In preparation for this essay I searched long and hard for appropriate quotes. I found a few but to intimate my own feelings toward the subject I found that I must first provide the subject matter; not in lofty terms but in terms that make sense to any reader. The subject is “hero”.
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Growing up with idealistic parents my heroes that were given to me were mainly Saints, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, George Washington, etc. As I grew and learned I did not see such people, yet my eyes weren’t allowed to see. As a youth my perception of Hero was so lofty itself that no person could possibly make the cut. I’d heard of deeds and ideals that seemed so impossible, yet everywhere I looked I saw vice. The tales were of selflessness and dedication to others or to things greater than the self. Whether it’s an ideal, a club, a church, or a country. The sacrifice of the self in favor of something else seemed to be the common thread that linked all of my Heroes. As I continued my self education I found that the common people I would meet showed glimmers of such virtues, but then would fall back into the simple mortals category. I grew distraught, and so immersed my mind and self into the heroic stories of yore. Morte D’Arthur became a favorite, along with the stories of the saints of Catholicism. I grew.
In the spirit of selflessness I joined the Marine Corps on my eighteenth birthday. It was a symbolic act of my newfound adulthood. I desired to fight for the people of the world that could not fight for themselves.
One fine day, sitting in my barracks, my platoon sergeant banged on my door and told me that I had an hour to be in the courtyard. I was to go to a nation I’d never heard of. Rwanda.
“Why there? What’s going on?”
His usually intense eyes took on a shade of sadness and resolve,
“Genocide…don’t forget your K-bar Mello.”
The door shut, and my gut dropped. I’d asked for it, and now was my chance to do what my conviction had brought me. I made my phone calls, and listened to the crying; yet it didn’t affect me as much as the news reports of the goings on in this tiny country that was my destination. After preparing as best I could, I made my way to the courtyard. Loaded down with my war-gear and my weapon slung over my shoulder, I made the lonely trip to the assembly area made by millions before me. We formed up, and I looked at the sun setting in the sky. We were called to attention, and told to stand at ease.
“Marines… we have been told to stand down.” And that was it. The Base General had come to tell the Air Alert Marines of the entire situation, and why we were not allowed to stop a genocide. We were to be on alert in case the President called. For 48 hours we were to not only have our stuff by our doors, but to remain in a constant state of alertness. Food was brought to us. No visitors to our rooms that weren’t in our chain of command. We were to NOT leave the barracks. Every passing hour my hopes dwindled until the final dismissal order was given. My friends celebrated and went drinking. I sat in my room alone.
“How could this be? How could we, America, allow a genocide to not only occur but to allow it to continue!?”
I sort of understood that we didn’t bother to stop the Khmer Rouge because of Vietnam, though that was a sorry excuse to me. But what…? What happened to “Never again”?
Years went along, and the Sudan had become the newest example of humanity at its worst, and another President did nothing. We all cringe at horror over faded pictures of the Holocaust. We read Anne Frank and hope against hope that this sweet little girl, with her adolescent worries and insecurities, remains safe, and she does for a time. Because of Heroes. Ultimately those heroes could only do so much, and she did not remain safe.
I hear excuses that are as sorry as any about Darfur. “Are we supposed to police the world? Are we supposed to stop every evil in the world?” These excuses come from people that claim to have some semblance of morality. I scoff at such moral cowardice, and the reader should too. And while these words will never be published by my local newspaper the words ring true to the ear that would listen.
I hear things such as “Are we supposed to give our wealth to a continent that will simply waste it!?”
My answer is that our poor are fat and have homes, while their poor die of starvation and disease.
If America truly represents the greatest of our collective humanity, drawing upon the annals of our histories as a Peoples, then a resounding “Yes” bellows forth from our soul.
For wherever there is evil in this world, we MUST fight it, wherever an injustice is perpetrated we MUST right it. We must do these things because we can.
Growing up we are told that we should be like (insert hero’s name). Why? If we are to try and exemplify the qualities that make one a hero, do those qualities not lie dormant within each of us; awaiting the catalyst that would propel us to such status? So the inevitable conclusion is to be the greatest you can be. Every minute of every day; exemplify the virtues which you perceive to be heroic. It’s difficult, because I’ve tried, and it’s lonely. Many scoff at your pretense or arrogance. But like Gandhi said:
“First they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
We shake our heads in disgust at a scene of injustice, while the able bodied stood there and did nothing. Yet we as a nation, stand here and do nothing right now to stop the genocide and terrorism occurring as we speak in Darfur. It rarely even enters our everyday dialogue. I’m willing to bet most average citizens cannot point out the Sudan on a map! Is this triviality of consequence though? Should our geographical ignorance hinder our ability to do what is right? Search your consciences we the People. Freedom is not free, no doubt. Some know this better than others, and while we enjoy our comforts, our cell phones glued to our ears as we drive our cars to a job that provides food, shelter, and water; even purchasing distractions from the realities many live with everyday in this mortal realm. The evil continues. Such perpetrators do not take a day off. If the reader is a claimant of such moral high ground, then only the reader can answer for the following conclusion, intimated in the film “Hotel Rwanda”:
“You’re not even niggers, you’re Africans.”
If we are truly to exemplify the courage of our own convictions, then it is our right and duty to use the greatest of humanity to stop the worst of humanity.