Who shot Major Hasan? It sounds like the title of a bad Simpsons episode, were the storyline not so tragic. But what unfolded last week at Fort Hood followed a predictable cable-news-friendly narrative. An “evil” gunman goes on a rampage and would have done more damage were it not for a “heroic” woman who subdued him. This is not to discount the bravery of those who fired back, especially given how chaotic a scene it must have been. But why does America feel the need to always find “heroes” in every tragic event that befalls this nation?
I’m not saying these are not genuine heroes, I just question a narrative that oftentimes turns out to be false. It turns out Sgt. Kimberly Munley was not the lone shooter who shot down Nidal Malik Hasan. Sgt Mark Todd was also there and played an important role but the storyline is better if it is just one woman who takes down the marauding villain.
In 2003 the media was quick to hold Jessica Lynch up as a “hero” after fighting ferociously in Iraq and being captured by enemy forces. She became the army’s poster-girl for valor and fearlessness. Yet, the story turned out to be exaggerated (she was hurt in a vehicle accident and was well treated by her Iraqi captors). Pat Tillman was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star in 2004 after being killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan. That, too, turned out to be false. He was killed by friendly fire, an uncomfortable fact the U.S. military tried to cover up.
There is something unsettling about America’s knee-jerk impulse to make every incident a testament to our exceptionality. It almost presupposes that there are no heroes in other countries, that valor is a uniquely American trait. It also cheapens the everyday folks out there who do extraordinary and, yes, heroic things each and every day.