Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Slaying Hero (e.g., Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Audie Murphy, Chris Kyle) versus the Saving Hero

"2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by 6 tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, 1 of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machinegun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective."

Mark Greenblatt, City Journal
"Analyzing lists of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, Lindberg spots a trend: the percentage of citations that include a life-saving narrative has escalated markedly in the modern era. “The increasing emphasis on life-saving activity over time is so starkly apparent that it is tempting to conclude that no one will get the Congressional Medal of Honor any more simply for exacting a price on the enemy,” he writes. “Absent the saving function, the chance of a medal being awarded now seems vanishingly low.”
If the American military—the most powerful fighting force in the history of the world—reserves its highest honor not for killing the enemy but for saving lives, “then we have perhaps reached the point in the development of the modern world at which the modern, saving form of heroism has eclipsed the vestigial forms of classical heroism and their slaying ways for good,” Lindberg observes. And that raises a haunting question for the author: what if a slaying hero (or villain) arises outside of the modern egalitarian West? Considering the rise of ISIS, the assertiveness of Iran’s mullahs, and the belligerence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, those anti-Western heroes may have arrived already. “Do we,” Lindberg asks, “generous in spirit and reluctant to slay as we are, have the capacity and will to resist?”"

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