Home of the Brave (Not So Much Anymore)

Capt. Tom L. Fitzsimons, likely the last American fighter pilot shot down in the European theater, April 1945

In general, courage includes doing something meaningful or right in which the consequence might entail something significantly adverse. Standing up for someone being bullied, in which you could well also become a target would qualify. Or, as in the case of the young cancer patient mentioned above, face great personal adversity with a mix of humor, stoicism, and positivity. On a more global scale, in reference to WW2, I had an uncle who volunteered to become a bomber pilot and some how survived his 30 missions. Instead of being rotated home, he wanted to see it through and transitioned to fighters, and was shot down and killed on April 20, 1945, perhaps the the last American fighter pilot killed in the European theater; he was all of 22. That, obviously, is courage of the highest order. Sometimes foolishness and recklessness are confused with courage, such as doing something for an "adrenaline rush:" bungee jumping may be exciting but you don't really expect to be injured and it's purely self-involved. Similarly, acts of courage by others do not impart on another- the bravery of my uncle in no way suggests I am courageous, claims we occasionally see made in cheap politics.

A number of years ago I heard an interview of a young folk singer by one of the usual drone voices on NPR. Apparently the young lady was close to her grandmother who had recently been placed in a nursing home. The interviewer said something about it taking courage to visit her grandmother, and the folk singer responded enigmatically: “Yeah, the courage to open my eyes.” What a hero!

A "pride" demonstration outside the Supreme Court

If one accepts the premise that the US and much of the privileged and affluent world is undergoing a great deterioration, one characterized by greed and selfishness, the diminution of language is integral to the process. Words that previously had great impact, such have racism and tolerance, have become meaningless. Now a racist is someone/everyone who disagrees with the dogma of the establishment/cultural powers, and tolerance is a one-way proposition: “you must not just tolerate me, but celebrate and embrace who claim to be and succumb to my demands or I will despise you.”

The words “courage” and “bravery” have been usurped and used by people who display neither, and have turned these formidable concepts, virtues esteemed throughout human history, into vacuousness and silliness, largely propagated by the social media. I’ve noticed the following scenario in various forms: a woman who craves attention goes on “Tic-Tok” to reveal she doesn’t shave her armpits and includes armpit “selfies.” She is then “trolled” by people who truly have nothing better to do in life, accusing her for being gross or whatever. Our armpit hirsute female responds by declaring she has been emotionally devastated and perhaps even received the highly coveted “death threats.” But, thank goodness, she has supporters who “follow” her, and declare she was courageous to admit she doesn’t shave her armpits. This is actually what we’ve come to.

Maria Margolies, a Yoga teacher and armpit hair activist from Brooklyn. She apparently has 446,000 "followers" on Tik-Tok and has stated, "...I'm confident in my choice not to shave if I don't want to. It's empowering to stand my ground" and "I don't need anyone's approval. I feel sorry for anyone who feels they need to be hateful toward me based on whether I shave or not."

There are several behaviors that are harmful or wrong that we’ve come to conflate stopping with bravery, depending on the relative value of the behavior as determined by the cultural powers. For example, at present no one is going to declare some guy who stops beating his wife and kids as heroic. Likewise, a sexually promiscuous person who tires of the lifestyle isn’t going to be labeled courageous, though someone who becomes promiscuous and proudly announces it might garner such accolades. A heretofore heterosexual who “comes out” and shatters his or her family might well be labeled gallant, as would a guy who declares he’s a female. And similarly, a drug or alcohol addict who goes into rehab is often described as brave. Which leads us to recently deceased actor Matthew Perry, who played one of the main characters on the TV show Friends that ran from 1994 to 2004.

Matthew Perry as a young man

A preface before I go further: it certainly is admirable for an addict of any sort to admit what the are and overcome it. Even better if they can make amends for the misery and destruction they left in the wake of their addiction. Though I never watched Friends and knew nothing of Matthew Perry prior to his death at the age of 54, some of the headlines that saturated the news caught my attention. The initial reports were that he simply drowned in a Jacuzzi. The accepted narrative was that Matthew Perry had been well-known as an addict of many different substances for decades, but publicly admitted this and was heralded as courageous. Here are some of the initial headlines following his death:

*Despite his professional success, Perry had a tumultuous personal journey. His struggles with addiction and sobriety were public knowledge, a testament to his honesty and courage. (https://bnnbreaking.com/arts/matthew-perry-remembering-a-comedic-genius-and-courageous-soul/)

*Sean Penn (also a famous actor) has praised Matthew Perry’s courage in the way that he spoke out about his addiction in order to help others who are suffering.

