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.”

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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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    I think Obama’s argument is that these people signed up to go in harm’s way. Enlisting made them heroes, even if they died in an unexpected way.

    It’s right in your quoted text:

    This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in the time of certain danger.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    I think Obama got it right, but I do wonder about the possibility of unlawful command influence.

  3. just me says:

    I think it is bit much to quibble on who is or isn’t a hero, but I think you make a good point about most of the victims of this act and 9-11 and others were in fact victims in the wrong place at the wrong time doing something fairly mundane. But if it comforts the family members to have them called heros, I am not going to tell them different.

    I do hope that Kim Munley gets a great big award for her acts-she indeed risked a lot to stop Hasan, and showed a ton of courage.

  4. sam says:

    I do wonder about the possibility of unlawful command influence.

    Can you expand on that? I don’t follow you.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    Good Speech, and no shout outs, very presidential, a teaching moment, a tribute, a clear understanding, Well done Mr. President.

    Hail to all the veterans, I salute you, For giving me my freedom, and for keeping this world from exploding.

    We can never repay you, for your service of sacrifice, for your blood.

    We can never take away what you must do or what you have seen.

    We can never appreciate what it really costs or how it feels.

    All we can do is support you, pray for you, salute you, and marvel at your magnificent deeds.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    sam, as I understand it, it is a defense to a military tribunal that someone in the command chain has suggested a particular outcome is appropriate. I’m not saying that happened here since I don’t understand the concept rightly myself. But I thought about it when listening to the Commander-in-Chief suggest that Hasan is going to burn in Hell.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    If these people were stationed in an FOB in Afghanistan, and a long-time trusted and known local interpreter shocked everyone by opening fire in the mess hall, would we say the victims died for their country? Or would it be just random, senseless act?

    I think James thinks Hasan is crazy and therefore the events deserve as much consideration as if a hurricane had hit the camp.

    I think Hasan decided to join the other side.

  8. James is right. The word hero requires acts that are heroic. These people didn’t act, they were acted upon.

    We should use words appropriately. Otherwise what do we call a soldier who throws himself on a live grenade? That soldier earns the title hero, the people at Fort Hood are stuck with the title victim.

    I’ll join the shout-out to officer Munley. It must have been a mad house and yet no friendly fire accident. She’s not just brave but disciplined and highly competent.

  9. Rick Almeida says:

    All we can do is support you, pray for you, salute you, and marvel at your magnificent deeds.

    Actually, you could volunteer to join them.

  10. odograph says:

    These people didn’t act, they were acted upon.

    Some had done combat tours, some were about to. This was not wholly unrelated to them being there, at that time, to be “acted upon.”

  11. Gustopher says:

    I agree that the victims were not heroes.

    They did die for their country, however, since they died in the line of duty, even if it was a stupid, pointless, meaningless death. Just as helicopter pilots who die in training missions died for their country.

    While we are quibbling over words, Major Hasan’s actons weren’t “cowardly”.

    I keep hearing his murderous rampage described as cowardly, and every time I am reminded that I really don’t have anything that I believe in enough to go on a murderous rampage.

    Whether he went nuts, or whether he switched sides, he wasn’t cowardly. He went after his goals at great personal risk and sacrifice.

  12. Gustopher, attacking unarmed and unsuspecting people with deadly force is a cowardly act — regardless how justified you may think you are.

    In the meantime I’ll just hope you don’t find anything that you may think justifies this sort of behavior.

  13. odograph says:

    There’s a saying Gustopher, “suicide by cop.”

    You say “sacrifice,” but I kind of doubt it.

  14. Cadmus says:

    What an absurd column on Veterans’ Day, when we honor the service of the living and the dead. You don’t have to “give your life” to be a hero.

    All members of the military, police and fire departments who selflessly face peril…and live…those people are heros, too. Service men and women who enlisted and serve in this time of war, deployed to God foresaken places are heros…whether they live or die.

    James Joyner may not think much of his service, and the service of his comrades in Desert Storm, to be heroic, but I do. Thank you very much for protecting our nation, and please reconsider what it means to be called a “hero.”

  15. Cadmus says:

    Just as helicopter pilots who die in training missions died for their country.

