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. anon

    "Hero" is an empty word. God forbid we actually PAY our military members a good wage, or NOT GO TO WAR to begin with. Those are REAL actions. It's much easier to take two days a year to call members of the military "hero" than it is to actually enact change that ACTUALLY honors our sacrifice. Words are cheap.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Perifalist

    I think an ancient dramatist said something like "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy.", the idea that without some sort of tragedy to face, one cannot hope to become heroic, so maybe that's the proper place to start in assessing whether or not someone meets the criteria of being referred to as a hero. So we need to ask of a would-be hero, what terrible event have you faced, and/orwhat ordeal have you endured? Were the events and ordeals you have faced and endured along the lines of having left your home and simply done your duty as you saw fit, or did you end up facing difficulties beyond your imagination and still over came them? That sort of thing.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. TBone in LA

    Risking one's welfare for someone or somethling else is basically heroic. The purest act of humility and goodness. That's why you don't find many selfish, egotistical heros. They can't understand how to put someone else or something above their own interests while making a sacrifice at the same time. I've seen military heroes (in Vietnam) and civilian ones. They come in all walks of life.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. PattiAnne

    Chris Hayes is an amazing reporter and TV host. His insights are well thought out and usually spot on. He's not an entertainer or someone looking to make a splash. Just offering his commentary on events. I don't agree with everything he says but I agree with this. Just because you serve in the military doesn't make you a hero anymore than standing in the garage makes you a car. It's your actions in a time of need that make you heroic not your ability to enlist.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Solex

    I served in the military and like all organizations you meet all types. Some great people and some not-so-great people. I think what he was trying to say is that just because you are in uniform does not mean you are a hero. Heroes are defined by their actions, not by their membership in the armed forces.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ken Adams

    General statement: Not all heroes are in the military... some teachers, some doctors, some firefighters, some police officers, etc. At the same time, not all those in the military are heroes...some recruiters, some of those never step foot on a battle ground, etc.

    Personal statement: Two heroes in my life. My father who is a Vietnam veteran. My grandmother, who never stepped foot on a battlefield, is the widow of a WWI veteran. She is an amazing woman. Both are heroes to me regardless of their "status."

    May 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Joke

    I'm a hero every time I eat turnip. What to make something of it? Wanna go? I'll go.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. denny johnson

    fire him, NOW. fire his producer, who on doubt approved of the copy and subject.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. dkhhuey

    I totally agree with Chris!!!

    May 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Uncle Dutch

    I'm a veteran. I served my country for four years in uniform in the Vietnam era. And even though I did a tour there, I'm not a hero. Service members who put themselves in harm's way are heroes. It is obvious to see, provided you don't have some other secret agenda to grind, that what Mr. Hayes was speaking about is the notion that every person that ever peeled a potato, chipped paint or any of the myriad of mundane tasks the vast majority of those in uniform perform during their enlistments should not be propitiously equated or placed along side those who actually did the heavily lifting in combat. By doing so only besmirches and cheapens their service and memory. Wearing the uniform does not automatically make someone a hero...it's what you do while wearing it that EARNS that distinction. So I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Hayes that the word "hero" should be used in reference only for those it applies to. To say otherwise is puerile sophistry.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom C.

      I agree with you Uncle D. I served in the Marines during the first Gulf War, and I don't consider myself a hero.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1

      I agree also. The term 'hero' is thrown around far to easily these days, particularly by the right as they thoughtlessly slobber over any uniform with an American flag attached.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Service members who put themselves in harm's way are heroes."""

      I'd qualify this a bit and say it's the people who put themselves in harm's way for a noble cause or result.

      Simply serving in the military does not make one a hero.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • takenobull

      MSNBC often has this type of trash on their network. In any case Uncle Dutch he was talking not about just any serviceman but those who die often young before ever knowing life to its fullest. He was talking about those who did not have to volunteer to go into harm's way so he could spout off his trash as a net work anchor on MSNBC living the good life. A MSNBC anchor that has refused to serve his country in any way. So Uncle Dutch put me down as saying those who have died so this MSNBC fool can run his mouth freely are heros. AND by the way It think you a hero also for going to vietnam in harms way.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • sunsohot

      I agree. Anyone who voluntarily or even involuntarily wears the uniform of any branch of the US military should be respected for doing so. However, wearing a uniform is not a heroic act – performance while in that uniform should determine the level of heroism.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "he was talking not about just any serviceman but those who die often young before ever knowing life to its fullest"

      and you obviously didnt read or hear his comments if you think he was having a go at those that gave their lives.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Ramos

      I tend to agree with you. I am a service disabled veteran from the Cold War and am certainly not a hero. A hero is someone that exposes himself/herself to physical harm to rescue/help another human being. Nothing more and nothing less. I am offended by giving the term Hero to sports personalties and movie stars and the like unless they fit the above definition. It cheapens the term – Hero.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • maria

      Is funny ,maybe you are humble person ,but not matter what ,we are grateful of yoru services and for all of US you are our HERO! be humble but don't agree with this narrow small pea mind, you are such better than him! God bless you!

      May 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    This forum format is really bad

    May 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • cleareye1

      Agreed. It's not possible to follow any dialogue.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eric

    What I thought he was trying to say (having not seen the original clip) is that there is a difference between Dirk Diggler and George W. Bush or Richard Blumenthal The latter two served by being in the military at a time of war but did not do anything heroic like Dirk Diggler did. There is also a question of courage versus heroism. Nazi commandos, kamikazes, and muslim jihadists have courage but they are not heroic since they are fighting in an unjust cause.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • takenobull

      Eric you threw in George Bush with your non heros. That's ok but George did fly fighter jets and that alone is better then Bill Clinton who you forgot to mention. Google Bill Clinton's letter to the draft board thanking them for saving him from military duty.

      May 29, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. john

    Chris Hayes is a big part of the left twisting the news at MSNBC.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ally

    I don't think Mr. Hayes is that far off on his points. If you attribute the description of "insert word of adoration here" on too large of a base of people you end up watering down the meaning of it. If you have 20 people sitting in a room and they're ALL "heroes" then what do you call that one person out of 20 who actually did save lives?

    I work with Air Force members and while I respect each and every one of them for their choice to serve; there aren't that many heroes among them.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • takenobull

      Some of you can't read Ally. MSNBC was denouncing those who have DIED for defending the right for you to run your mouth as you doing. You talking about live members of the Air Force who you say are not heroes. Heroes or not they certainly above those of you who refuse to serve at all in any capacity your country but do choose to enjoy its freedom.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ally

      @takenobull , please stop attacking the posters on this thread just because you don't agree with them. I was pointing out the issue that Mr. Hayes was trying to question. Which is the watering down of the meaning of the word "hero". He didn't do it very well, because anyone who has lost their life in the line of duty would certainly be a hero in my book. I don't take the service of our military lightly. I work along side them every day. And my job directly supports the mission, so your comment about me not serving in anyway is completely wrong.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ken Keeton

    He was trying to make the point that the term "hero" is sometimes used to manipulate opinion towards more war. I think that is a valid point. Humans are still so base and barbaric... I wonder if we will ever evolve.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • takenobull

      Ken he was trying to make his point on Government policies of war at the expense of those who are sent to their deaths by the government you and others vote for. I have little respect for anybody on MSNBC who uses a Anchor who has refused to serve his country in any capacity to lecture the public as to who is a hero in the military.

      May 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
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