I ask this because I’ve come across a large number of people on our side who seem to wish that Kyle Rittenhouse would go silent. Go away, that is. That it is in some way distasteful that he should be happy and having a good time and that people should be honoring him. I believe this attitude is borne of two things:
- Personal cowardice.
- Not knowing what a hero is.
We are many decades into the anti-hero in popular culture, aren’t we? The person who isn’t all that great but who manages to do something good along the way, as it were. I don’t think this was foisted upon us by popular culture, or at least not entirely. I think a lot of people wanted it – wanted, that is, a world in which “hero” became something other than what it had been before.
We can see this in what we call heroic – a nurse working the Covid ward: hero. A soldier who endured an IED attack in Iraq: hero. With full intent to offend modern sensibilities, I’ll just come right out and say it: they aren’t heroes.
A hero is someone who goes above and beyond that which is expected. A nurse is supposed to treat patients. In so doing the nurse isn’t a hero: the nurse is just doing the job. So, too, with the soldier: it is expected that soldiers will go on patrol and we also expect that some patrols will be attacked and some soldiers will be killed and wounded while on patrol. There isn’t anything heroic about it: it is just the job of the infantry. It would be heroic if a non-soldier suddenly jumped into the Humvee and went on the patrol because we don’t expect a civilian to patrol…we expect the soldier. When you do what is expected of you, you have done just that.
The Medal of Honor, crucially, is awarded to servicemembers who go above and beyond the call of duty. Their duty is to fight; we expect them to be in battle and bravely fight the enemy until victory or death. We award the medal when, in the course of doing what is expected, they go on and do something unexpected. A good way to consider it is that the medal of honor is for doing something that no sane person would ever order a servicemember to do. An order that simply can’t be given: an order which doesn’t merely carry the risk of death, but has built into it almost certain death. Like this:
For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of a Scout Sniper Platoon attached to the Second Marines, Second Marine Division, in action against Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, November 20 and 21, 1943. The first to disembark from the jeep lighter, First lieutenant Hawkins unhesitatingly moved forward under heavy enemy fire at the end of the Betio pier, neutralizing emplacements in coverage of troops assaulting the main breach positions. Fearlessly leading his men on to join the forces fighting desperately to gain a beachhead, he repeatedly risked his life throughout the day and night to direct and lead attacks on pill boxes and installations with grenades and demolition. At dawn on the following day, First Lieutenant Hawkins returned to the dangerous mission of clearing the limited beachhead of Japanese resistance, personally initiating an assault on a hostile fortified by five enemy machine guns and, crawling forward in the face of withering fire, boldly fired point-blank into the loopholes and completed the destruction with grenades. Refusing to withdraw after being seriously wounded in the chest during this skirmish, First Lieutenant Hawkins steadfastly carried the fight to the enemy, destroying three more pill boxes before he was caught in a burst of Japanese shell fire and mortally wounded. His relentless fighting spirit in the face of formidable opposition and his exceptionally daring tactics were an inspiration to his comrades during the most crucial phase of the battle and reflect the highest credit upon the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Lt Hawkins was expected to land first. He was expected to take on the very dangerous task of attacking enemy defense positions to allow the rest of the Marines to get ashore. While he was doing that, he wasn’t doing anything but his job – but when he was wounded, his task was over. He was supposed to evacuate to the rear. Had he done so, nobody would have had the slightest complaint to make about the bravery of Lt Hawkins. But, he didn’t. We can’t know exactly what went in through his mind, but I’ve read enough history on this sort of thing to suspect that Lt Hawkins felt he couldn’t leave – for the love of his comrades, he was going to keep on fighting, knowing that as long as he was in the line of fire, someone else wasn’t. That was above and beyond the call of duty. That is why a grateful nation awarded him the Medal of Honor.
This is not to say that Rittenhouse’s actions were in the same league as Lt Hawkins’. But as a 17 year old civilian it was not in any was expected that he should stand against communist thugs in the act of looting and burning a town. We expect the police and the National Guard to do that. Absent them, we expect mature adults to do that. As the police and Guard were absent and there didn’t seem to be a mature adult willing to go out there, Kyle did. And he stood up to the thugs and won. He went above and beyond any call of duty he had as a citizen. And, so, he’s a hero – and he deserves his fame and the honor of his fellow citizens.
And now some are complaining about it and I suspect it is because, at the back of their minds, they know they wouldn’t have gone out there. Kyle isn’t the sort of hero they want because he is a challenge they can’t meet. They want anti-heroes, because actual heroes are too difficult to emulate. The people complaining about Kyle are, in fact, cowards. But they have been well trained in being cowards, so we can excuse them a little bit.
That said, it is time for us to start getting back into the hero business: to honor and hold up as examples not people who just did their job or who triumphed over adversity, but people who didn’t have to do a good thing but, at the risk of their own lives, went ahead and did it anyway. That is a hero. That is what we must put front and center into the public mind – to instruct us on being a hero. To make us, collectively, want to be as brave as a hero. It is only thus that we can even have heroes.
If you wonder why our nation has gone down the tubes while those who we expect to save it stood aside, there is the reason: as a society, we didn’t put a premium on being a hero. We put the premium on being the victim. Kyle wasn’t a victim: he is a warrior. He stood up. He did what had to be done at the moment without a thought for his own safety. The same people condemning Kyle for his actions would laud him to the skies for enduring cancer. But merely enduring isn’t heroic – it is taking the action that no one can demand of you. That is the heroic thing – and if we want people to stand up against the bullies who are destroying our nation, then we’re going to have to honor heroes.