    There seems to be a distinction made by some between being a hero, and dying a heroic death. I am not sure why some anyone would think if a brave service menber dies due to unfortunate circumstances, such as a helicopter accident, hurricane, or natural causes, then that service member cannot be a hero. Just because they dies as unarmed victims, what makes anyone think President Obama needed to make that distinction, if they lived their lives as heros, volunteering in service to this country during war time?

    If General Petraeus slips on a banana peel in his kitchen and dies, is he not still a hero? Pat Tilman is killed by friendly fire…is he not a hero? It is odd logic that only one’s death defines a hero, and not the actions of their life.

  16. Capt. Aclow says:

    They died as a consequence of choosing to join the military to defend the United States of America.

    A soldier who dies on the front lines because his weapon malfunctions and explodes is a hero just like the soldier who is killed by an enemy’s grenade.

    They died because they put themselves in harm’s way by joining the military, so snarky writers like you can feel safe as they try to discredit their sacrifice.

  17. An honest question, will those killed at Ft. Hood be considered as KIA, or just as murder victims?

  18. 1armywife says:

    In my book, the minute you enlist, you are a hero. In making that commitment to work toward securing my freedom, you can be no less.

  19. jacob m says:

    “But getting gunned down by a psychopath isn’t an act of heroism. It’s a senseless tragedy.”

    Yes, you are quite right to point out that these are not heroes, despite our sadness over their awful endings. We debase language when we use meaningful words in sentimental, inaccurate ways. Then the words are not there for us when we need them to describe what they are meant to describe.

    In light of this, I wonder why the word “tragedy” has likewise been so relentlessly applied to victims of disaster and the like, as in your use of “senseless tragedy” in your final line. The first and most profound definition of the word tragedy is, to quote M-W dictionary, 11th edition, “a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror.” The U.S. use of the atomic bombs on Japan in an attempt to end WWII was tragic, because it came from a profoundly difficult moral decision with no entirely happy ending imaginable. As the theologian Reinhold Neibuhr long ago pointed out, this was the burden the U.S. shouldered when it used this awesome technology.

    However, the constant use of “tragedy” simply to describe misfortunes that happen to passive victims, while allowed as a secondary definition by most dictionaries, may be a symptom of the same thinking that brings us the misuse of the term “hero.” The word tragedy is easy to apply to random acts of destruction and mayhem, but would inspire more awe and reflection if preserved more often for real and active struggles with destiny.

  20. hcantrall says:

    These words are overused because “journalists” are all about drama, that’s what sells. Whether it’s the appropriate word to use or not. Regardless, I still think that anyone who joins the military is a hero. If everyone joined it would be a different matter but this is a voluntary decision young people make everyday, knowing that they may die for it – to me that is heroic. Especially these days where most people wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.

  21. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    Gustopher, attacking unarmed and unsuspecting people with deadly force is a cowardly act — regardless how justified you may think you are.

    Amen to that.

    An honest question, will those killed at Ft. Hood be considered as KIA, or just as murder victims?

    I would guess that since they weren’t currently deployed in a combat theater that they would not be considered KIA, but my knowledge of the subject is pretty limited.

  22. JVB says:

    The President might truly believe what he said, but one thing he still hasn’t fully embraced is that Fundamental Islam is at war with us. He can tip toe all he wants and hope his charm and words-dripping-with-honey can somehow miraculously wake the the extremist world up to the idea that we aren’t the devils their religion tells them we are…but it’s wishful thinking on his part and one that puts all of us at risk. Political correctness is killing us.

  23. Millionaire says:

    For heaven’s sake don’t be so pedantic.

    I’m so glad you didn’t get that WaPo gig as your writing’s bad and your thinking is even worse.

  24. KenZ says:

    Main Entry: he·ro
    Pronunciation: \ˈhir-(ˌ)ō\
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form(s): plural heroes
    Etymology: Latin heros, from Greek hērōs
    Date: 14th century
    1 a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
    1b : an illustrious warrior
    1c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
    1d : one that shows great courage
    2 a : the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
    2b : the central figure in an event, period, or movement
    3 plural usually heros : submarine 2
    4 : an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol

    I agree that these people were neither literary characters (def 2a) or sandwichs (def 3). You are a pedantic ass.

