Very suprised to see this in my local liberal paper.
Link to Story
Jim Donaldson: Let's save the worship for true heroes of the world
09:23 AM EST on Wednesday, February 15, 2006
It's an Olympic scene networks love to show. And newspapers, too.
Even more than dramatic pictures of skiers falling, snowboarders backflipping, and beautiful pairs skating, the shots that everybody loves to see are those of American athletes draped in the flag. Or waving the flag. Or up on the medal stand, gold medal hanging around the neck, a smile on the face -- even as a tear rolls gently down a cheek, perhaps mouthing the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the revered red, white and blue is run up the flagpole.
It's gives the folks back home in the good ol' U.S. of A. that warm-and-fuzzy, feel-good, isn't-he-or-she-great, aren't-we-great, isn't-America-great, sports-as-combination-Kodak Moment-Hallmark Card, Mom-and-apple pie feeling.
But just when did winning the halfpipe make someone a hero?
What's so patriotic about skating, or skiing, faster than the next guy?
Does winning a medal in ice hockey make America a better, safer place?
The pictures I'd like to see, but we seldom, if ever do, are of a teenaged sentry standing along the DMZ, between North and South Korea, or beside the barbed wire at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
I'd like to see video of the officer of the deck during the midwatch from midnight to 4 a.m. as he keeps his destroyer on course in the Indian Ocean while most of his shipmates sleep, or of the non-commissioned officer as keeps a watchful eye on his men during a patrol through the streets of Tikrit.
I want to see scenes of Americans working to stop the epidemic of AIDS in Africa, or hunger in impoverished places. I want to see pictures of people devoting their energy fighting poverty and disease around the globe.
You think it's exciting watching a skier careen down a precipitious slope, a bobsledder speed through a hairpin turn, or a ski jumper soar through the air? For a real thrill, you ought to see a Naval aviator land a fighter plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the night. I've seen it many times, and never once saw the pilot drape himself in the flag when he clambered out of the cockpit after returning from a mission.
With mood music as a backdrop, the networks covering the Olympics tell us stories each night of "heroic" skaters who get back up after they fall down, of determined athletes who overcome injuries, or illness, or difficult childhoods to reach the highest level of their sport.
Those achievements are not insignificant. Those stories are worth telling. But, when the Olympics are over, will those same networks tell us nightly stories of the young Marine serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, a guy with a young wife back home, and perhaps a child who was born shortly after he shipped out that he's never seen, doing his duty each day -- proud to do it -- while at the same time counting each day until he can return? Will they superimpose a flag behind him while extolling his virtues and telling us what a hero he is?
And how about the female Army officer serving in Iraq, where women are treated as second-class citizens? Will we hear about her?
Don't count on it.
We all have heard stories about heroes of past wars -- men like Alvin York and Audie Murphy, Eddie Rickenbacker and "Pappy" Boyington (Apparently his story hasn't made it to UW yet). But who are the heroes of the Gulf War? Of the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Combat heroes no longer are glorified in America, where, if battles occur, we like to think they can be fought without anyone getting hurt.
There was a story earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal that noted that biathletes -- a combination of cross-country skiing and marksmanship -- seldom come from the ranks of the military any more.
Until recently, many American biathletes were members of the National Guard, and trained at the Army Mountain Warfare School in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
"Our mom strongly opposed us joining, for fear they would send us to war," Tracy and Lanny Barnes, 23-year-old twins competing for the U.S. in the biathlon, were quoted as saying. Their mother's concern is understandable. She doesn't want her children to serve in the military for fear they'll be placed in harm's way. She'd prefer that someone else's children serve. Somebody has to do it, of course. Just let it be somebody else.
Isn't that the prevailing attitude in this same America that rejoices in seeing flag-waving snowboarders, and skiers, and skaters? Isn't that the dirty, not-so-little secret, of so many patriotic-when-it's-convenient Americans, particularly those of the middle and upper classes?
There was a time when the feeling prevailed that much was expected from those to whom much was given. A time when a president told his fellow Americans: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Is that feeling prevalent today? Don't ask.
Americans these days are quick to say: "I know my rights." Not as many are ready to assume the responsibility to protect and preserve those rights.
It shouldn't be some kid with a snowboard and a flag draped around her shoulders that makes us feel good about ourselves, or about America.
Thanks. That is a good read.