Chris Hayes, heroes, and ‘Catch 22’


Erik Kain at Mother Jones, defending MSNBC host Chris Hayes who, on Memorial Day weekend, was bombarded with insults after criticizing those who overuse the word “hero”:

In transforming our soldiers or police automatically into “heroes” we ignore the atrocities our own side commits. In doing so we also ignore the real moments of heroism. We give a free pass to anyone with a uniform and a gun regardless of their individual merit, and lend unwitting support to every war, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the War on Drugs, in the process.

I’m with Kain. What we need these days are more anti-heroes — people who rebel against the “my country right or wrong mentality” that allows us to be manipulated by lying politicians who all too often take the country into unnecessary wars to enrich “defense” contractors while dodging serious domestic problems.

Hayes later apologized for this statement:

I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.

He should have stood his ground. If more people in the media had the courage to voice such opinions, there might be fewer military debacles that result in thousands of needless deaths and billions of dollars of wasted taxpayer dollars.

I’m also with the late Joseph Heller, whose experience flying combat missions in World War II inspired him to write the brilliant anti-war novel Catch-22 and to invent the classic anti-hero, John Yossarian, who is haunted by the death of an airman named Snowden:

… Being in the hospital was better than being over Bologna or flying over Avignon with Huple and Dobbs at the controls and Snowden dying in back.

There were usually not nearly as many sick people inside the hospital as Yossarian saw outside the hospital, and there were generally fewer people inside the hospital who were seriously sick. There was a much lower death rate inside the hospital than outside the hospital, and a much healthier death rate. Few people died unnecessarily. People knew a lot more about dying inside the hospital and made a much neater, more orderly job of it. They couldn’t dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn’t keep Death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. People gave up the ghost with delicacy and taste inside the hospital. There was none of that crude, ugly ostentation about dying that was so common outside the hospital. They did not blow up in mid-air like Kraft or the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, or freeze to death in the blazing summertime the way Snowden had frozen to death after spilling his secret to Yossarian in the back of the plane.

“I’m cold,” Snowden had whimpered. “I’m cold.”

“There, there,” Yossarian had tried to comfort him. “There, there…”

Sometimes, a book you love as a kid doesn’t seem nearly as good when you re-read it later in life. Not so with Catch-22. Decades later, the absurdities seem as funny as ever, but the grim humanism resonates in a way I wasn’t capable of appreciating the first time around. I guess the difference is I hadn’t yet really thought about all those real-life Snowdens whose lives are wasted in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. At least you could make a case for Heller’s war being just.

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5 Responses to Chris Hayes, heroes, and ‘Catch 22’

  1. loganmchenry says:

    Nice post, David. Catch 22 is truly a masterpiece! I read it for the first time recently, having missed it in high school, and it had me in stitches. It’s unfortunate Hayes apologized for his sober statement, but then again, his profession was likely at stake–which exposes a glaring problem in our modern media industry.

    • oddmanout215 says:

      Thanks. I remember laughing out loud the first time I read the novel and wondering how Heller sustained such a high level of humor over hundreds of pages. It still seems like magic.

  2. Pingback: Chris Hayes, heroes, and ‘Catch-22′ | Suburban Guerrilla

  3. Ends or means?
    Are you against our wars or only how they are fought?
    A, B, or both?
    And how far back do you extend your anti-warriorism?
    Vietnam?
    The Korean War?
    WW2?
    WW1?
    The Spanish American War?
    The Civil War?
    The Mexican War?
    The War of 1812?
    Hey, what about the Revolution?
    Not one was fought to defend America or American democracy.
    And so?

    • oddmanout215 says:

      As I wrote in the post, you can make a case for the WWII being a just war. The Nazis were in a league of their own when it came to evil, as the Holocaust proved. Their army was the best in the world, and so were their scientists. They had buzz bombs ans V2s, and they came real close to developing an atomic bomb before the U.S. did. You can also make a moral argument for the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, for obvious reasons. You can’t make a convincing moral argument for any of the others, which were all about defending or expanding the American empire. The most recent wars — in Vietnam, Iraq (twice), Afghanistan and Libya — were the most blatantly imperialistic.

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