    Otherwise, I am so very sorry for you that your world view is so limited that you cannot honor dead veterans; several of whom had actually served in combat previously.

  25. Larry Sheldon says:

    Damn I hate having to defend Obama, but y’all are looking for fly shit in the pepper.

    Heroes or victims? Does it matter?

    And if they had not volunteered to be approved heroes, would they be where they were?

    They were doing what soldiers do, and got shot and killed by an enemy agent in the process.

    Hero is OK with me.

    Might be the first thing Obama has said that was OK with me.

    OBTW. There were TWO heroes who took out the enemy. One was maned Munley. Do you know the name of the other one?

    And isn’t it a shame that on an Army Post they had to wait for the civilian police to get there with weapons?

    When the seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

  26. Thank you so much. Victims are demonized everywhere you look. Sometimes, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone does everything they can to avoid the label, which is understood as meaning “weak.”

    I recently got through a very dangerous illness, and have been amused to find that doctors now seem to admire me personally for having the luck to live through it.

  27. Larry Sheldon says:

    “Thank you so much. Victims are demonized everywhere you look.”

    If that was directed to me–I apologize–that was not my intent at all.

    All were certainly victims–victimized several ways, in fact.

    My beef is with people who say they weren’t heroes, and I didn’t say that well. Yes I did say “or”, but that is a signal of poor writing, not of demonizing the victim-heroes.

    (It isn’t clear to me how “demonizing” got into the mix, but this is not a good place to work it out.)

  28. Pacopond says:

    The guys who fought WWII did not as a group think of themselves as heroes. They knew that there were heroes among them, but most of them just saw themselves as doing their jobs. Now we seem to have a Lake Woebegone Syndrome taking hold. Just as every child is seen as “above average,” every service member is a “hero.” Can’t we simply honor and recognize those who serve, without making everyone out to be a hero? If everyone is a hero, the term has been inflated beyond all recognition. Just as we don’t really have to believe our kids are above average to love them, we don’t have to use our highest terms of honor for good, decent, dutiful people who never get the chance to prove their heroism.
    My father was not a hero in the Second World War. He trained and flew attack aircraft, but graduated late in the war and was never sent to combat. He did his part. The readiness is all. I honor his memory and those of all who have done their part.
    But I would rather call these honored dead casualties of war rather than heroes.

  29. Larry Sheldon says:

    You are confusing “what they call themselves” with “what others call them”.

  30. hcantrall says:

    I think this is a label given to people on a personal level – my father is a hero. You don’t know him, if you saw him on the street you wouldn’t recognize him as a hero but, he is to me. It’s really no ones business, if you think your father was not a hero, that’s your problem/opinion. Being a hero doesn’t have to be a formal title given by someone important along with a medal.
    In fact someone posted the dictionary definition of the word and one of them was 1c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities. Maybe in some peoples minds that isn’t enough of a reason to call someone a hero but as with most things, that’s an opinion and we’re all allowed to have one.

  31. steve says:

    I am in agreement with James. I think we should reserve the heroes label for those who perform heroic deeds. This is just a matter of personal preference and I am not overly offended by those who feel otherwise. I used to feel odd getting those letters during Desert Storm telling me what a hero I was when I spent most of time waiting. I would prefer to think of it as serving with honor and fulfilling commitments.

    Steve

  32. G.A.Phillips says:

    Actually, you could volunteer to join them.

    I did when I was 17, but they would not have me, To Hyper or something. Now, I’m 44, a felon, and have a drug problem, so I do what I can.

    Maybe they would take you?

  33. G.A.Phillips says:

    I agree that they are hero’s for volunteering to defend us,times ten that for volunteering when we are in active global war against Islamic terrorism.

  34. DavidL says:

    As I define it, a hero is a person who risks his life for a noble cause. It is the willing assumption of risk which defines a hero, and not the manner of his death.

    There a many to whom the label hero is wrongly attached, such a athletes, or politicians. However most of our many heros do not think of themselves as heros and are not called heros.

  35. davod says:

    “But getting gunned down by a psychopath isn’t an act of heroism. It’s a senseless tragedy.”

    Psychopath – Only if you apply our system of morality. Not if you apply Major Hasan’s view of morality.

    Tragedy – Treachery is more appropriate.

