Self-Righteous Intimidation

I may or may not get around to writing a full post on this, but I did want to put something out there in case I don’t have the time to expand on it:

Soldiers are one of the comparatively few groups that conservatives are considered to have in their tent that there are strong social norms – across mainstream ideology – against ever saying anything remotely negative about. Thus, when something not-actually-all-that-negative (in this case, the expressed absence of something unremittingly positive) is said about them, it’s one of their real opportunities to get on a high horse about it. And they do. It’s very satisfying to get on one’s high horse and tell people what they cannot say.

This is not to say that I agree with Hayes’s comments or (more especially) the timing of it. I don’t. I can, however, explain why without saying that he hates the military or that he is in no position to say such a thing because he never served.

I wish I could go on, but I’m at a Super-8, it’s getting late, and I have another day of driving tomorrow. I am also positively rejuvenated, as far as blogging ideas go, and have gone from trying to think of something to write about to trying to figure out which thing I should write about. The Vegas trip was that good for me (thanks, Burt!).

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. In reading his comments, I remembered thinking “I suspect that Team Red is disappointed that he only said this in May and Team Blue is wishing on their lucky stars that this topic of conversation is gone by, say, Tuesday.”

  2. I actually incline towards agreeing with Hayes. Individuals may do things in combat that are heroic – risking ones life to save wounded comrades, for example – but simply being in a war. Particularly if it’s a war that has no justification for occurring and certainly isn’t for defence or for the sake of benefitting others – as in cases like Iraq or Vietnam. Even in the most justifiable of wars, many soldiers do things that are deeply unheroic.

    I don’t like the idea that participating in war is inherently heroic, and like even less the concept that it’s unacceptable even to question that idea.

    Being raised in, and still being part of (though I struggle with my views on specific conflicts) a pacifist Christian tradition may have a lot to do with this.

    • Katherine,

      I’m inclined to agree with you as long as the discussion is about “heroes.” I do think some sort of commemoration is in order, however, for people who choose a job that is dangerous or that puts one at the disposal of “the public” for a period of years, even in peacetime (in other words, even someone who holds an office position stateside, as someone wrote below, probably merits some recognition). Ditto if the service is not one of choice but of compulsion (i.e., I would support commemoration for draftees). Perhaps I favor some sort of commemoration in particular because I’ve never even thought about serving, and when I was of the most likely age (I turned 18 in 1992), serving would have (probably) meant peacetime service.

      I would probably reserve “heroism” for something else.

    • I primarily disagree with Hayes on the basis that Memorial Day is not the time to air those particular thoughts. It’s not unlike how, for a few years, Father’s Day became the time we would condemn men for too often deserting their families. Bad timing.

      I disagree with his comment beyond that (more on that below), but that’s the primary problem I have with his comments. The rest is just perspective.

      • Hayes was talking about Memorial Day because it was Memorial Day weekend. And his thoughts about Memorial Day included what he said. What is the right time to express our thoughts about Memorial Day but at Memorial Day? What you are saying is that Hayes’ thoughts in particular were not appropriate to express around Memorial Day. But presumably if his thoughts had been different, then they might have been appropriate (i.e. presumably there were some set of statements it would have been appropriate for him to make). So what you are really saying is that some thoughts ought to be self-censored at Memorial Day? Why? What ones are they? How do you come to identify them (i.e. why is it correct that those are the ones that should be self-censored?)? Why were Hayes’ particular thoughts in that group? And how should he have come to that conclusion before expressing them?

        • My impression is that the main thing he got in trouble with was saying that we should be more particular about lionizing our soldiers. I think that’s a fair point, even though I don’t entirely agree. But I don’t think that it’s a point where Memorial Day is required to express it, any more than Father’s Day is required to express disappointment that some men are bad fathers. I don’t think this earned him the response that he got, but I do think he should have thought twice about it. How might he have come to that conclusion beforehand? The same logic that says “I shouldn’t talk about this problem I have with my wife on her birthday. It can wait.”

          • I guess my response to you depends on whether you’re saying, “If he’d asked me for my advice as to what was the best course for him to pursue relative to his own interests, this is what I’d have told him,” or, “I think Chris Hayes violated the correct strictures of propriety relating to this day, strictures I agree with and am seeking to uphold, even though I think some others who agree with me have gone beyond other strictures governing what should be done to enforce the strictures of propriety Hayes violated.” If it’s the former, fair enough, apparently Hayes on reflection agrees. If the latter, I disagree because of the extent to which Hayes made clear he was expressing his own discomfort with using language others commonly use – i.e. his comments were by way of simply explaining his own language use choices, not any attempt to say that the common usage is generally wrong and should be reformed in common usage. That claim is not in his comments. And I think it’s not improper or disrespectful to offer explanations of one’s own language use choices (though generally it’s sloppy communications practice to do so at length, something Hayes is serially guilty of.)

