We Americans privilege our warriors with the label hero. Maybe this follows the long course of Western civilization from the ancient Greeks to Rome's dominating (yes, and pacifying) violence, through the English (never mind the costume dramas of Masterpiece Theatre and the BBC) and the Celts. Maybe it's just ours, born of prison colonies and the scapegrace sorts who needed a fresh start, rather than the devout Pilgrims and their dream of a the city on the hill. But they executed Quakers.
America is a martial, violent culture. In our nation's history, we've gone to war over and over again, so often that it seems to be a cultural necessity. Instead of one night a year for unpunished mayhem, as in The Purge, we think we need a war every few years as catharsis against the savage violence that lives inside us all - or all men, anyway.
Digression: A Greek connection I hadn't known, crypteia, precedent it seems for the killing of Michael Brown. Is my liberal problem that I'm searching for Athens in Sparta? At least, I live in the Athens of America.
Back to heroism...
Heroes speak to me. To be valiant, to be stalwart, to be known as a stand-up guy, these are all in the myths I want to live.
This doesn't require a gun. The New York Times today reports on heroes in the so far losing fight against ebola in West Africa.
Ms. Sellu, the deputy nurse matron, is a rare survivor who never stopped toiling at the government hospital here, Sierra Leone’s biggest death trap for the virus during the dark months of June and July. Hers is a select club, consisting of perhaps three women on the original Ebola nursing staff who did not become infected, who watched their colleagues die, and who are still carrying on.These health workers have little to no effective support from their own communities, from their governments, or from the world at large. There are a few western aid agencies, some religious, some secular.
“There is a need for me to be around,” said Ms. Sellu, 42, who oversees the Ebola nurses. “I am a senior. All the junior nurses look up to me.” If she left, she said, “the whole thing would collapse.”
Here at home in America, we celebrate the survival of our fellow Americans. But there's no groundswell of support to save the thousands of Africans who are infected or will be. Why is it that we can't see them as just as human as we are?
Why, too, does a Facebook friend of mine post support for Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown? What lack of human sympathy leaves behind only tribal sympathy?