Our Heroes, Ourselves

Weekly Standard

At a White House ceremony on November 12, President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to retired Army captain Florent Groberg. When the president fastens the medal’s light-blue ribbon behind Groberg’s neck, Obama will be doing more than honoring a single American hero. He will be reaffirming what has become a national commitment to honor a distinctive kind of heroism. Groberg, like other recent recipients of the nation’s highest military honor, risked his life to save the lives of others.

Groberg, who was born in France in 1983 and is a naturalized American citizen, grew up in Bethesda and is a graduate of the University of Maryland. He joined the Army, he has said, because he felt he owed something to his adopted country. On his second tour in Afghanistan in 2012, Groberg was in charge of a detail that provided security for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division.

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The New Heroic Ideal

Defining Ideas

In the ancient world, as we know from reading about the exploits of heroes like Achilles in the Iliad, the path to wartime glory was littered with the bodies of one’s slain enemies. The most honored warrior was the fiercest killer. Though the weapons of war have changed over the ensuing millennia, the need for martial prowess to defend one’s country and way of life has not. And the U.S. military is arguably as accomplished as it or any military has ever been in dealing harm to the nation’s enemies.

But something has changed rather decisively over the past half century. Today more than ever, glory in war comes not from fiercely slaying the enemy on the battlefield, but from saving the lives of others, usually one’s comrades in arms. At least this is the conclusion to be drawn from the history of the nation’s highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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Ben Carson was right. We could use more heroes

USA Today

GOP presidential aspirant Ben Carson came in for some harsh criticism after speculating that if he’d been at Umpqua Community College, he would have led a charge to stop the shooter. He stood accused of insensitivity for supposedly “second-guessing” the victims and for arrogance in his hypothetical claim to bravery. Fair enough: It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Carson, just like the rest of us, doesn’t really know what he would do in such a situation, never having faced one just like it.

But we do know what Chris Mintz did that day in Oregon: He reversed course from the direction of safety and headed back toward the gunman, pulling an alarm and showing people how to get away safety, before being shot seven times while trying to prevent the gunman from entering a classroom.

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The Heroes Hidden Among Us

Weekly Standard

Nothing can redeem the harrowing massacre that unfolded last week at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. But something does enter on the positive side of the ledger: A genuine American hero revealed himself that day.

Chris Mintz’s biography seems to fit the profile of a student enrolled in community college. He’d finished high school, done a stint in the army, worked at Walmart among a series of unremarkable jobs. He fought mixed martial arts and was going to school because he wanted to become a personal trainer. He’s the father of a young son with autism, and though he is no longer together with the boy’s mother, he remains thoroughly engaged in his son’s life.

It all sounds perfectly ordinary, and in most ways it was. Under almost all of the plausible scenarios in which a life such as this plays out, the rest of his countrymen would never have heard of him. He would have lived his life as tens of millions do, privately, with the travails and rewards of work, family and friendship. And the rest of us—and perhaps he himself—would never have known that a heroic heart was quietly beating inside him, awaiting only the occasion to reveal itself.

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Syria’s Homeric Struggle

Real Clear Politics

In far too much of the world today, conflict consists of the same kind of heroic struggle at arms that Homer depicted 2,800 years ago in the Iliad, modified only by the longer-range lethality of modern weaponry. Such a contest has long been underway in Syria.

Those of us excused by accident of birth from participation in such struggles should take a moment to reflect on our monumental good luck — and on what obligations might flow from it.

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Arresting Atrocity: Obama’s Agenda to Prevent Genocide

This post was co-authored with Lee Feinstein, founding dean of Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies.

In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement underscoring a commitment to prevent crimes against humanity. He declared that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” Soon after, he established the ambitiously named Atrocity Prevention Board, a group of U.S. officials convened by the National Security Council that includes representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Treasury, as well as from the U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID), the intelligence community, and other groups. The board meets monthly to assess the risks of atrocities and to strategize on how to mitigate them.

Since then, Obama’s commitment to atrocity prevention has come into question, especially because of U.S. inaction in Syria—even though the purpose of the Atrocity Prevention Board was never to deal with major unfolding crises such as the one in Syria but, rather, to assess longer-term risks and devise “upstream” preventive measures.

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Heroism is more saving than slaying

USA Today

When New York City firefighters rushed into the burning Twin Towers 14 years ago, a day of horror and uncertainty also gave us a glimpse of our country’s greatest asset: the life-saving hero.

From the beginning of recorded history, heroism has most often been associated with prowess on the field of battle. Heroes excelled by slaying their enemies and conquering their neighbors.

Our modern-day warriors have no less fighting spirit than their counterparts from centuries past. But their fight today is not to conquer the world in the manner ofAlexander the Great. Whatever their sense of personal ambition, the reason they fight is to defend their country from harm. They fight for us, not for territory or glory.

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Defining Heroism Up Once Again

Wall Street Journal 

We don’t yet know the full story of what a 25-year-old Moroccan citizen was doing on a Paris-bound train from Amsterdam Friday, armed, according to police, with an AK-47, a handgun and a box cutter. The reason we don’t is the quick action of two Frenchmen, a Briton and—most decisively—three Americans to subdue Ayoub El-Khazzani before he was able to act on his intentions.

The six who saved the day perfectly represent the modern face of heroism as it came to the fore in the 20th century: In a situation of extreme danger, they chose to expose themselves to additional risk, thereby saving the lives of others. Nowadays, in our mostly peaceful societies, the word “heroism” is often used as a synonym for everyday inspiring behavior, or steeliness despite suffering, or selfless generosity or any number of other exemplary actions. The actions of these six men, however, were the genuine, life-risking article. Continue reading

The liberals won the war

Wall Street Journal

In “A War for the Soul of America,” Andrew Hartman, a historian at Illinois State University, has produced a lively chronicle of the “culture wars,” the political and intellectual clashes beginning in the 1960s pitting left-wing intellectuals and activists who sought fundamental social change against conservative and neoconservative counterparts seeking to resist it.

The two sides quarreled over “secular humanism” and the place of religion in public life; over the value of various liberation movements and the broad claims of multiculturalism; over who should control the public schools and what they should teach; and over the fundamental justice or injustice of the American experiment and of America’s role in the world.

Mr. Hartman’s book makes two main contributions. The first is his framing of the “culture wars” debate from its earliest days. It begins with what he calls “normative America,” which he describes as “an inchoate group of assumptions and aspirations shared by millions of Americans during the postwar years. Normative America prized hard work, personal responsibility, individual merit, delayed gratification, social mobility and other values that middle-class whites recognized as their own.” These values included a preference for men as breadwinners and women as homemakers, sexual discretion, and faith in God and American exceptionalism. Continue reading

The answer to ‘hybrid warfare’

The Weekly Standard

It’s an especially tense time for the Baltic states and Russia’s other Western-leaning neighbors. Wariness with regard to Vladimir Putin and long-term Russian intentions toward the “near abroad” has long been the norm here, well before the 2007 cyberattack on Estonia and Russian military action against Georgia in 2008. But with the annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine, general wariness has given way to focused concern about the new threat Russia poses.

Call it “hybrid war,” “unconventional conflict,” “political warfare,” or “little green men.” The sense is not only that Russia is now unwilling to abide by such twenty-first-century principles as “no changing borders by force,” but that Putin has developed sophisticated new methods of asserting power unconstrained by conventional notions of warfare and even the law of armed conflict between states. Continue reading