Chicago, August 23, 2011- The Sunday New York Times published “An Empty Regard”, a very long and tedious article by William Deresiewicz, a noted Yale literary critic. The article was insulting to the men and women in uniform- military, police, and firefighters.
“The term most characteristically employed, when the cult of the uniform is celebrated, is “heroes.” Perhaps no word in public life of late has been more thoroughly debased by overuse. Soldiers are “heroes”; firefighters are “heroes”; police officers are “heroes” — all of them, not the special few who undoubtedly deserve the term. So unthinking has the platitude become that someone referred to national park rangers on public radio recently as “heroes” — reflexively, in passing — presumably since they wear uniforms, as well.”
Cult of the uniform? A scribbling Ivy League literary critic calls people who wear a uniform or those who venerate them a cult? Is there something morally or socially reprehensible about celebrating people who wear uniforms? Is it wrong to call them heroes? Is it politically incorrect to venerate them?
Or is Mr. Deresiewicz one of those pendantic Ivy Leaguers in a Quixotic quest for semantic and linguistic pureness. Or maybe he is just jealous that there is no “cult of the critics”. There are no celebrations or outpourings of rememberance for literary critics.
We should have a sentimental regard for the military, law enforcement- park rangers included- and firefighters. People in uniform, all of them, should be celebrated as heroes. Everyday.
When people enlist in the military they take an oath. In short, they are swearing to die for our country. Firefighters and police officers take a similar oath. They are all willing to give up their life for the common good. For the rest of us. How many people are willing to put up their right hand and swear an oath to die for you?
There is no cult of the uniform. It is called service, a belief in putting yourself before others. Celebrating it is called remembrance. It is never forgetting.
If Mr. Deresiewicz does not think cops are heroes then he should not call them if his home is being invaded by violent armed thugs at 3AM. Can’t have the cult of blue uniforms sullying his space. Maybe he can call a hero like Hillary Clinton. She did promise to answer the phone at 3AM.
If his house is burning down and he is trapped inside, he definitely should not call the fire department. Can’t have the cult of helmets and hoses in his sacred abode. Maybe he should call a real hero like Barry Bonds. Big old anabolic Barry could swat the flames out of the house and save him.
If he is traveling in a foreign land, and is kidnapped by a band of gypsy terrorists, he should forget about relying on Delta or the SEALS to rescue him. Just call Arnold Scharzenegger. If he’s not too busy entertaining the help, the Terminator may respond.
People who go to work every day, serving others, without knowing if they are coming home alive are heroes. They are ordinary people who willingly put self sacrifice above self survival. People in uniform are willing to die for you. Whether on the battlefield, in the streets, or in an inferno.
“First ones in and last ones out.” “All gave some and some gave all.” “We serve and protect.” Those may be trite jingoistic phrases to an acclaimed Yale literary critic, but to the men and women in uniform they are sacred. All of them, not just “the special few who undoubtedly deserve the term”, are heroes.
Mr. Deresiewicz is an acclaimed writer and critic. His critiques and articles are given serious consideration in academia and media outlets. He published a very well received article entitled “Solitude and Leadership”. He was given the honor and privilege to present it at the United States Military Academy at West Point; one of the high temples of the uniform.
What should the military, people who are members of the “cult of the uniform”, think of him now?
This article debases, and dehumanizes each and every person who wears the military, police, or fire uniform. Yet, it will probably win some kind of notable award or accolade for Mr. Deresiewicz and the New York Times.
Heroes are people who willingly display courage and the will for self sacrifice for some greater good of humanity. Heroes, through great physical and moral courage, make a difference in the lives of others.
They set an example for others.
If people are willing to take an oath to die, and go to work everyday knowing full well they could, they are setting the ultimate example for all of us. That is not a cult. It is a higher calling.
Our men and women in uniform do that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They are all heroes.
If people who venerate them are also members if the “cult of the uniform”, then we will be proud members.
Venerating heroes for their service is not cultish idolatry. It is gratitude.
We should never forget.
Peter Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance writer, freelance photographer, and consultant. He is a passionate cook and eater. He likes to be the sharp stick that pokes, annoys, and provokes. His opinions are his and his alone.
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