Hero blindness

Allen C. Guelzo gave a strange speech at Hillsdale College in May. The professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College said: “Heroes have become invisible. … Great deeds somehow keep on being done, but we have lost a capacity to see them as great. Biographies grow to ever-greater and greater lengths, while the subjects of them shrink into the shadows of the pedestrian, the ordinary, and the relentlessly disclosed secret.”

Basically Guelzo is saying that in recent years we have made the heroes of the American experiment more human by revealing their commonness, their flaws. That seems patently ridiculous.

The Bible shows us real heroes, and part of how it does that is by revealing the very flawed natured of some of our most vaunted heroes. Abraham does some weird stuff in offering up his wife to powerful people. David, my favorite hero, commits adultery and murder. Peter is stubborn. John is prideful. The list could go on. They were real people with real shortcomings, but they did some great things. The same could be said for the great heroes of United States history.

Nor do I think we’ve lost the capacity to see greatness. We have a federal holiday named for a many who died only 41 years ago — Martin Luther King Jr., another flawed man who did great things. We have the men aboard the 9/11 flight who stormed the terrorists and forced the plane down into a field rather than allowing the hijackers to take it into Washington. Amazing.

Despite the flaws in Guelzo’s words, he does capture some of the greatness of Abraham Lincoln. Here’s a good Lincoln quote that Guelzo uses:

“The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me.”


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