MSNBC's Chris Hayes sparked controversy and debate when on the eve of Memorial Day, he said that he feels "uncomfortable" calling soldiers killed in action "heroes" because the term is "rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war."
He made the controversial comment at a panel discussion Sunday on his show, "Up With Chris Hayes."
According to The Huffington Post, Hayes was looking at the war in Afghanistan and human casualties in the war. After he had spoken to a Marine who notifies families of dead soldiers, he turned to the panel, saying:
"I think it's interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words 'heroes.' Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word 'hero'? I feel comfortable -- uncomfortable -- about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don't want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that's fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I'm wrong about that."
The other panelists agreed with him. Columnist John McWhorter agreed he would rather avoid the word "hero." He argued that the term was "manipulative" though he admitted that this might not be intentionally so.
Liliana Seguar of the The Nation, also agreed, saying that the word "hero" is often used to paint wars in a "righteous" way. She said: "These wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... aren't righteous wars. We can't be so afraid of criticizing a policy."
According to Mediaite, Michelle Goldberg, columnist for The Daily Beast, agreed that the word "hero" comes with the implication that “they died in the pursuit of a worthy endeavor.”
Hayes conceded that it could be seen as "noble" to join the military because "submitting so totally to what the electorate or people in power are going to decide about using your body" is an act of valor.
The conservative blogosphere respondsPolitico reports that Hayes' comments have provoked a deluge of angry reactions and outright personal attacks from conservative bloggers.
Kurt Schlichter at Breitbart, slammed Hayes, saying:
“So, like so many other useless progressive fops who glide from cocktail party to panel discussion, Chris Hayes continues to push his progressive vision of collectivist serfdom from behind the unbreachable wall of American warriors. He has not stood with them and, in fact, is unworthy of doing so. He is a parasite taking sustenance from the exertions of better men and women.”
He attacked Hayes' comment that the term "hero" is "rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war," saying Hayes sounds like "one of my commie grad students trying to impress credulous freshman girls after a choom session in the quad.”
Newbusters' Mark Finkelsterin said Hayes was the "human embodiment" of the word "effete." He described him as a parody of the "conflicted intellectual." Finkelstein said: “What does it say about the liberal chattering class, which Hayes epitomizes, that it chokes on calling America’s fallen what they rightly and surely are: heroes?”
Warner Todd Huston said on Wizbang: “Happy Memorial Day, Chris Hayes. I’d like to remind you that many of those Neanderthals that you despise so much died for your right to hate them.”
According to The Huffingtonn Post, someone tweeted that he was "uncomfortable with calling you [Hayes] an American."
A tweet by Glenn Greenwald may, however, sum up a more reflective perspective to Hayes comments: "Questioning-rather than bolstering-orthodoxies is inherently controversial. That's what makes Chris Hayes' show so rare for TV-& so valuable."
Veterans of Foreign Wars demand apologyFox News reports that a veterans group called to Hayes to make an "immediate and unequivocal apology." According to Veteran of Foreign Wars National Commander Richard DeNoyer,
"Chris Hayes' recent remarks on MSNBC regarding our fallen service members are reprehensible and disgusting. His words reflect his obvious disregard for the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have paid the ultimate price while defending our nation. His insipid statement is particularly callous because it comes at a time when our entire nation pauses to reflect and honor the memory of our nations' fallen heroes. It is especially devastating to the many broken-hearted children, spouses and parents, left behind to grieve for a loved one. Such an ignorant and uncaring and blatant disregard for people's deep feelings are indefensible, and that is why the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States demand that Mr. Hayes and MSNBC provides an immediate and unequivocal apology." Hayes apologizes
According to The Huffington Post, Hayes issued an apology Monday that said:
On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word "hero" to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don't think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I've set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.
As many have rightly pointed out, it's very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation's citizens as a whole. One of the points made during Sunday's show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.
But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.