            Beyond that I think that you’re misunderstanding Hayes’ commitment to making this point at this time. It wasn’t his main agenda to get this thing said, and the issue then when to do it. Rather, it was Memorial Day weekend, and it’s appropriate that he do a show on that (and he did a good one for it). But among his views on Memorial Day and they way we memorialize war dead is this somewhat heterodox one. So the issue is whether to voice that, or self-censor it at this time, not when else to express it.

          • I’m saying a little bit of both. But in the latter case, it’s not “How DARE he make this case on Memorial Day? The bastard!” but more along the lines of “Hey, let’s not have that discussion on the weekend that we reserve for honoring our dead and/or celebrating military service. Didn’t mean it that way? Understood. But let’s talk about it next week.” More long those lines. I thought the response was disproportionate and cringed at the results.

          • I get this, kinda. As much as it would be interesting to have a “Did Benedict Arnold have a point?” argument, I might avoid having the argument over the 4th of July weekend.

            Not because the discussion would be any less interesting then than in the middle of October, of course… but because choosing that particular weekend to bring it up communicates a great many things.

            (If you don’t like that particular example, imagine someone asking about the silly arbitrariness of the American concept of “race”… now imagine them starting this discussion on MLK Jr. Day. The discussion itself is one that could well indeed be worth having… but starting the conversation on that particular day would make (even) me suspect that there was something else going on.)

          • Jaybird, The Daily Outrage used to have an annual rant about MLK Day that they would post about why we shouldn’t be celebrating MLK Day. They actually made some good points*, though I consider it tactless to put it up on the holiday itself (I can’t recall if they put it up the day of or within proximity to).

            * – Namely, that he is the only figure that we reserve a single day in celebration for (we no longer celebrate Washington’s b-day or Lincoln’s individually). I don’t quite look at it that way, but rather as a placeholder for celebration of civil rights in general. So there is an argument here for celebrating Juneteenth or the Emancipation Proclamation (the preliminary date, September 22), but I sort of suspect that’s not what TDO was ultimately wanting. The main reason for holding the particular celebration we do is Black History Month and keeping it all in the same package, and that probably outweighs the disproportionality between MLK and George Washington.

          • I think I get what Will T is saying. In much the same way that a funeral is not the right place to always say exactly how you feel about someone, Hayes probably didn’t choose the best time and place to deliver his thoughts. Of course, I didn’t see the entire conversation, so it is possible that the ebb and flow of it made that appropriate. But, yes, there is a degree to which certain thoughts should be self-censored at certain times.

            However, much of the broad criticism was not “How could he say that on Memorial Day of all days?” Most of it was, “How could he say or even think that ever?!?!”

          • That being said, self-censoring is not the same as misrepresenting. If Hayes isn’t comfortable using the term “hero”, he shouldn’t feel pressured to do so against his beliefs. If he were questioned as to why he seemed to be avoiding the word, I think it’d be appropriate to offer his rationale.

          • However, much of the broad criticism was not “How could he say that on Memorial Day of all days?” Most of it was, “How could he say or even think that ever?!?!”

            True, and that’s why I find the response to Hayes objectionable. Especially when the “HE DIDN’T SERVE!” is thrown in there.

            I would add that my own response is less emphatic than the first quote, more long the lines of “It’s not a great idea to throw that in there on the holiday itself (or the weekend thereof).” More an understandable error than an affront. I believe MDrew when he says that nothing was intended here beyond an airing of thoughts.

          • Will-

            I agree. The meat of Hayes comment might certainly be disagreeable, but I don’t find it objectionable. And I wouldn’t even raise the timing of it to “objectionable” status… more of a social gaffe or breach of decorum.

          • JB-

            I would be more sympathetic to that line of thinking if so many of these holidays hadn’t become almost completely divorced from their meaning. Of the ones noted (Memorial Day, 4th of July, and MLK Day), I’d argue that for most people, MLK Day is probably the only one still truly associated with the original intent of the day, with the obvious caveat that as a school teacher, my perception may be way off.

            I’d much rather have the conversation that Hayes offered or even the hypothetical one you proposed about the construct of race on those respective holidays than the ones that are most often had, which tend to be about how folks are going to enjoy the long weekend or what sales are being offered.

          • he is the only figure that we reserve a single day in celebration for

            Other then Columbus, Saint Patrick, and Him. In fact, He gets a single day plus a whole weekend.

          • Oh, absolutely. It seems odd to associate Memorial Day with sales on mattresses and end tables rather than, say, veterans.

            Memorial Day is, effectively, meaningless anymore. “National Holiday” means “have a feast” and whether the feast is indoors or outdoors is really the only difference between any given holiday in this season versus that one.

