that said please help. Suddenly a man stoped and put 2 dollars in his cup for which he received a sincere thank goodness for you World war 2. Korea and Viet Nam we all know what a hero is to us. I never consider what the receiver will do with any donation.I know what is the right thing to do.This man may sleep under a bridge tonight and has something to eat. I not an easy mark just a guy that care about the next guy. May you be warm and dry tonight with a bite to eat.. God bless America and DJ Trump. A real American hero.

johnh
4 days ago

Trump’s comment on John McCain that he is no hero is one of the worst comments ever. And Trump would never back off this comment, even when John passed away. And then Trump invites people like Kanye West to WH.

Chris
4 days ago
Reply to  johnh

John McCain was a gun grabbing RINO. Gun Owners of America gave McCain an F grade.
Chuck Schumer wanted to name a Senate building after McCain, tells you everything you need to know about what side of the aisle mcstain was on.
Trump is right, McCain is NO HERO

Taj Gunter
5 days ago

This is the first and foremost philosophical question of the ages, dating back to Socrates and Plato and even prior: “Why am I?” The superficiality and shallowness of today’s informational and collectivist age (“to toe the line for the betterment of all”) prohibits even its asking. Notably, one cannot answer that question without truthfully delving into the distant past for a “contextual perspective.” To persist with rigorous effort to peel back the less meaningful layers of one’s life to reveal, if not but for a tiny glimpse into the core of one’s being to discover the “hero with a worthy cause that resides within,” surely is the ultimate purpose in life.

Chris
5 days ago

Trump , The right man at the right time to stop America’s downward spiral after Obama.

johnh
4 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Trump did lots of good things, but needed to control his temper & stop posting on Twitter for the whole world to see. He had no problem bashing Americans that did not agree with him on issues.

Deb Wiseman
5 days ago

Bravo, Charles!

Diana Erbio
5 days ago

Yes! Charles you are correct to bring up the importance that Americans have heroes in common writing “as individuals and as Americans, we turn to the past for inspiration, upliftment, and forward thinking.” The question you pose in the piece is one we should all ask ourself. “What about celebrating those who personify goodness, creativity, insight, courage, invention, risk-taking, peaceable leadership, or humanity?”

I’ve also considered the importance of heroes. A few years ago I actually wrote a column for AMAC “Our Heroes and What They Say About Us”. Here’s a passage from my past column…

“Why are so many movies and shows today focusing on the dysfunctions of our society rather than celebrating the heroes and successes? Who are the heroes we hold up today? Why are they our heroes? Do we still have any or are we too busy tearing them all down? Remember heroes will never be perfect but that does not mean we can not hold up the good they have done as something we too can strive for.”

We must have heroes that we as a nation look up to, and we must share the stories about these heroes with our children. 

We must encourage our children to read books about people who reflect our values and also have discussions about those who do not reflect our values and explain why. We must remember that society needs heroes and who they are says something about us.

RBC
3 days ago
Reply to  Diana Erbio

Diana, you are exactly right – and so are all who agree, with many thanks! RBC

Stephen Russell
5 days ago

Our Heroes: Cops, EMTs, Fire Dept, GIs, Spec Ops

anna hubert
5 days ago

Unfortunately in our present perverted time it’s antihero who is lauded and mourned

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