Sunday, 22 November 2009

What is Heroism?

So this weekend, much of the Cumbria flood news coverage focused on the sad death of PC Bill Barker. The media hailed him a hero. We all awoke on Saturday morning to breathless reporters telling us how he died, where his body had been recovered, that it was his birthday, how many children he left behind, reading the hastily prepared media release from his wife, his Chief Constable saying that he was a modern day hero etc.

Now I don't want in any way diminish the life of PC Barker. He was no doubt a popular policeman and a good man. What I want to criticise is the media coverage of these sorts of situations.

PC Barker was a policeman doing his job. He was directing traffic on a bridge in the early hours of the morning when the bridge he was standing on collapsed. A good public servant doing his duty when tragedy struck.

But not heroism.

Heroism is a young man who, realising his colleagues were taking heavy enemy fire, that there were already several casualties and more were likely to be killed, got up and rushed straight in the direction of the enemy, just 20 metres away, raking them with automatic fire, allowing the rest of his section to withdraw back to safety so the casualties could be treated. He was later found dead beside the enemy he had killed in his aggressive counter attack (Corporal Bryan Budd VC, 3 PARA).

Heroism is a young man who's vehicle mistakenly came under fire from a pair of American ground attack aircraft (great allies, huh?). Having escaped from the burning vehicle, he returned to it when he realised that his gunner was trapped in the turret and succeeded in rescuing him. Realising that his comrades were all injured, he returned to the vehicle a second time to inform his headquarters of the situation. He then proceeded to help the wounded gunner to safety even while the two aircraft carried out a second attack, hitting him in the lower back and legs. Finally, he returned to the scene of the attack a third time to attempt to rescue the injured driver of another burning vehicle (LCoH Christopher Finney GC, Blues and Royals).

Heroism is a young girl who jumped out of her armoured vehicle and climbed up the side of it to rescue the vehicle commander who had been shot in the mouth, all while being heavily fired upon by enemy snipers at night. One bullet hit her rucksack as she climbed the vehicle. She then helped drag the vehicle commander back into the safety of the vehicle while still being fired upon (LCpl Michelle Norris MC, RAMC).

Again, I am sure PC Barker was a great man who behaved with dignity and great public spirit last week, but we must not let media hyperbole cheapen what real heroism is. As the death toll in Afghanistan mounts and we all become numbed to the regular casualty roll, we would do well to see detailed coverage of how each of our dead gave their life.

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