  36. anjin-san says:

    have a drug problem

    It is a good day to get sober… 20.5 years for me 🙂

    I’ve tried it both ways, this way is better by orders of magnitude.

  37. Larry Sheldon says:

    It is a good day to get sober… 20.5 years for me 🙂

    Amen. One more day.

  38. Drew says:

    Those killed in this attack were not victims, they are casualties of war.

    They were killed by a jihadist as much as if they had been killed in Kanhahar or Baghdad.

    Failure to accept that simple fact will only help to ensure it happens again.

    While they may not have done anything particularly heroic at the time of the death, they are certainly heroes for having served their nation.

  39. G.A.Phillips says:

    It is a good day to get sober… 20.5 years for me 🙂

    Im doing ok, but I think your forgetting about all that coolaid Anjin 🙂

    But I am truly happy for you, that you have this
    achieved is wonderful.

  40. G.A.Phillips says:

    Those killed in this attack were not victims, they are casualties of war.

    They were killed by a jihadist as much as if they had been killed in Kanhahar or Baghdad.

    Failure to accept that simple fact will only help to ensure it happens again.

    Yup.

    Plus the stupid gun free zone on military bases idiocy, man I must have missed that crap, when I heard about it I was like WTF……

    Fricking officers can’t carry sidearms??????

  41. Eric Florack says:

    I agree. They were not heroes, past the idea that they gave themselves to the service of their country. The incident, though didn’t make them heroes. It made them victims… victims of a misbegotten policy designed to reinforce the illusion that we’re not at war, and that Islamic radicals pose no threat to us…. a meme that Candidate Obama went to great lengths to reinforce.

    The speech wouldn’t have been needed if that assertion of Candidate Obama were true. President Obama needed to find a way to minimize the impact of that truth. As it is, the effect of the attempt to minimize the truth was minimal, as the world was given the specticle of 13 bodies laid out before the president whose policies led to their deaths.

  42. steve says:

    Obama ordered the invasion of Iraq?

    Steve

  43. An Interested Party says:

    …as the world was given the specticle [sic] of 13 bodies laid out before the president whose policies led to their deaths.

    The truly nauseating thing is how someone would try to use this tragedy as a cudgel to hit the president with…that may work with your fellow travelers, but no one else is buying that line of “reasoning”…

  44. Rick Almeida says:

    I did when I was 17, but they would not have me, To Hyper or something. Now, I’m 44, a felon, and have a drug problem, so I do what I can.

    Maybe they would take you?

    Just FYI, dates of service: 20 Jan 1992 – 19 Jan 2000.

  45. Eric Florack says:

    The truly nauseating thing is how someone would try to use this tragedy as a cudgel to hit the president with…that may work with your fellow travelers, but no one else is buying that line of “reasoning”…

    Heh. Seems to me a lot of similar stuff was tossed at Bush. Still is, too, if we are to take Steve’s comment as representative. Is it now somehow less valid when aimed at Obama?

    Shoe, meet other foot.

  46. Eric Florack says:

    And AIP, what exactly do you find inaccurate about my statement? Or is your objection rooted in the idea that it is all TOO accurate?

  47. G.A.Phillips says:

    Just FYI, dates of service: 20 Jan 1992 – 19 Jan 2000.

    Hail to all the veterans, I salute you, For giving me my freedom, and for keeping this world from exploding.

    We can never repay you, for your service of sacrifice, for your blood.

    We can never take away what you must do or what you have seen.

    We can never appreciate what it really costs or how it feels.

    All we can do is support you, pray for you, salute you, and marvel at your magnificent deeds.

  48. An Interested Party says:

    Shoe, meet other foot.

    Ohhhh, so we should excuse your statement as nothing more than hyperbolic bullshit, since I’m sure that’s what you think was the nature of much of the stuff thrown at Bush…well, I already knew your statement (do tell us all exactly how the president’s policies are responsible for the deaths at Fort Hood) was hyperbolic bullshit, but thanks for confirming that…

  49. An Interested Party says:

    Oh, by the way, if you want some truth about Bush, and not partisan sniping, here it is, from a conservative…

    … I don’t assume that Bush did any of the things he did because he didn’t have “American values” or didn’t love his country. I don’t assume that he trashed our relations with Europe, Turkey and Russia because he wanted America to be isolated or because he loathed these other nations. It is certainly true that he harmed American interests, weakened American power, wrecked our fiscal house and isolated us from many of our allies and potential partners, but the world is full of stories of people who harm that which they love. Bush’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t love America. The problem was that he had no idea what he was doing and substituted ideological fantasies in place of understanding.

