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. Marvin in S. Korea

    I'll use Reagan's words in his speech in 1983 as it appears to be relevant again today and may be said by another president in the future: They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam—boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Brad

    RMC - Too bad it's been so long that you've forgotten that Osama was killed last year, the whole operation in Iraq and Afghanistan was to uproot and destroy the factions that conspired to destroy people on our land. Your right to live on this free land is perpetuated by the military, and without them, who's to say how many more 9/11s there would have been on this land. Stop and think about how screwed up this world is, and how precious your life is and how short it could be if we didn't have the world's best military to uproot evil across this world. My heavens! Would you have gotten rid of Hitler if you lived 70 years ago? WWII soldiers did the greatest good for this world and all they said was, "I just did my part." Who of us here are willing to say that today? There is an alarming number of people who are just willing to say, "I'll just let the government do it for me." Good grief! Sometimes I think that Kennedy must be rolling in his grave to hear that his party, the party where "ask what you could do for your country", is resorting to structure everyone's life like Julia. What is Julia doing for her country? Voting for her lifestyle to be dictated by the government.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. WARREN

    This guy probably thinks he is a hero to his family for giving an apology for his pathetic comments in order to save his job.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sean Lang from Arcadia, MI

    obviously this gentleman is clueless. People who serve for a purpose far greater than themselves and for the greater good of our nation are more than heros in my book. One of the biggest selfless acts you could do is give of yourself like this. They have faced much diversity, hardship, lack of respect, and daily ecounters with the possibility of death. Why? To peserve our freedom and way of life.... If it wasn't for those people's selfless giving, "talking heads" like Mr. Hayes wouldn't even be able to express this hateful rhetoric publicly. It is no coincedance that he timed this when he did. We have become a self obsorbed society where negatively plublicity is honored. When I see more stories on the news like Kim Kardashian changed her hairstlye over coverage of the honorable fallen heros it sickens me. So yes you are right Mr. Hayes they don't deserve to be called heros they deserve to be called much more than that. Our nation is great because of these folks it's unfortuneate "blow hards" such as yourself bring our country down. I am proud to be an american and proud to know what a true hero is..... -S.Lang

    May 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cedar Rapids

    so you agree with him that not everyone is automatically a hero? so whats your problem?
    he didnt say anything about not showing respect at all.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob Marley

    Most servicemen and women will be the first to tell you they are not heroes, simply because they have answered a call to duty. They will say that the term is reserved for someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. There is a difference. But these days, you can't have an honest discussion about it. All the polarizing politics gets in the way.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric Frisbie

      What is your conection to, "Most servicemen and women....." Isn't the term a recognition rather than a self identifcation or determination? So there is a degree of being a hero? I see your point, but if there is no connection, than there is only observation from the outside looking in.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Eric Frisbie

    Mr. Hayes,
    While your apology is considerate, I believe you should provide an on-air apology. This published one is a kin to the 12th page of a news paper. You're correct to recognize that most Americans’ are far removed from any action overseas and more or less numb to its outcome. Those of us who are not (my son is serving in the 173rd Airborne readying to deploy next month) strongly feel the impact of the issue. My son Kyle is performing his duty without question. Most citizens worrying on where they will vacation this summer if at all. Our sons, daughters, husbands, wives and friends serving in the Armed Forces are at the ready to defend the United States at the cost of their lives if need be. That sir is what makes them Heroes. This also includes our Police and Fire Fighters across this nation. So have some good form and articulate this loud and clear, in person and on camera not on page 12. Stand as a man and citizen with responsibilities’ for your action. Take it on, you'll feel better.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. calijim

    you go, chris! too often words get thrown around so much that they lose their true meaning and i think that's what chris was saying.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rebbeca

    He is an absolute idiot and all of you that agree with him are also idiots!
    Go live in another country!!!

    May 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mack

      That's ludicrous, Rebbeca. Get real.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • MJA

      Ah, okay Rebbeca. Just because we don't fully agree with your OPINION, we are all idiots. So you believe that the guys that urinated on children's bodies are also heroes?

      May 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • nhpm

      Serving your country makes you patriotic. It doesn't necessarily make you a hero, unless you perform a heroic act. These days being hailed a hero can be as simple as dialing 911.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in PA

      You ma'am, are a hero.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BobE

    It is hard not to see the point Chris was trying to make. When we will stop wars? When will we grow up? On the other hand, Sunday night 60 minutes presented a program that put on display guys that I would have to say were heros for going above and beyond to save their fellow soldiers. This argument will continue to rage on as long as we (humans) continue killing each other.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    So do soldiers, but they do their duty. Not many people today join the military saying "I hope I see war!" They join because they want to protect a better way of life, provide for their families, take advantage of multiple educational programs, etc. etc. etc.

    Respect the soldiers, the people who are told to fight for us. No one is saying to love or respect war.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. That Guy

    It's getting harder to classify some as heroes these days. What with all the videos/photos of soldiers desecrating people's bodies over seas.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. b reinard

    Rachael Maddow is informed and one of the best reporters on tv.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan S

      b reinard: You commented that Rachel Maddow is one of the best reporters on TV. I assume you are being sarcastic. Sadly, some readers will think you are serious.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JohnH

    The term "hero" shouldn't be tossed around so easily. It takes away from the brave individuals that are actually real hero's. Sometimes the truth is a little hard to swallow. A soldiers service should be commended for their commitment and honor, however, a distinction must be made. Should someone like JFK's military service be thought of in the same way that an army cook's service is thought of?

    May 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rhoda

    FIRE Chris Hayes. He will never recover after saying something so thoughtless and cruel.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mack

      So the military person sitting in a cubical in Kentucky running payroll is a hero? That's disrespectful to his counterparts on the front lines, to police officers, to firefighters. I think we need to be intellectually honest on this one. It's a very noble, courageous, and worthy thing to do to serve your country but that does not automatically make you a hero. The actions required of you and how you handle them make you a hero. Sorry.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan S

      Rhoda: I am very pro-military, having spent 12 years in the Army and 12 years in the Army Reserve, from which I retired. Several years of that in the infantry. But I was never in a war. I am proud of my service, but there was nothing heroic about it. I have a coworker who was in a combat theater - he spent six months at Bagram AFB in Afghanistan, where he was a sergeant loading cargo airplanes. Admirable service, for which he is to be commended, but nothing heroic. The reporter was correct: not all military personnel are heroes. Most aren't. We just did our jobs.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
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