            That said, it’s very difficult to walk the line between “I don’t want to do what all you people are doing because it seems wrong to me” and “hey, it’s no biggie that you people are doing what you’re doing”.

            This line is easier to walk on nondescript days.

          • It’s like how Thanksgiving has become The Day Before National Retail Appreciation Day.

            Alternatively, it’s like the whole “Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas” thing.

          • “In fact, He gets a single day plus a whole weekend.”

            America’s Judeo-Christian heritage in practice, eh?

          • JB-

            Agreed. Again, I’d need to see the entire conversation to really weigh in more on Hayes’s comments. Does anyone have a link? If he lead off with it, that is one thing. If he was pressed into offering his thoughts, that is quite another. Still, it’s not like he was shitting on coffins and calling them all babykillers. Having only read his quote, I struggle to see a context where the outrage meter gets above a 2 or 3. Really, I’m putting this one squarely onto the “Probably shouldn’t have said it” meter.

            A new thought: Where is the criticism for the people that made a “controversy” out of this? How much did they sully Memorial Day by turning every conversation into a referendum on one’s patriotism based on their response to Hayes? Are they really any better? Again, much of the criticism seemed aimed at making political points. To me, that is just as, if not more, deplorable as what Hayes said in the first place.

            Exhibit A: Scott on Blaise’s initial Memorial Day post.

          • Columbus Day is an interesting one to bring up since many folks have truly turned that one on its head.

            I sometimes get push back from parents because I don’t talk about Columbus Day with my students (4- and 5-year-olds). I think they’d like me to sing the little song and make boats or something. While I’m not full board into the Columbus-as-devil-incarnate camp, I don’t know a developmentally appropriate way to talk about Columbus, so I don’t. And I’m not of the mind that I can throw something I know is BS at them now and they’ll get it straightened out later.

          • Huh. I hadn’t realized Columbus Day was a federal holiday. And according to the OPM it’s still Washington’s Bday instead of Presidents Day. (I don’t view Christmas as a holiday about Christ anymore.)

          • I think this is all ignoring what the actual situation was this weekend. It was Memorial Day weekend. Chris Hayes has a show. It’s legitimate for him to devote an hour or more from his four hours every weekend to that subject, indeed in my view it’s what he ought to do. So there is going to be an Up with Chris Hayes hour on Memorial Day. This is not a conversation about when Chris Hayes should have made his points about the use of the term hero. The fact is, those views are unavoidable for him if he is going to be honest about his views relating to this holiday.

            So what is really going on here is that we are outlining a narrow band of view that it would have been appropriate for Chris Hayes or anyone else to express on the subject of Memorial Day around Memorial Day. Presumably there are any number of other things it would have also been inappropriate for him to say at that time. But the point is, there is no reason Chris Hayes should not have done a show about Memorial Day, and there’s no reason he should have to do it at a time other than Memorial Day – indeed he should do his Memorial Day show around Memorial Day. So this is not about the timing of the comments. It is about restricting what can be said about Memorial Day or about soldiers on Memorial Day. It’s about an apparent need to self-censor on this day. It’s not necessary for it to be Memorial Day for Chris Hayes to express these views, but it is rather necessary to express views about Memorial Day if you are going to have a talk show about Memorial Day. And it’s reasonable to have that show around Memorial Day if you are going to have it. And these views were apparently necessarily part of Chris Hayes’ views on Memorial Day. He would have had to self-censor not to express them. Beyond that, there are a host of other views he also might have had that, if you think these views were inappropriate for him to express, you must also think would have been as well. Functionally, then, what you are saying is that there is a band of commentary that is acceptable on Memorial Day, and a fairly wide margin of things that we should self-censor, just because it’s Memorial Day. How is anyone supposed to know what’s in and what’s out?

            The analogy to your wife’s birthday is inapt. That is her special day and is special only for her close circle. Memorial Day is a public day on which the public remembers the sacrifice of its war dead. It doesn’t belong to servicemembers or even to the dead – it belongs to us as a society. It’s our remembrance. We all contribute to its meaning by what we do with it – we all make the choice to visit a cemetery or not to and just go ahead and light the charcoal. Chris hayes contributed by offering his honest thoughts on the day without saying anyone else was wrong to have his own vision of it. I don’t understand how things would have been better had he refrained from doing so. In terms of the timing or the content of his views, I don’t see what he did wrong. What would we prefer, that a script be written up and distributed so as to avoid too much verbal straying from what the day is supposed to be all about?

          • If Former President Henderson just died, and I think that Henderson was a bad president and that saying anything else would be dishonest, I should probably not do a retrospective on President Henderson in the days following his death. A little while later? Go for it. The “Do not speak ill of the dead” tends to have a pretty short shelf-life.

