Let’s say you’re in the US Army. Let’s say you’re back from a tour of duty in Iraq. Maybe it’s your second or third. You settle in for a little TV news. You switch on WXIA at 11pm Thursday.
You see a report by Julie Wolfe about an injured soldier. Within the story, the reporter uses the word “hero” to describe the injured soldier. Then she uses it again. “Hero.”
She attributes the characterization to the soldier’s crying mother. The emotion is real. The mother’s house is festooned with paint and ribbon honoring the injured soldier, who’s home as she rehabilitates her injury.
But then the details sink in: The soldier joined the Army only a few weeks ago. She is in basic training, meaning she hasn’t seen combat or even active duty. The injury to her leg— a stress fracture— occurred in boot camp. When she’s done with her rehab, she returns to boot camp to finish basic training, at which point her eight year commitment to the Army begins.
“Hero” is a word that the media loves to overuse. Wolfe’s story is a classic example. The word is almost always attributable to somebody else– though frequently, it’s done at the prompting of the reporter: Do you consider (blank) a hero? Yes, says the tearful respondent.
Wolfe made it clear that the young woman joined the Army to help support her mother. The mom considers her a family hero, not a war hero.
Meantime, you’re an Iraq veteran who finished boot camp years earlier. You wear a combat patch on your uniform. Maybe you’ve lost some buddies or had some close calls yourself. You watch WXIA’s 11pm news Thursday. You see this teenager, still in boot camp, called a “hero” on TV. Twice.