    Indeed, most of his catastrophic blunders came from an excess of sentiment and emotion concerning these things, combined with absolutely incompetent execution and an ideological obsession with American virtue and strength that ensured that his actions would be excessive, arrogant, ill-conceived and unrelated to the real world. Bush’s love of country was something similar to what the Apostle called in another context “zeal not according to knowledge.” The man was actually overflowing with saccharine, do-gooding, Gersonian sentimentality and he had no shortage of emotional, demonstrative professions of patriotic devotion. So what? What good did it do anyone? It might even have been better had Bush been less enthusiastic in trying to protect the United States, since he would not have been so ready to see dire threats around every corner where none existed. America needs fewer paranoid, jealous lovers, not more.

    When we look at policy and the results of policy, however, all of Bush’s love and emotion count for nothing. We also hear all the time how much Bush cared about dissidents overseas, but what we forget to mention is how much stronger authoritarian regimes of various stripes, both allied and non-allied, became on his watch. Bush loyalists very much want to have him and Obama judged on expressions of weepy sentiment and professions of good intentions rather than on concrete results, because they know that their idol has to fare very poorly if he is judged on the merits of what his policies produced. Amusingly, they would like nothing more than to damn Obama for not imitating Bush’s style, which they find reassuring or satisfying for one reason or another.

    It may be that Obama will prove to be a poor President, and he could inaugurate policies that will fail as spectacularly as Bush’s did, but we would not be able to conclude from this that he did not love his country or share American values. If we could conclude such things from what politicians do, surely the man who launched aggressive wars, and who sanctioned illegal, arbitrary detention, illegal wiretapping and torture would not come out looking very good at all.

    Funny thing, though…these words were inspired by another piece of hyperbolic bullshit very similar to what Eric wrote…

  50. anjin-san says:

    While they may not have done anything particularly heroic at the time of the death, they are certainly heroes for having served their nation.

    Damn straight.

  51. Eric Florack says:

    Ohhhh, so we should excuse your statement as nothing more than hyperbolic bullshit, since I’m sure that’s what you think was the nature of much of the stuff thrown at Bush…well, I already knew your statement (do tell us all exactly how the president’s policies are responsible for the deaths at Fort Hood) was hyperbolic bullshit, but thanks for confirming that…

    I merely note how selective the left’s reactions are.

    Oh, by the way, if you want some truth about Bush, and not partisan sniping, here it is, from a conservative..

    What you seem to forget is thay Bush isn’t a conservative, nor his father. They both are at best described as ‘centrist’. So if you’re trying to slam conservatism, you missed by about 30 degrees to the left.

  52. An Interested Party says:

    So if you’re trying to slam conservatism, you missed by about 30 degrees to the left.

    Umm, not really, but I’m not surprised you didn’t get the point…rather, I was pointing out that plenty of stuff can rightly be tossed at Bush, and the tossing can legitimately be done by people on the right or the left…oh, and you still haven’t told us exactly how the president’s policies are responsible for the deaths at Fort Hood…of course, that isn’t surprising either…

  53. sookie says:

    I think James thinks Hasan is crazy and therefore the events deserve as much consideration as if a hurricane had hit the camp.

    I think Hasan decided to join the other side.
    Posted by PD Shaw | November 11, 2009 | 11:16 am | Permalink

    I think you are right on both counts. It’s possible that Hasan was crazy. Even so it doesn’t mean many or all didn’t die heroes for their thus far service to their country. Heroes die every day, even if not in a heroic death.

    And it also doesn’t mean that they didn’t die heroic deaths. We don’t know all the circumstances, but I suspect in the coming days and weeks we’ll hear of those who died heroically trying to stop him or save others.

    Let’s not forget that in every natural disaster, like a hurricane, heroes come to surface. They are quietly and routinely going about their lives and some act or circumstance causes them to rise above and beyond in service to others.

    Victim is not entirely the wrong word but it is absolutely not the only word.