Heroes and Cowards

By Ted Belman

In a review of the movie “300” titled Go tell it to the Spartans, Andrew Klaven tells us

[..] What’s more, Flags tells us that “there are no such things as heroes,” and portrays our celebration of heroism as something ultimately misguided and even destructive.

300 rejects this view and rightly so. The film understands that we celebrate heroes because we dine on the fruits of their sacrifice. The greatest of these fruits is liberty, more precious than life itself. And when we glorify the heroes who defend our liberty with their lives, it reminds us too that we must live in responsibility to them, not only in our actions but in our philosophies as well. Every day that we preserve and cherish our freedom is a monument to them, a sign that they are not forgotten. They are never forgotten.

Victor Davis Hanson comments in History and the Movie “300”

The phrase “300 Spartans” evokes not only the ancient battle of Thermopylae, but also the larger idea of fighting for freedom against all odds — a notion subsequently to be enshrined through some 2500 years of Western civilization.

[..] So almost immediately, contemporary Greeks saw Thermopylae as a critical moral and culture lesson. In universal terms, a small, free people had willingly outfought huge numbers of imperial subjects who advanced under the lash. More specifically, the Western idea that soldiers themselves decide where, how, and against whom they will fight was contrasted against the Eastern notion of despotism and monarchy — freedom proving the stronger idea as the more courageous fighting of the Greeks at Thermopylae, and their later victories at Salamis and Plataea attested.

[..] If critics think that 300 reduces and simplifies the meaning of Thermopylae into freedom versus tyranny, they should reread carefully ancient accounts and then blame Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus — who long ago boasted that Greek freedom was on trial against Persian autocracy, free men in superior fashion dying for their liberty, their enslaved enemies being whipped to enslave others.


I never thought I would see the day when I disagreed with Hanson, but here it is.

Francisco Gil White in his Crux of World History argues that Greece was neither free nor democratic as we understand the terms today

    Athens is supposed to have been better, but let us do the math so that you can judge whether the differences are really that significant. Accepting the upper estimate, in Athens 80% of all people were slaves. Of the remaining 20%, half were women. Of the remaining 10%, the overwhelming majority were army grunts or destitute peasants. So the only people who really enjoyed themselves in Athenian society comprised considerably less than 5% of the total population.

He also argues that the Greek hero which has been immortalized would today be considered a brutal villain. Finally he argues that It was the Persians who were enlightened and the Greeks fascist.

I’ll leave you to read his argument and proof yourself.

But what do we consider heroic today? According to the dictionary “a : exhibiting or marked by courage and daring b : supremely noble or self-sacrificing”. Let’s go with that. Heroism has nothing to do with the goals of the hero. Thus if you fight with courage and sacrifice your life to further a cause, any cause, you are heroic. It also has nothing to do with your means of fighting. To achieve your goals you can kill multitudes of the innocent and still be heroic. Being moral is not an ingredient to heroism.

Now in this history, Greece was attacked by the Persians. Never mind who was the good guy. It is simply a fight between us and them as all fights are. So the Greeks were fighting for preservation of the establishment and the status quo. The outcome of war for the loser in antiquity was devastating so it was a war of survival for them. Only 5% of the inhabitants were free so can we say they were fighting for freedom? Yes, freedom for the few.

But regardless they choose to fight rather than to succumb. Fighting is heroic, succumbing is cowardly.

When Napoleon tried to conquer Europe to spread the French revolution was he the hero or were the people who died defending the aristocracies, the heroes.

There is yet another dimension. Terrorists might be considered heroic by this definition. Except for the fact that they have been programmed to die for the cause as all true believers have been. Does this not taint their free choice. On the other hand in order for anyone to choose fighting, they must have values that make it worth while. This requires education and inculcation.

The West at the moment including Israel have lost their way and their values leaving them devoid of any values to fight for. Survival is all that matters.

March 25, 2007 | Comments Off on Heroes and Cowards

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