            Likewise, if I have a problem with the lionization of soldiers, and of those who fall in battle, I should probably not do a show on this on Memorial Day Weekend. There are other opportunities to talk about how we think of our soldiers and the ramifications of it. Talking about Memorial Day in this context, as well as Veteran’s Day, would be cool with me.

            A show on Memorial Day Weekend need not be about the totality of thoughts that one has about Memorial Day and how we go about it. If your views are likely to just make people mad at a time when it should be directed towards something else… save it a week. If you misjudge what’s likely to make people mad, say “oops” and we should all move on. I’m not suggesting Hayes should ever and always be The Guy Who Said Those Things On Memorial Day. (Unfortunately, others are…)

            The best counterargument so far is, in my opinion, Kazzy’s and one I heard elsewhere. That the occasion is not just one for remembrance and/or celebration, but for uncomfortable discussions. And that without these – and perhaps even controversy – the reason for the occasion is as likely to be forgotten as actually observed. I’m still mulling that one over.

          • I don’t think Kazzy’s point not included in what I’ve said. I’ve said Hayes actually contributed something to the actual national memorializing act that is the day. You say, “If your views are likely to just make people mad at a time when it should be directed towards something else… save it a week.” Well, Kazzy and I are saying the views didn’t *just* make people mad, they actually contributed a perspective to how we might do memorialization that this particular Memorial Day would have been slightly poorer for had Hayes self-censored. If you concede that, then b y your own standard, he shouldn’t have self-censored at all. And if your position is just that he shouldn’t say things that might make people mad on Memorial Day, well, honestly doesn’t it make you a little bit sad that that is your position?

            Also, on this wait a week thing. Do you really think that if he had waited a week and then circled back and said, “Hey you know that show I did on Memorial Day? well, I didn’t think I should say this then, but really, here’s what I think about calling soldiers heros…” that the people whose feelings by your own argument are what impel you to take this position would have felt any better? Is it your position that they are entitled to have people not say things like what Hayes said on Memorial Day, but that their feelings are fair game any other time?

            Also, wouldn’t it be a little ridiculous and infantilizing of all of us to have this system where certain things couldn’t be said on certain days for fear of hurting particular segments of the population’s feelings, but where we don’t want to go the full-social-censorship route, so you have communicators doing this awkward, let-me-say-this-about-the-subject-I-addressed-at-length-back-when-it-was-topical-but-couldn’t-say-it-at-the-time dance? Aren’t we above that kind of ridiculousness – even the people who might indeed not like what someone like Chris Hayes has to say on the holiday? Isn’t the sign of greater respect actually to go ahead and say it, if one is inclined to, or to just let it drop if one thinks it’s not worth bringing to the fore?

          • I should say, I’m not saying it’s wrong to think there should be any self-censoring with regards to what one might say on Memorial Day. It’s a function of what Hayes specifically said. Calling for self-censoring extreme or disparaging views about soldiers, or just political pontificating to me is reasonable. But at the same time, we don’t want to write out of propriety the possibility of any meaningful dialogue about the meaning of the day other than pre-scripted viewpoints and encomiums. And Hayes’ comments were so subdued, so limited to describing only his own personal feelings, and so out-of-the-way as far as who might be listening to them at that time on a holiday weekend, that I struggle to see how saying they should have been self-censored by him because they weren’t appropriate for the day actually leaves any rhetorical territory left to maneuver in that can allow for meaningful exploration of the meaning of the event that doesn’t follow a pre-written script. I don’t see how Hayes could have pushed the envelope any more slightly while still trying to expand marginally the kind of conversation that is had around war and sacrifice on a day like memorial Day. I don’t think anything is gained (because, again, it was not Hayes but rather his critics who made sure that people not looking to engage in that kind of discussion but instead just to observe Memorial Day in the way they are accustomed to doing heard about and had explained to them why they should be hurt by his words by that afternoon), and I think much is lost, if we set standards for appropriate commentary that essentially write out meaningful reflection about the meaning of the day that doesn’t follow an approved script for such reflections.

          • (because, again, it was not Hayes but rather his critics who made sure that people not looking to engage in that kind of discussion but instead just to observe Memorial Day in the way they are accustomed to doing heard about and had explained to them why they should be hurt by his words by that afternoon)

            In the original post, I devoted all of one sentence to Hayes’s role in this. My main agitation is, and always has been, with the disproportionate response to it. If there is any question where I am laying the blame for this mess, I hope that illustrates it.

            I mention Hayes’s actions, and my (mild) disapproval thereof, primarily because even absent the blowback, I would prefer we not discuss why we are uncomfortable with how we observe our holiday as we are in the process of observing it (or not). My disapproval is sufficiently mild that absent the blowback, I wouldn’t have even written a post on it.

