"What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven." ~ Friedrich Hoelderlin
What Have We Done for Our Heroes?
We seem to be people starved for heroes. I remember in 1979 during the Iranian hostage crisis, the cretins who call us our media called the bureaucrats encaged at the embassy "heroes." Now the best term you could call these people is victims. They, wisely or not, waited passively until rescued and nothing else. The same term was also applied to the victims of 9/11, thereby cheapening the concept of hero.
There are heroes among the military and the police. However, the institutions they represent are corrupt with way too much power and have enough recognition as it is. Even in just wars such as WW2, there are many innocents killed for every enemy combatant, and soldiers are trained to follow orders rather than take the initiative. Most police enforce bad laws. It is time to recognize that a new, powerful class is emerging and has its heroes. I am talking about the heroes in the business community who are still largely unnoticed in our culture compared to police, lawyers and the military, especially when it comes to TV and film.
Remember, heroism is courage above and beyond the call of duty. Remember that this heroism was shown by people who were untrained and unarmed and did not seek these dangerous situations. After they made their decision to help the defenseless, their lives were often based on a series of spontaneous, non-violent responses to a militarized, insane enemy who could easily kill them. Sometimes in saving people from a tyranny, it takes more than courage; it takes intelligence, diplomacy, cunning as well as valor. Cunning can mean bribery, flattery of goons, lying and even bullying in situations that trump everyday ethics. This kind of cunning and courage was displayed by Oskar Schindler in "Schindler's List" and Paul Rusabagina (henceforth PR) in "Hotel Rwanda."
Oskar Schindler and PR saved thousands of people between them. There is another businessman who saved hundreds of thousands under similar circumstances who you have probably never heard of (John Rath). More about him and how to honor all these fine people will come later.
I have seen the film "Hotel Rwanda," and it is a masterpiece of horror. Horror is a genre known for its innocent, almost bland beginnings. Then cruel and insane monster(s) appear that gorge on innocent blood until a hero(es) comes to the rescue. But in this film, the horror really happened. And America, Europe, Africa, the media, and even the US stood by until almost a million people were butchered by machetes and rifles. Fortunately, a hero did arise.
PR (Don Cheadle) is the manager of the hotel Milles Collines owned by a multinational corporation, Sabena of Belguim. He operates in a country where bribes and toadying are the ways to survive. He is a Hutu who has turned a blind eye to oppression until his family (his wife is a Tutsi) and friends come under attack when a revolt is declared. All through the film, one hears this hate-filled radio program calling for the Hutus to exterminate the Tutsi cockroaches, supposedly for their cooperation with the Belgian colonizers of decades ago. This film never lets up with armed mobs and moral dilemmas, as Paul must constantly bribe with whisky and cash leaders of these crazed, vicious groups. Rich tourists, the media and even the UN (or is it Un?) peacekeepers desert his hotel as it fills with orphans and refugees. Fortunately, his boss at Sabena in Belguim helps him in contacting European officials, and that forestalls the attacks for a while. Still, resentful mobs resent his "pull" and vow vengeance. In a tearful scene, the commander (Nick Nolte) of the UN (or is it un?) peacekeeper forces tearfully confesses that his men cannot use their guns and that there will be little help for the poor blacks marooned in this island in the middle of this bloodbath. Paul then knows it is on the four star reputation of his hotel, and his wits are the only barrier to the slaughter of his charges. While this siege lasts 100 days, occasionally he must drive out at night trading for food with these Hutu leaders who know that his wife is a Tutsi. Returning, he inadvertently drives over piles of victims. In the end, he and over 1,000 people escape when Tutsi rebels arrive.
Sometimes from ordinary, even corrupt people comes a hero. Not someone who searches out greatness but has it thrusted upon him and is transformed. Many readers of this would do the same. In honor of those who accept the challenge of saving lives in the face of mortal danger, there should be recognition, a place of honor, especially those who can do this with great risk and little expectation of reward. The struggle for liberty should be recognized as a great philanthropic act.
What I propose is a Hall of Fame for business people who have risked their lives and fortunes to save people. If people whose only skill is throwing a baseball can have a Hall of Fame, why not real heroes? Perhaps one could first be set up on a website.
John Rabe was head of the branch of Siemens, a German engineering firm in Nanking, China in 1937. According to the book The Good Man of Nanking by Iris Chang, during the organized carnage called the Rape of Nanking, Rabe along with Americans and British set up the Red Swastika Society and saved more than 200,000 Chinese by setting up an island of safety. In the middle of this safety zone on a flagpole flew the flag of the Red Swastika Society. Sseeking safety under a swastika was not unusual for the Chinese. Chinese temples to this day are covered with them, as they are the symbol of the wheel of life. This is akin to having a lifesaving drug with a skull and bones on it, which is the symbol of the Nazi SS or George Bush's fraternity. Wearing a swastika armband (ironically, he was head of the Nazi Party there), he literally pulled Japanese soldiers off of Chinese women in the act of rape, screaming at them. At the time, he believed in Hitler and wrote letters to Hitler complaining of Japanese atrocities. He was brought back to Germany and reality and the Nazis nearly sent him to a concentration camp for his efforts. It would be a strange and powerful movie even if only a documentary. China as well as the overseas Chinese community would love it.
Honor and recognition is due to these people so that if we ever need such people again, they would be there. Heroes can be very ordinary and even corrupt beings who have been transformed by meeting the challenge of evil times. One could also honor other philanthropists who took lesser risks for peace, property and liberty as well. I would appreciate hearing your nominees for the Hall of Fame of business people who through their bravery, innovation and entrepreneurship accomplished heroic acts. A website would be good at first followed by a real hall of fame. After all, if a relief pitcher can get recognized, why not our heroes? This will help us understand, nurture and celebrate the heroism of the entrepreneurs who have defended our values.