Fort Hood Fallen: Victims, Not Heroes
President Obama’s speech at yesterday’s memorial service for the victims of the Fort Hood massacre was touching and struck the right chords. Marc Ambinder and Taegan Goddard both say it was his best speech, ever, and Chuck Todd gushes that it will be “remembered and quoted from for quite some time.”
He honored the service of the fallen, mentioning each by name. He directly challenged the extremists who would justify this slaughter in the name of religion (“no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor”). He also dismissed the notion that we’re at war with Islam (“In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies, and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. In Iraq, we’re working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.”).
He even took the politically risky step of rebutting the Greatest Generation nonsense:
For history is filled with heroes. You may remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe; an uncle who fought in Vietnam; a sister who served in the Gulf. But as we honor the many generations who have served, all of us — every single American — must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who’ve come before.
We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.
This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in the time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and all stations — all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.
In today’s wars, there’s not always a simple ceremony that signals our troops’ success — no surrender papers to be signed, or capital to be claimed. But the measure of the impact of these young men and women is no less great — in a world of threats that no know borders, their legacy will be marked in the safety of our cities and towns, and the security and opportunity that’s extended abroad. It will serve as testimony to the character of those who served, and the example that all of you in uniform set for America and for the world.
I would, however, quibble with Obama’s characterization of the fallen as having given their lives for their country. The line was not in the prepared remarks, so perhaps it was off-the-cuff. But the fact of the matter is that these people and their loved ones are tragic victims of senseless violence, no more heroic than others who are randomly killed.
This isn’t a criticism of Obama per se. General George Casey did the same thing in his remarks. We have a natural, understandable tendency to want to elevate people killed in these nationally unifying events as heroes. We did it for the 9/11 victims. But most of those who died working in their offices in the Twin Towers — or even the Pentagon — were just ordinary Joes trying to earn a living, who had no inkling of the danger they were in.
The people aboard Flight 93 who took on the hijackers to prevent them from crashing into an unknown target? Heroes. The people in the Towers and the Pentagon who responded to crisis by trying to help others? Heroes. The firefighters and police officers who rushed into the burning buildings at great personal risk to save others? Definitely: Heroes.
Similarly, police Sergeant Kim Munley, who shot and captured Major Nidal Malik Hasan, doubtless preventing him from killing more people, was a hero.
Most of those who died, on both 9/11 and that day at Fort Hood, by contrast, had no opportunity for heroism. They were taken by surprise while going about their daily routine and murdered. They did not “give” their lives; they were robbed of them.
Now, as President Obama noted in his roll call, many of them were genuinely heroes in how they lived their lives. Some were decorated veterans of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and they were all serving their country. But getting gunned down by a psychopath isn’t an act of heroism. It’s a senseless tragedy.