            I am not presently of the mind that more is added by discussing mixed feelings about the holiday in comparison than subtracted. I’m still mulling that part over, trying to think of other holidays and what might or might not be said during them, what the similarities and differences are, and so on.

          • I’m concerned if we’re saying that saying something like Chris Hayes said on Sunday shouldn’t be said around Memorial Day, and not too concerned if we’re not. I guess it’s up to you whether you are or not – I’m not clear about it at this point.

          • I don’t think it should insofar that it’s something I disagree with doing, but it’s not something I view as any sort of egregious breach.

          • …In fact, I think I’d go so far as to say that I really don’t care at all about peoples’ reactions to Chris. This is emotional stuff, and people aren’t going to like hearing something like what Chris had to say. They have a right to their reaction, and overreaction to controversies legitimate or contrived is just what our current media-political culture is like. It’s not for the best, but it’s not what’s distinctive about this incident, so I’m not very concerned with it. All that concerns me is if people whose judgement and reasoning I respect are saying that Hayes actually did something that crosses a line of conduct we want to draw and keep. His comments didn’t express exactly what I think about the subject they treated, but in my view they were subdued and respectful enough that I can’t see anything about them i could generalize and say that I would want all comments that meet that description to be abjured on Memorial Day weekend, just because it’s Memorial Day weekend. If, on the other hand, all we’re saying is something along the lines of, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have done it that way,’ then obviously that’s something else. I probably wouldn’t have either, but I’m actually glad Hayes did.

          • …But it is a breach of lines you want people to respect (if not an egregious one), not just something you wouldn’t have done yourself.

          • Correct. Though not one I’m going to the mat to defend (this whole thread notwithstanding). I recognize about myself that sometimes I draw lines that should probably be shrugged off. I’m not sure if this is one of those cases or not.

          • I deeply disagree. I can’t see anything about these comments that we can draw a principle from about what should and shouldn’t be said around Memorial Day that leaves any room at all for any earnest conversation about the meaning of the day. For me, there’s a line like that somewhere, but to be honest I’m not sure it’s actually any closer in for comments around Memorial Day than it is for general conversation. It’s certainly a long way from Hayes’ comments. (Keep in mind, he needn’t have crossed any such line for people to legitimately not like what he had to say, and respond as such. People can just be angry about things.)

            Generally, I guess the day-specific propriety argument is one that just doesn’t cut any mustard for me. In Jaybird’s example, I don’t think there’s any line of propriety i want to say you’ve crossed if you decide you want to have a conversation about race that doesn;t follow the script for MLK day (that on any other day we wouldn’t say crosses any lines of propriety) on MLK day. Rather, what I’d say is that you should be aware that a reaction you might not expect on another day mingt be coming your way. On the eulogy example you give, I think that’s also just not an actual line we seek to enforce. It’s a taste thing. Some people make a rule of not speaking ill of the dead, especially right after they die; others do say what they think about important figures when they die. I haven’t always liked what people have had to say at such times, but neither do I think they’ve crossing a clear line by saying it. I may have preferred to stay quiet when Robert McNamara died because I thought his legacy was more complicated than many allowed, for example, but I sure understood that people were going to say what they had to say. Beyond that, more generally I think that the issue of decorum after a specific death is a far too particular and charged specific case to be able to serve as an illustration of the principle at play in why there is or should be a clear line of propriety drawn about what should be said on other, more common days of observance or holidays.

          • I think that my argument is less “don’t do X” as much as “you probably should expect that you will be communicating things that you don’t necessarily intend to communicate if you bring this up under the following circumstances…”

            It should also be pointed out that the guy who talks about race all the time will not be seen the same way when he talks about race on MLK Jr. day than the guy who only starts talking about race on MLK Jr. day.

            Is that a good thing? A bad thing?

            It’s a thing.

          • And that was explicitly your argument at the time, and I had meant to acknowledge that and forgot to (that Celtics game was nuts and my focus was divided). I just meant to address the examples that had been raised to date in the conversation in terms of the kind of view that Will is expressing. If we can agree it’s like you suggested – where the issue is just that doing it on a given day might communicate things you wouldn’t intend it to if you were making your statement on no day in particular, then we can indeed agree on what’s at stake here. In that case it’s not a line we’re saying we want constraining conduct; that’s more like a matter of giving council to prospective speakers to the end of trying to keep them well-advised as to the likely effects of their speech. (In my view, despite the statement of regret, I actually think Hayes was pretty well aware of what he was doing and the fact there would be something of a reaction, if not of the intensity it turned out to have). But that is not where Will currently stands as to his view of whether there was in fact something wrong with what Hayes did.

      • Kazzy, if it wasn’t clear, te blowback was the direction of the initial post. Scott did get some pushback with his comments as well. In the broader scene, this is an area where conservatives simply enjoy the rhetorical upper-hand (and they take advantage of it).

