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. onthisday

    heroes are those veterans who threw their "medals" and "ribons" at the face of NATO war criminals in chicago days ago.

    May 31, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  2. onthisday

    'heroes' are those who do the dirty killing on your behalf, in your name, on your dime, and for your lifestyle.

    May 31, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  3. onthisday

    if you lured, with promises of money and job, the young boys and girls barely out of high school into the job of killing other human beings on your behalf, you owe them the glory of being called "heroes"at least, no?

    May 31, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  4. Calm down

    "Hero" should be reserved for only the bravest of actions.. otherwise it loses its meaning. This is the discussion that George Carlin brought to the table years ago regarding our culture: "Nobody is stupid anymore, everybody is special, everyone gets a ribbon for showing up." Furthermore, I hate it when people say that it's innappropriate to discuss this unless you've been in the military. I call BS on that. The military is approx 2 million strong. The United States population is over 300 Million. What kind of democracy would we have if only Military were allowed to have an opinion? Oh wait.. it wouldn't be a democracy, would it? I think that the only thing this guy did wrong was to apologize for saying it in the first place.

    May 31, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • scat398

      no what he did wrong was get wrapped up in liberalism where you lead with your heart and not your mind. Liberalism is great for abstract thinking about big problems but they don't have real world applications. Chris hays just like Lawrence O'Donnell, Chris Mathews, and the rest of the msnbc gang live in a world that doesn't really exist, but they like to talk about it as if their idealistic ideas can actually work in a practical matter. Chris Hays doesn't want to call people heroes because it encourages more war, because more war is bad and our goal should be world peace. The problem of course for normal people is we know world peace cannot exist it is an unrealistic goal that has no real world application.

      May 31, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. TheIndependentThinker

    I agree with his original statement. I have a lot of respect for those in the military and believe that there are a number of true heroes out there, but I don't think it is right to call everyone who put on a uniform a hero for the simple act of doing so.

    I also think that for all the politicians out there, the test of a true political "hero" is when you can use dimplomacy instead of sending our sons, daughters, husbands, and wives into conflict.

    May 31, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      well said.

      May 31, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • scat398

      there will always be war and there will always be sons and daughters who die in the name of their country, the least we can do is honor the heroism of these sons and daughters.

      May 31, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ben Dare

    Too many so-called heroes wrere behind war zones.

    May 31, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. jk

    Regarding "heros" in the military. Thoreau wonders about the psychology of men who would fight a war and, perhaps, kill others out of obedience. He concludes that soldiers, by virtue of their absolute obedience to the state, become somewhat less than human. He writes, “Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the Navy-Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts – a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity.” This is how “the mass of men” employed by the state render service to it, “not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.” In doing so, the men relinquish the free exercise of their moral sense and, so “put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones.” The slaves of the military are monstrous machines. They are no heros.

    May 31, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
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