How do you define a hero? In war, the terms may be irreconcilably different than in everyday life. Situations arise where taking certain lives is imperative to saving others and often giving your own life for a cause makes you a hero.
Following orders from superiors that could result in your death but doing it anyway. Acting out of loyalty and dedication instead of self-serving means, above all, is probably a prerequisite. To act in spite of being afraid, instead of being void of fear.
Heroic World War I veteran William Carpenter told NBC, “You show me a man who says he was brave over there, and I’ll show you a liar. Every one of us was afraid. Even the Germans were afraid.”
However you define the title of hero, the label dares us to ask what we would do in situations such as these. Would we charge into blasts of battlefield gunfire to save our comrades? To save civilians that we’ll never see again? Would we sign up for active duty in the first place?
There are many of us that wouldn’t. But luckily, there are those among us courageous enough to take on the burden.
War is, of course, a morally complicated and politically messy ordeal. It challenges us to amend our thinking of who the real heroes are. Sometimes, the war heroes are just who we would expect like Desmond Doss — someone who humbly saved multiple lives without ever taking one. Other times, the war heroes are the flying aces that bomb the enemy into oblivion – the enemy that would kill so many others if left unchallenged. It’s the women who changed their entire identity just to be able to fight when their country told them they weren’t allowed to.
Lastly, and most controversially, is it Hiroo Onoda? He obeyed his orders and respected his military training as all soldiers are expected to. This meant killing perceived enemies to survive and serve another day. He continued, unwavering and isolated, for three full decades after the war actually ended.
These men and women and their stories are certainly noble in their own ways, but ultimately, we all get to choose our own heroes. That’s the beauty of it all.