Update: I wanted to push this back to the top of the page for a little while to let people read some of the comments by a few veterans on this topic, as well as from a veteran's mom.
Here's part of that exchange (go to the comments section for more):
Question from Sunny: ... Our son calls the two he served with who got killed by an IED his heroes, though he'd probably cringe a little bit, too, at people calling him one. To your mind, is there a difference? Because that's what we're talking about, not just everybody who serves, but those who don't come home.
Answer from MT: This is difficult to answer since there is so much to it. Yes, I do think they are heroes. I think the reason why so many don't like that word is because of all the baggage that comes with it.
1) Personal pain
I think this one is self-explanatory. People tend to avoid things that involve emotional pain. My mother died from cancer very young. I obviously loved her, but I also very obviously am staying away as far as possible from any movie or book related to the subject
2) Indifference to your own actions
Taking out a guy that was terrorizing the civilian population of a whole area gives gratification and justification. Taking out some farmer who was told that his family would be killed if he wouldn't fight the 'american devil'..does feel a lot different once you get time to think.
3) Indifference to your purpose
If you clear the same area five days in a row just because you have to pull out after running black on ammo every single time, then you truly know what 'just following orders' means.
4) Abuse of the term
The term is often used for political purposes or for the sake of making a story..which somehow makes it 'tainted', when used by outsiders. I know that this is a stupid overreaction, but I guess issue #2+#3 sets your mind in a defensive state to begin with.
5) BF Heroes
Just Google blue falcon award. Basically someone who wants a medal, promotion or his place in the history books so bad that he is willing to sacrifice everything (including you) for it.
6) Portrayal in movies
Watch an actor in movie being payed 50 million bucks , do something a) no one in the right mindset would ever do OR b) I've seen 19 year old privates do on a regular basis
Mix all of the above together and you'll understand why it's a problematic term for many.
Wow...that was a long reply. In the end we all deal with things differently..just wanted to offer a perspective.
Earlier: In defense of Chris Hayes
That talk show host did nothing wrong when he questioned the use of the word "hero" for every fallen soldier, even though I have no problem at all applying that word that way. The blogger at the link explains why extremely well.
From the piece: "Very few Americans wake up early on weekend mornings to watch public intellectuals chat. For the tiny number who do, Up With Chris Hayes, a show hosted by Chris Hayes of The Nation, has distinguished itself for its unusual success bringing thoughtful, intellectually honest conversation to cable news. The show's producers try to cover what they judge to be important, even when more trivial topics would result in higher ratings. During the panel portion of the show, the host and most guests actually grapple with fraught issues rather than shying away from them. Straw men, ad hominem attacks, and cheap point-scoring are exceptions* rather than the rule. Partisan hackery is discouraged. And Hayes tends to highlight rather than elide complicating facts and arguments that cut against his ideological instincts, preferring to interrogate his own views and to treat positions with which he disagrees fairly (something I'm attuned to because my politics are different enough from his that we're often at odds). Despite all this, Hayes is suddenly under fire for weekend remarks he made about heroism, war, and politics. Our public discourse is such that anyone can find him or herself viciously denounced by complete strangers based on a single sound-byte from which everyone extrapolates wildly. This controversy is worth highlighting because Hayes' words and the reaction to them helps explain why so few broadcasters forthrightly discuss complicated, controversial subjects. Hayes subsequently issued an apology, but it's his critics who've behaved badly."
The author also raises several thought-provoking points about the fallen soldier as hero debate as well, such as :
"3) What about the morality of the cause? Does anyone think brave Nazi soldiers during the World War II era were heroes? How about the soldiers in Stalin's army? Does the nature of the mission matter, so that a Soviet soldier who died liberating a death camp was a hero, whereas another who died while ravaging German civilians he was ordered to take revenge upon isn't? There's this reality to confront: if bestowing the title hero has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of the cause or mission, we'll have to grant the honorific to individuals who took part in deeply immoral acts... and yet, if the mission does matter, do we really want to deny the heroism of a GI who jumped on a grenade to save his platoon, even if we think the platoon's presence in country X was immoral? It's a confounding choice."
It's a good read.