Now, I wasn’t there.
But when I hear things like “allied forces taking fire” from “insurgents“, while “allied forces” are in a chopper or gunship in a country we don’t boarder, and when “insurgents” seems too often to mean “displaced shepherds armed with US weapons, sold to them somewhere, at some point, legitimately” – I shake my head at aspects of foreign policy.
But then when I hear things like the “Silver Star” goes to the command officer for making, what amounts to, “an heroic phone call“: calling in advanced air strikes from 14 different locations – killing 200, with no allied soldiers injured; I just don’t know how to take that news.
No allied injured. Allied…?…why, that’s me! So that’s good.
True, everyone dead is an “insurgent”, if you ask the military, but that is not the soldiers fault.
I’m sure the right thing was done, definitely.
I just don’t know if “heroically” calling in airstrikes from 14 locations, against a ground enemy with no air power, is really that “Heroic” – under any circumstances.
Necessary, maybe. In the immediate, almost certainly. But “Heroic”? I don’t know how to frame that, other then as neo-classical unconscious military pamphleteering. Which, I guess, all medals ultimately are.
I console myself with saying no medal is ever really about any one person or situation. MoH recs sometimes talk like that (*if they survive). Sincerely. Or about luck. I don’t know. Sometimes it is more. Sometimes it is foolish. But always it is within rank, ultimately.
By award definitions they have to be. And that is what this piece is about. The definition of “otherness” and how much subjective “sameness” is involved. The ambivalence surrounding this issue can be difficult to describe.
It is similar to how video games have championed snipers as “Heroes”, when they use to largely be thought cowards. Depending on who you ask, that opinion remains; though the role has changed substantially.
Yet, no one thinks that a man housed up in a book depository or bell tower is “Heroically” taking out his aggression on the crowd below.
Or “Heroically” making his political voice heard at a distance.
That, however, is a ridiculously different situation, I hear you say. And I agree.
But why is it?
If we unpack that further, it quickly becomes less clear cut.
Is it because fewer people are shooting back?
Well, maybe at first. But shortly after that a sniper is pretty “heroically” outnumbered and out gunned.
Is it because the shooter started it, and the victims were innocent?
Well, innocence is a point of view.
If you ask the aggressor; almost never do they think they started it. Nor do they think their victims particularly innocent either.
And, as a thought experiment, what if someone was “occupying” or “invading” your bell tower or book depository – and all you have is one gun against an army; but you make a stand anyway! Is that not a kind of “Heroic”?
Is it the one who is left standing who gets the medal: are they the “Hero”?
Well, no, that is not particularly true either. In fact, you often get a higher rank and medal in death.
But there is a reason Oswald wasn’t considered as merely entering an “Heroic ‘no’ vote” in the Kennedy election; one that just happened to be coming out of the shadows and down the barrel of a 6.5 mm Carcano.
It is the same reason Booth doesn’t go down in history as “Heroically” voting for Lincoln’s opponent, in his own “first amendment” kind of way.
And it is the same reason why a school shooter isn’t viewed as taking an “Heroic” anti-bullying posture.
That reason has little to do with operational asymmetry or valor in commitment to a cause. All sides have those.
Rather, the determining measure of a true “Hero” is power sanction.
See, if a school shooter can not call in air support from gunships, to block the police search helicopters; they should have chosen their battles more carefully. And perhaps checked more seriously with the status quo, regarding their “differing positions” on certain matters.
These are strategic and tactical questions underpinning operational examples. But there is only one critical key to gaining formal recognition for any successful exploit.
Sanction of your actions by the greater force. This alone names the “Heroes”. The rest is all just a clash of ideas. All of it.
The “Nintendo” medal (DWM) was offered up to see console drone pilots getting awarded medals for courageously killing people, using superior force, and at no personal risk, from an exceptionally great distance away, with little (*to effectively no) chance of facing physical or psychiatric repercussions of service.
Is that truly “Heroic”? Even bomber pilots can crash or get shot down, snipers can get caught, or hit, no matter the distance.
Drone pilot, as well as cyber, medals and commendations are far more like “Employee of the Month”. If the killing was done well, sure. Take a long lunch break, you’ve earned it. Job well done.
But the line of who is and isn’t a “Hero” has to be drawn somewhere; and if one is taking no personal risk…
I mean your work can still be incredible or inspirational. Or skilful. But that does not make it “being afraid, but doing what ‘needs to be done’ anyway” “Heroic”. That is just not the same thing.
(*It should be noted that as of Sept 2013 the ‘Nintendo Medal’, after spending 2 months above the bronze star and purple heart, currently remains suspended without ever being awarded).
People deserve a pat on the back for a job well done. Or years of service. But only when they are serving me and my interests. Otherwise they are enemies. Enemy combatants.
Or maybe it is truly “all” people who deserve a pat on the back for a job well done, or for years of service; up to some objective point.
I’m not sure on that position. It gets hazy pretty quickly.
I don’t know.
But the trouble is “I don’t know” is just not good enough. I have to know. We have to know. If it is a service member’s job to follow orders, then it is everyone’s job to set decent policy so that those orders bring results worthy of praise.
Isn’t that what we are always taught?
If you can argue for universal human rights or universal equality of any kind, perhaps you can argue for that.
The rest, I have to say, I have no defined opinion on at this point; it is just too complicated. Though that does not absolve responsibility. I am going to keep thinking about it. Working on it.
And like I said, for many of the aforementioned events; I wasn’t there.
But still, be that as it may; I am going to order a pizza.
Lsc J.J. (2013). The Silver Star of Sanction. GSI Internal. Oct. Ed9. (6).