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Victims as Heroes v Warriors as Heroes

“Sodom by the Susquehanna”
Cover Art. © Paul Hair, 2017.
Victims are our heroes. Survived an attack? You’re a hero. Survived a tough illness? You’re courageous; you’re a hero. Lived through a traumatic event through no action of your own? You’re a hero. Ours is a bizarre culture, because no one used to think of victims as heroes. Instead, people thought of warriors—killers and conquerors—as heroes. And stories can help us reclaim this rightful view of heroism. My fiction aims to do just that.

Jonathan Eig wrote, “Why You’ve Heard Of Jessica Lynch, Not Zan Hornbuckle – As Sentiment About War Evolves, Victims Grab Attention, Not Fighters,” for The Wall Street Journal in 2003. It’s a long read but the story and analysis are worth your time.

Gene Edward Veith of World Magazine noticed the article at the time of its publication and wrote a column of his own about it. Here are some of the insights he had in, “Victims as heroes – Sentimentality has replaced both martial virtues and clear thinking.”

Nothing against Private Jessica, who has suffered for her country. The fact is, the reaction of Americans to the men and women stationed in Iraq is overwhelmingly one of sympathy, of weepy commiseration for their plight, for the danger they are in, for having to be away from their families, and for having to have lived through such horrible experiences. While they deserve our concern for these sacrifices, what happened to our appreciation for the martial virtues—courage, toughness, victory—that the members of our military have been displaying every day? . . . 
Even our war movies tend to be anti-war. “When Hollywood makes a war movie,” observes Mr. Eig, “it often focuses on saving American lives—Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines—not killing others.” . . . 
Perhaps our sensitivities are the sign of a refined and peace-loving civilization. But we had better make no mistake about it: Our enemies do not share our sensitivity. Those who want to kill us despise our niceness, and they see our squeamishness about casualties, both our own and those of our enemies, as a weakness.

Almost 14 years have passed since Eig and Veith wrote about Hornbuckle. As far as I know, he remains in the Army to this day. But his story has faded into history.

So our view of victims as heroes has remained the same since then.

Hopefully my fiction can play a small part in changing this part of our culture. Don’t get me wrong, my fiction is meant to be entertaining. It isn’t preachy. But even good fiction can enlighten. After all, that is why stories have themes.

Many of the stories I’ve already published have a theme of the warrior-conqueror being a hero. For instance, Adam White has been the protagonist of most of my Mortal Gods stories. He’s boldly violent, slaughtering his enemies without hesitation and without remorse. He doesn’t cry or brood over his actions. He is very concerned about doing what is right, but he also knows that failing to stop evil is wrong. And he know his enemies won’t respond to niceness. Another recurring theme in his stories is that in the battle of good versus evil, good has an obligation to destroy evil.

And you’ll see more of this in the upcoming tales, Mortal Gods: “Sodom by the Susquehanna,” and, “Letters of Marque and Reprisal.”

Surviving a traumatic encounter or making it through a rough situation by enduring it can be a significant event in a person’s life. And while it might make that person a victim, it doesn’t make that person a hero. Heroes are people who act and overcome a foe, usually at unnecessary risk to themselves and often when the odds are against them. The tales I’ve told touched upon this. My future stories will too.