Letter From Military History – March 2016 | HistoryNet MENU

Letter From Military History – March 2016

By Stephen Harding
12/28/2015 • Military History, MH Editorial

In a Word — Heroic

Every profession and most avocations have special vocabularies, words that describe attributes, conditions or situations common to its participants. These words constitute a shorthand, allowing individuals to quickly exchange information—such as describing a situation, identifying a piece of equipment or assessing another person’s skills or character.

Militarily speaking, we use a variety of such words. Some describe large and impersonal assemblages of people or machines—think “army” or “fleet” or “air force.” Others define individuals within specific organizations—“soldier,” “sailor,” “airman”—without describing their skill levels or personal characteristics. For the latter we rely on admittedly subjective terms of evaluation—“incompetent” or “capable,” “cautious” or “aggressive.” In everyday life people have inappropriately overused many terms so as to render them essentially meaningless—consider “awesome, “epic” or “legendary.” Words specific to the profession of arms haven’t escaped such diminution—indeed, even “victory” has become a far more amorphous concept than it once was.

There is one word, however, that retains its true meaning when used in a martial context—“heroic.” It still accurately describes the actions of an individual or group that displays a level of valor so far above that normally expected of military personnel as to deserve a nation’s highest accolades. We still rightfully acknowledge such actions—whether undertaken on open battlefields or in the shadows of a clandestine struggle against tyranny—for in doing so we honor all those who have gone in harm’s way to defend freedom. MH

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