May 29th, 2012
09:57 AM ET

What makes a soldier a hero? MSNBC host's remarks spark outrage

What makes someone a hero?

It seems like it's a simple question, but MSNBC host Chris Hayes caused a firestorm when he said on Memorial Day weekend that he was uncomfortable calling people heroes just because they served in the military.

"Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war," Hayes said Sunday on MSNBC. "I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, 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' remarks immediately sparked a backlash, with some saying it was inappropriate to say such things about those putting their lives on the line to fight for their country.

Hayes issued an apology Monday, saying he understood why people were angry that someone who had never served or dealt with the cost of wars would make such a statement. His apology reads:

"On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word 'hero' to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don't think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I've set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.

"As many have rightly pointed out, it's very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation's citizens as a whole. One of the points made during Sunday's show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.

"But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry."

Hayes' remarks beg the question: Who exactly is a hero? We'd like to hear from you.  We'd like you to sound off in the comments below or hit the button below to send a video comment to iReport. Do you think Hayes was out of line in his comments? Do you understand what he was saying?

Must you have served in combat to be a hero? Does enlisting alone make you one? Should that word be reserved for the military? Or does it apply to people who put themselves above others?

soundoff (1,234 Responses)
  1. pbtexas

    I believe just because someone enlisted in the military, police or fire department does not make one a hero. It is what one does or did above and beyond what is called for. For example, a few years, one pilot was shot down over Bosnia and he was declared a hero. It was later reported that it was something he did that he got shot down. In my book, heroes were those unnamed airmen who risked their lives to pick him out of the enemy territory to bring him to safety. Unfortunately, these days patriotism, honoring the memories of soldiers who have given their all, is simply symbolic – recite the national anthem with one's hand on the heart and salute the flag. No one gives a damn about the families left behind by those soldiers or about the hardship families of wounded soldiers are facing. Here in Texas, an organization raises $15 for every wreath they lay on more than 50000 graves of soldiers long gone. I always wonder will it not be much more useful if that money is spent on helping out the wounded soldiers and their families in their time of dire need.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ace

    Calling Chris Hayes a coward is ridiculous! If being a coward is refusing to go to another country and kill people in a unjust, unneeded, wrong war, than I would accept that mantra with pride! I refused to be drafted to Vietnam – no one was going to tell me to go and fight for a war/cause I didn't believe in; thankfully JFK's deferments saved me from that nonsense. America is a warring nation run by a HUGE military/industrial complex. All our wars since WWll had nothing to do with "protecting ou freedoms"; it's simply wrong!

    May 29, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. tyler

    Hey, did the nazis not wear uniforms? Most "heroic" jobs are filled by people who would rather be doing something else. My brother served in Iraq and now has PTSD : not just anybody could serve in such a war. But believe me, he would have much rather skipped that part of his life and went straight into the job market. He needed a job after he got his GED and because GED's generally don't go very far, he joined the service.He is now, like many veterans, very opposed to the wars he was fighting in. He followed orders. Does that make him less heroic by serving out of his own well-being? I would like some responses...

    May 29, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mel

      It doesn't make him "less" heroic, because the like everyone else who joins the military is not, by default, a hero. If he had done something heroic, like saved someone's life, he is a hero. Joining the military, for whatever reason, does not make him a hero. And not calling him a hero does not diminish the service he is performing for our country. There are many who contribute to our military's success, some in combat, many in other roles. I applaud them all for their service, but again, that doesn't make them all heroes.

      May 30, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jason D

    I'm behind what he said, someone isnt a hero simply by being in the molitary or that would put the soldiers peeing on the bodies as heros, or the ones throwing the puppy off the cliff, taking pictures of themselves with half a body, all the atrocities commited by military would all be bny heros....no a hero is someone who thinks more of others then themselves, and yes by far the majority of the millitary risk their lives for freedoms the rest of us take for granted but to hand out the term is like making any genarality is to be cetainly incorrect by definition.

    We wouldnt have military prisons if they were all heros, or was the man over here who killed american servicemen a hero too...afterall he was in the military....so yes i agree with this, heros are inside not outside, anymore then a fireman is a hero just by wearing the suit and not for the actions they have done.