        • I’m a bit confused.

          BlaiseP got pushback for posting the photos as he did? Seriously? What the fish is that about?

          I did see that Scott got some pushback, which I think was well-deserved. If he wanted to have a conversation about Hayes’s comment, I don’t think that was wholly inappropriate. But that didn’t seem to be his ended. He wanted to upend an appropriate recognition of Memorial Day by slamming someone he thought upended an appropriate recognition of soldiers. Or something. Really, he just wanted to sling mud.

          By the way, most of the criticism I’ve lobbed at the folks opposed to Hayes was NOT aimed at folks here. For the most part, folks here have done what folks here tend to do, which is engage in thoughtful, intelligent discussion. I was talking more broadly about the “HAYES IS A TRAITOROUS COWARD WHO NEVER EVEN SERVED AND WOULDN’T KNOW A HERO IF CAPTAIN AMERICA TEABAGGED HIM!” As noted, I think there is plenty of room to disagree with Hayes, with most of it falling well short of that sort of nonsense.

          • Huh? No. Scott got pushback. BlaiseP only got Scott inserting partisanship into a post about (or at least it comes across to me as a post about) remembrance.

          • Scott’s invocation of Hayes was totally appropriate, esp on a contentious blog like this one and nothing was really going on that day with everyone out of town. Then some of the pushback was Hayes on steroids about militarism, imperialism, blahblah, the usual menu. Business as usual.

          • Thanks, Will. You lost me.


            What made Scott’s comment appropriate? Blaise offered a solemn reminder of what Memorial Day is meant to be about. Scott sullied that with, “LOOK AT THIS LEFTIST ASSHOLE!”

            If the objection to Hayes’s comment was the timing of it, then people like Scott are no better.

          • That should have said, “Thanks, Will. I was lost. I get it now.”

  3. Frank Luntz told them to call anyone who has ever enlisted, heroes. It polled well.
    Are North Korean soldiers heroes? How about Russian ones? What if they were drafted, as in the Vietnam War? What if they stay state side at a desk? If all enlistees are heroes, then what are the people awarded a Purple Star. Maybe we will be needing different classes for the different types of hero? Hero Cl l, Hero Cl ll, etc.

    • Whether North Korean soldiers should be considered heroes is up to the North Koreans, in my view. They’re not heroes to us. Nor would our soldiers be to them. Drafted soldiers still get points for serving and not fleeing. More to the point, though, I think the “our soldiers are heroes” is a collective designation. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every one of them is a hero, even if they have hero points. It just means that’s what they are collectively in the same way that the New York Giants are awesome even though some Giants aren’t or honors students are really smart even though some honors students actually aren’t really smart. In other words, I’d feel more awkward walking up to Fish and saying “You are a hero” than I would calling our soldiers heroes more generally.

      (Whether our soldiers are heroes collectively is another value judgment. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. I believe it’s better if we think of them as such. Hayes – pre-apology – likely wouldn’t have agreed.)

      • Why is it better to think of soldiers as heroes collectively than not to? In my view it does obscure the fact that traditionally we do reserve the term for people who take extraordinary actions. That’s not dispositive in my view, however, so here are my considerations.

        If I got the sense that soldiers generally felt that that honorific was owed to them for their service, I’d be in favor of it. But the feeling I get is the opposite. Even the ones who are indisputably heroes by the traditional meaning of the term tend to be uncomfortable having it applied to them in my experience, and the great mass are as well (again, in my experience). And that’s all I really care about as far as upside goes: what the soldiers themselves want. To care about the social effect among the rest of us of using the term the way you suggest is precisely to do what Hayes was talking about: wield the term as a political tool.

        And the downside is as follows. This will be controversial, but the more I think about it the more I am sure it’s the truth. To call everyone who is willing to sacrifice her or his life in a war our country fights a hero actually over time diminishes the keenness of the human loss that happens when that actually happens. Why is this? Because the more we set off from ourselves – recategorize – these people who make this sacrifice, the less we think of them as people just like us, our co-workers, and siblings. If we say that everyone who gives up his life in a war – or who volunteers to do so – is a hero, then in a sense I think we are actually recategorizing them as something somewhat apart from – beyond and above – us. Heroes are those who offer themselves up for sacrifice in war. And since that category exists, it becomes perceived as slightly less conceptually wrong when that sacrifice actually comes to pass than if they remain just folks who signed their names to a particular piece of paper. They were heroes after all, and that’s what heroes do.

