What makes him a hero?

Yesterday, Captain Richard Phillips was rescued by Navy SEALs from the hands of the four pirates who held him for five days.  And now, he’s getting a hero’s welcome at home.

But what makes him a hero?

Our society, longing perhaps, for heroes lately, tends to throw the word around pretty loosely.  Society, in our seemingly endless quest to venerate the mediocre, bestows the title, “Hero” on everyone from fathers who merely act as fathers should, to people who happen to have contracted a deadly disease.  This is not to denegrate any of these acts, or the individuals who accomplish them (or to whom they happen).  Indeed, there is a shortage of good fathers, or teachers.  But heroism is not merely doing what is (or should be) expected of you — it is going above and beyond.

Our culture, in its celebration of victimhood, often elevates the victim to the status of “hero” — based solely on the fact that something bad has happened to him.  This is not heroism.  It is unfortunate.  But it is not, by itself, some noble thing.

If you want a definition of “hero,” look to the men and women of our Armed Forces, who willingly put themselves in harm’s way for the defense of their countrymen.  Look to the men and women who become police officers, risking much, up to and including their lives, to uphold the laws of our society.  Look to the men and women who run headlong into a burning building, risking all for the lives and safety of their fellow citizens. 

No, heroism is not merely doing the right thing.  Heroism is knowing that the right — the necessary — thing could well come at a great cost to you… and then doing it anyway.

The word “hero” is being bandied about now, regarding the rescue of Cpt. Phillips.  Fanatic supporters of the President even use the word to describe Obama — simply for doing what he should have done long before finally deciding to do it.

The men and women of the Navy, and the SEALs who effected this rescue are heroes.  They always were.  And, yes, Phillips is a hero.

That he was held hostage by pirates and rescued — that he was victimized — is not what makes him a hero.  Plenty of others have been in that situation who are simply not deserving of the title.  What makes Captain Richard Phillips a hero is that he willingly gave himself to the situation, to save his shipmates.  He understood this act of pure selflessness may well be his last, and he did it anyway. 

And it is his willingness to trade himself for the lives of others that makes Captain Phillips a by-God True American Hero.

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