The lazy use of language is everywhere in modern discourse – regular readers will know my hatred of the word “Iconic” which is frequently used , and never correctly. But today I’d like to look at “hero” which, whilst often used correctly, is also all too often used gratuitously and inappropriately.
Sport is perhaps the main culprit. If a footballer is one of our own he becomes a hero – by playing football. That’s it. Period. He doesn’t have to win. Many years ago Stephen Pile published a book that was a salute to the “Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain” – to the concept of “Heroic Failure”.
But whether heroism is ironically about failure (The Charge of the Light Brigade. The retreat from Dunkirk) or about sporting “heroism” (including the heroic failure of losing a Cup Final) we are in danger of obscuring the true meaning of heroism. Boris Johnson, never a man to miss a chance for populist rhetoric, said after England lost to Italy “This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes.” Well of course he did.
My father was for more than three years a prisoner of the Japanese on the Burma railway. In some people’s eyes that fact alone makes him a “Hero”. I don’t think that, and nor did he. My researches tells me that as a POW my Dad did, actually, do some brave things. He hid part of the Camp radio in his boot for example. This was certainly courageous but “heroic” ? Not really.
The problem is this. There are true acts of heroism from time to time – the sort of things that win a Victoria or George Cross. The workers of the New York Fire Department on 9/11 for example. If we ascribe the descriptor of “hero” to Harry Kane what have we left for the firemen?