        For a certain percentage of the country’s families, those who feel a loved one’s loss in war, I understand and respect that thinking that the lost loved one was a hero is a consolation, and in that respect I acknowledge the point that you make above about the timing of the comments. But again, I don’t see how self-censoring on the question at the moment when it is most topical actually serves anyone. Hayes was neither forcing his views down anyone’s throat (as Conor Friedersdorf points out, it was his critics who made sure everyone who might be offended by the comments heard about them by noon – otherwise you pretty much have to seek his show out to know what he’s had to say any given weekend), nor saying it is wrong for anyone in particular, or for society in general, to hold that every soldier, or every fallen soldier is a hero. He explicitly said he was expressing only his own personal discomfort as a pacifist-leaner, and said that he was perhaps wrong in even having that discomfort. I don’t agree that it can be inappropriate for one cable host on an out-of-the-way program to express personal sentiments that cautious and qualified, even about the troops and heroism on Memorial Day. I might have chosen differently had it been me (generally, if it were my show, I wouldn’t vocalize about my conflicted feelings about language the way hayes constantly does throughout his hosting duties), but I think we as a country can countenance a heterodoxy around war and sacrifice as reticent and sensitive as Chris Hayes’ – indeed I think it adds something to our memorialization of our fallen, be they our heroes or just our sisters and fathers and teachers.

        • …Though I can respect and at times would buy an argument that many or most soldiers who get assigned to active conflict zones simply do qualitatively meet that more restrictive definition – and that certainly those who give their life do. On reflection, I tend to think that it’s not true that they all do – that extraordinary actions even among those groups are what is meant by being a hero, but I’m open to such an argument. If we want to say that, I can get with it, or at least be impassive about it. But saying that collectively all soldiers (for the right military, depending on your perspective) are heroes is, I think, pretty undisciplined.

        • I don’t buy the “When we foist too much heroism or honor on our dead, we make death more acceptable” logic. I believe we remain extremely casualty-averse and that’s one of the reasons we rely on the methods we do (drones, special forces, hi-tech). We could be more casualty-averse, and I think we would be if we had an egalitarian draft, but I don’t see death acceptance (or celebration) as playing much of a role.

        • I think it’s completely obvious. What do we say to people we know who are going into dangerous situations? “Take care of yourself, don’t be a hero.” In other words, stay the fully real human person I know and am standing here with; don’t become the anonymous symbol of courage and valor you’ll become if you give yourself over in sacrifice to this job that needs to be done. If a hero is someone who sacrifices his life for a cause, then conceptually if a person does so it becomes less of problem that they did, because it turns out they were a hero, and that’s what heroes do. (As opposed to just people, who do not by definition do that.) I’m not saying it’s such a strong effect that it makes us not casualty-averse, but I think it’s clearly a public rationalization/coping mechanism, and if it wasn’t available, not just our choice of tactics but our aggregate willingness to tolerate being at war at all (or for decades at a stretch) might be marginally lessened.

          • …Obviously, it is available, and it’s never not going to be available or relied upon, and I’m not suggesting an effort to change that. I think it’s rather natural, and the effect I’m talking about is not intentional on anyone’s part. I’m just describing the mechanism as I see it operating.

  4. Oh geez. I kinda find myself agreeing with him in a “we throw the word hero around so much it cheapens the value of calling someone a hero” sort of way. There are real, identifiable heroes who emerge from combat: Audie Murphy (WWII, Italian theater), John Levitow (USAF, Vietnam), Salvatore Giunta (USMC, Afghanistan), my friend’s grandfather (WWII, France). There are real heroes who distinguish themselves by putting their lives on the line to save others (first responders). The tendency lately is to slap the “hero” on anyone in a uniform. Let me tell you: I served nine years in the USAF; I spent some time supporting SFOR in Bosnia and Deny Flight in England. I never saw a day of combat, and of the two instances where my life was genuinely in danger, only one of them involved an actual mission situation. I’d be embarrassed if anyone were to call me a hero simply because I wore a uniform.

    • Memorial Day isn’t Veterans Day.

      “On this Memorial Day as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes–and I see many of them in the audience here today…” —Barack Obama [2008]

      • And of course Memorial Day used to be known at Decoration Day which was a day of remembrance for Union soldiers who died in the CW.

      • Heh. Zombie soldiers would certainly help with military recruitment.

      • With the way each day is presented…what’s the diff?

  5. It would be interesting to see two polls, side-by-side with respondents separated by party, that asked these questions these questions:

    Asked in 2012: What was your view about Chris Hayes’s comments on all military enlistees being “heroes?”

    Asked in 2009: What was your view about Barak Obama’s comments on people volunteering in their community to improve it being “heroes?”

    • For me, the real issue is the oversimplification. How many heroic acts must one engage in to become a Hero? How many idiotic acts must one engage in to become an Idiot? Can someone be both a hero and an idiot, if they engaged in a large number of both heroic and idiotic act (ignoring the reality that many heroic acts likely started as idiotic acts)?