    Leave the heros term to the deserving, be they millitary, services or that woman who has saved rescue dogs from lives of misery....there is no such things as a hero by profession, we have bad cops, bad firemen, bad doctors, bad nurses, bad soldiers, bad politicions, bad relatives and bad religious leaders....and there are no more bad in everything as good in everything..leave the generalities and post the term for those who truly deserve it like those receiving the medals and not the ones shooting people who are unarmed because they 'look bad'

    May 29, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • dave

      "hey i joined the military because I could not get into college and I could not find a job so this was the best option remaining. I am a hero." No. You just became a puppet and the government is the puppet master.

      May 29, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. LouAZ

    14 pages later . . . seems that comments are at least 60-40 in Chris Hayes favor. Perhaps he has done far more to make us THINK about what we are as a Country than he intended. I am often amused with the common use of the word awesome used about this and that and every little thing in our daily lives. I have sometimes asked a user of the word awesome if they have ever been to the Grand Canyon . . . most don't even know what I'm talking about. I think that was Chris Hayes point.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mike

    What is herioc about volunteering to go fight a war that is not needed to be fought? What is herioc about killing afghani and iraqi people trying to defend their land?

    May 29, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Judge Dredd

    The same cops that beat down unarmed suspects while handcuffed? The same cops that only arrest kids because they are playing with a skateboard not physically or mentally harming other citizens? The same cops that tend to acquire some extra cash from drug dealers during drug busts? Yeah I'm sure those cops are real heroes. Just to be cover my statements I am not talking about all cops.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Crusty Ole Veteran

      Maybe you shouldn't be talking at all.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      All but the newest unjaded cops are evil. I've met many cops, none i would trust.

      May 30, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. Marty

    The host did everything right until he decided to backtrack like a little girl. He just gave the idiots more blanks to fire at the inteligencia.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cedar Rapids

      agreed, he should have stuck to his guns and explained more what he was trying to say, and call out those idiots trying to make something of it.

      May 29, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Henry Ocegueda

    One thing for certain; Chris Hayes will never be a hero; just another talking head. By the way, he talks too much and never let his guests opine about anything. Reminds me of the kid that constantly whines and needs to always be right. Chris, let others talk; listen for once!

    May 29, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. David M

    I served in the Navy for 9 years. That does not make me a hero. Those who put themselves directly in harms way for the sake of another person, those who gave their lives for others, those who did something extraordinary that resulted in success when it would have otherwise been failure. Those are heros. I'm a veteran, but that does not make me a hero. I did my duty and did it to the best of my ability. Period.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • jimzcarz

      Thank you for your service David.

      May 29, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  11. ko

    hayes statement does give one pause to question what is a hero? if hayes has a problem with the word hero, would he have a problem with calling mlk a hero? or jfk a hero? or the heroes who stormed the beaches on D-day? a hero is someone who stands up for what he believes in no matter the cost. by issuing an apology, hayes reveals the real reason he does not understand what hero means. he doesn't understand the word b/c he isn't one

    May 29, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Matt A.

    God forbid someone should have an opinion in this country. It's about damn time someone said what I've been thinking ever since I left the military. I think it's fair to say that 50% of the people I "served" with were less than satisfactory human beings. And that's being generous. If you want me to call you a hero, you better damn well act like one; I don't care if you've been employed in the armed forces or not. They're doing a job, sometimes well, sometimes not. And not one of them was forced into it. Let's recognize those who need to be recognized and quit putting blanket labels on an entire group, many of whom don't deserve it.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jerry

    Our service men and women have been maimed, died and have been abused so that MORONS like Mr. Hayes and some of the posters on this blog could express their stupidity freely.

    Thank you service men and women. Most of us really appreciate and honor your sacrifices. To most of us, YOU ARE HEROES!!!

    May 29, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cedar Rapids

      seeing as he specifically said he wasnt disparaging those that died or fought under fire, what exactly is your issue with what he said?

      May 29, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Get something straight... Neither of the conflicts our country is involved in is a fight with an enemy that would have come close to impeding our freedom of speech. Only our goverment has acted in a manner of 'security' infringing up on our rights, NOT our 'enemy'. I also don't think soldiers appreciate being a tool of politics from either side.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mark

    He was talking about our use of language. The only thing cowardly he did was issue an apology. You can't yell louder than the patriotic fervor on Memorial day, he should have waited a few more days to make the comment, and should have never apologized for it.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Steve in CT

    As both a Navy and Firefighting Veteran, I have never considered myself a hero. There was a job to be done, and I did it.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
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