June 16, 1995
HERO n. 1 man who does, or is admired for, a courageous or noble deed. 2 leading male character in a story, poem or play. 3 sandwich made from a long roll or loaf sliced lengthwise, and filled with meat, cheese, relishes, etc.
New Scholastic Dictionary of American English, 1966
Our country is having a sale on heroes. Heroes come cheap nowadays. Any soldier, sailor, marine, or airman who succeeds in saving his own ass -or fails, for that matter- automatically becomes a hero. Captain O'Grady knows his business and deserves the highest commendation and, perhaps, a medal. But a hero he is not -at least not the way that I define a hero. To me, a hero is someone who puts his own life in danger to save someone else. Anyone will try to save himself. During W.W. II, there were so many real heroes, that few people paid much attention to them.
During this same week, baseball player Mickey Mantle got a liver transplant. When I heard the extravagant praise of the man, it was enough to make me wonder whether I was living in Lewis Carroll's "Wonderland." What did Mantle do to deserve this adulation? By the time he was an adult, he was able to throw and hit a baseball with exquisite skill.He was paid extravagantly for this skill. What did he do with his life and his money? He lived it in an alcoholic haze in an attempt to eradicate thought from what was probably a pretty good brain to begin with. By age 60, his liver was shot, after years of poisoning it. What the booze did to his brain is a matter for conjecture. A year ago, he decided that he would stop drinking. It would be a masterpiece of understatement to say that he is a slow learner.
Since Mantle had the $100,000 required for a liver transplant, and he was acutely ill from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, he was given a liver transplant; the liver having been donated -for free- by some generous person before he died. Liver cancer is one of the most lethal of all human cancers. I should say here that a liver transplant is not as easy as getting a new car. It's a very rough procedure and what makes it possible, besides the surgery, are powerful drugs that disable a person's immune system.
There is something strange about how those precious livers are allocated. There is something even more wacky about who we pick as our heroes.
We tend to confuse celebrity with heroism, virtue and just about anything desirable. Kato Kaelin, a high class bum, is lionized because he lived with O.J.Simpson, a football player turned brutal killer.
I remember a ceremony at the University of California, many years ago, when Dr. Sproul, the president of the university, introduced Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the extraordinary political leaders of the time, with the same platitudes that he had just used to introduce The Assistant Yell Leader. Our values are not something new; they have been around for some time.
I know hundreds of people who are far more deserving of praise than either Captain O'Grady or Mickey Mantle and they will never get it. They will never get it because they never became celebrities.
The message that is given to our kids is that it doesn't matter what you accomplish or what you do with your life. What is important is that you be noticed -and you can do that by painting your face green and walking around naked from the waist down.
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