      I know service men who have engaged in great acts of bravery and heroism. They’ve pulled guys out of the line of fire or put themselves at risk to save strangers. Some of these same guys have also been total assholes, and not just in the kick-the-chair-out-from-under-you way, but in the beat-their-wife way. Now, I’m not saying that there is any correlation between being in the military and domestic abuse or any of that crap. I’m just saying that I know guys who’ve done both. Because they’re human beings, complex creatures who are neither the person they are at their greatest height or their lowest depth. What do we call those guys? Are they heroes? As far as I’m concerned, they are men who took up a call for any number of reasons. It might have been out of service to their country and fellow citizen… or it might have been because they wanted to “kill some sand niggers”. Or something else entirely. The fact is, I don’t know. I don’t know any of these men and women except the ones I do know personally, and I tend not to be in the business of fitting people I know personally into neat little boxes like “hero”.

  6. I haven’t seen Hayes’s show, but if this Atlantic piece represents accurately what went on, I find little to object to:

    Hayes’s comment (again, assuming the Atlantic piece represents it accurately) had more to do with how the “hero” designation might be and allegedly is used. And toward the end, finding that none of his guests offered disagreement, Hayes, according to the Atlantic piece, offered a pretty nuanced counterargument to his own point.

    Obviously, Will, your mileage varies, and you do not indulge in the “he hates America” rhetoric. In fact, I believe the main point of your post is not so much to express disagreement with Hayes as to deride those who can’t listen to a comment like Hayes’s without accusing him of bad faith.

    As for the timing, I’m not inclined to object. As someone wrote above, it was Memorial Day weekend, and thoughtful remembrance, to my mind, is a critical one. Of course, there is a time and place for everything, and as Will points out, bemoaning the fact that some fathers are irresponsible is arguably a poor way to address fatherhood on father’s day.

    I don’t find the analogy convincing. Father’s Day can mean a lot of things, depending on who you are. It can mean a relatively cynical attempt by greeting card companies to guilt their customers into yet another $3.95 purchase; it can mean a valorization of a certain conception of family; it can mean a time to relax with family and show ones’ appreciation for one’s father or for the fathers one knows. There are few ways in which Father’s Day, to my mind, implies the same stakes as Memorial Day does. By celebrating and honoring fathers, the worst we risk doing, in my view, is, perhaps, solidify some heteronormative notion of what it means to be a man (of course, there are gay fathers, and I’m sure some or even most of those in American celebrate Father’s Day….I’m only thinking of some of the uses to which the holiday might be put).

    The stakes are much higher on Memorial Day. It is proper for the state to honor those who died in war and those who served otherwise. But the state cannot wholly disentangle itself from the state-/nation-building project inherent in honoring its soldiers: it’s building the case for a national community of interest, and sometimes, as Hayes apparently believes, building that community of interest can fuel the drumbeat for war. I think it is fitting to choose Memorial Day–the day of that nation-building project–to think on that, especially in the ultimately respectful way (again, I’m drawing on the Atlantic article’s rendering) Hayes did so.

    • “There are few ways in which Father’s Day, to my mind, implies the same stakes as Memorial Day does.” I probably should’ve written something more like “I have trouble thinking of ways in which Father’s Days implies the same stakes as Memorial Day does.”

    • Pierre, the main reason I have gotten into the broad strokes of why I disagree with Hayes is that most of the commenters are expressing support and so I wanted to state the nature of my dissent. This is not actually something I feel super-strongly about and, absent the controversy, wouldn’t have written about.

  7. I remember extensive flamewars over whether or not it was proper to call the WTC-attack hijackers “cowards”. It was pointed out that flying an airplane directly into a building isn’t exactly a cowardly thing to do.

    • I think that mostly surrounded Bill Maher. Maher himself would have been 0kay if he had just stuck to saying that the terrorists weren’t cowardly (he was actually agreeing with a conservative commentator on that point) if he hadn’t been calling us cowardly. That’s never going to go over well.

      Unlike heroism, I do consider cowardism (or courage) to be a more value-neutral thing. Which is to say, one can be brave in the name of heroism or villainy, whereas heroism or villainy is decided in good portion on whether one agrees or disagrees with the goal at hand (and how one defines the goal).

      • I recently listened to Maher on the WTF Podcast and he spoke about that issue. He claims (and I didn’t verify one way or another) that there was little outrage until a Houston DJ that had a bug up his ass for Maher previously starting fanning the controversy. And the show remained on TV for another 6 or 9 months. I was under the impression that he was canned almost immediately, which seems to be the narrative now taking root.

  8. Maybe if we didn’t worship the military as “heroes” we wouldn’t have so many wars and have to apologize for their actions so often?

    It’s definitely something to think about. Maybe we’d be better off if more children aspired to be the next Mahatma Gandhi instead of the next John Rambo.

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