*Fox News posted a video, entitled “Matthew Perry remembered as ‘courageous’ role model: ‘He was inspiring others"

Matthew Perry in August 2021

While I am not someone awed by celebrity, I have/had nothing against Matthew Perry. But like so many feel-good narratives that “go viral,” it was discovered there was a good deal more than a troubled celebrity rose above his addictions and became an inspiration to others. First, his cause of death was from the “acute effects of ketamine” (apparently impressive amounts) while contributing factors included “drowning, coronary artery disease and the effects of buprenorphine” In other words, he was passed out blitzed when he died.

Second, he spent something like $9 million in rehab over the years: he might have been clean for a while but always returned to drug and alcohol addiction. Perhaps more than most people due to various life experiences, I well know $9 million could have nourished a huge number of hungry children in impoverished countries, many people could have been educated to rise above poverty, many lives could have been saved from disease, and many water and sanitation projects that could have been built. Is it heartless to NOT view spending millions of dollars on yourself to fight your self-inflicted demons as noble, and even maybe selfish?

In Nov. 2022 Perry had a book published entitled “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir,” in which he talked openly of his recurrent addictions, and good for him. Part of the hype was that he finally, successfully became sober. Unfortunately there is fairly credible evidence it was false, and he kept on getting high even during his sobriety book tour. In fact, a couple months removed from his death some of the tabloids, with a reasonable record of accuracy, suggested Perry wasn’t the all-around great guy portrayed in the adoring celebrity accounts: a headline from Jan 12, 2024 UK Daily Mail, “Not a 'Friend' - but a fraud: Matthew Perry violently assaulted women... while posing as a paragon of virtue.” (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-12949069/Matthew-Perry-fraud-violently-assaulted-women-MAUREEN-CALLAHAN.html)

But in the end it doesn’t matter if he was a troubled, pitiable soul with a good heart or a self-involved money grubbing fraud, he was was not a “courageous role model,” and to make such claims and statements diminishes every true act of bravery, and ultimately diminishes our society and world.

3 thoughts on “Home of the Brave (Not So Much Anymore)

  1. Carole Ann Milljour

    Good article, Reid. I love your statement at the end. That said a lot!!!

    My dad served in WWII as a medic. The only thing he ever told me about the war was when he and a friend of his were walking and all of a sudden, his friend's arm was blown off. He never talked about the war other than that, but he always told me to never feel sorry for myself, because there was always someone worse off than me.

    I can't imagine being in a war let alone serving in one. The thought is frightening. So much devastation and heart ache.

    I certainly don't envy any of our border patrol agents right now, or police for that matter. What a mess. So many terrifying moments for a great many. ...and we have no idea what is coming through and into our once great nation. Not that it isn't great still, but we could certainly use a lot of improvement from what's been going on the last three years most particularly.

    I always felt that nothing stays bad forever, and I do still feel that way; and I am still optimistic that we can turn this ugliness around and learn from it. The sad thing though is our youth. They are being brain-washed, aborted, some don't have a decent home life, especially considering that people my age are being canvassed as prospective foster parents. I would consider it, but I don't think I'm that brave to take on someone else's child whose got God knows what encased in his/her fragile mind. So sad though for so many of our youth; and now even sex trafficked along with dying from the fentanyl being manufactured and passed on as candy. I always thought of Obama as being the pied piper. Maybe I wasn't so far off on that one. In a lot of ways, he has led our youth down a path of destruction with especially what's going on even in our schools.

    As far as courageous individuals are concerned, I'm certain there are many, however, I noticed an idiotic commercial on TV recently which was advertising a woman's body wash and how the men were trying to secure it for their own use. Pretty sad! Anything to sell something! How many men use or even care about their wife's body wash?! Now I ask you? This type of man does not portray a fearless protector, does it?

    I guess bravery comes into play when you have no alternative. You either get up and do it to save your butt or someone else's', or you fall back in fear and more than likely end up hurt or dead. I don't know what I would do, but I do believe I would try at least to put up a fight!

    The world has certainly changed a lot since WWII and not for the better from what's going on right now. A great many individuals have their priorities all mixed up I'm afraid. The future has yet to be seen. I know when I was young, I was naive and just plain stupid in a lot of ways. People do grow up because they don't have much choice. I suppose it is either that or face some serious consequences!

    One other thing I remember my dad telling me was: "Just because someone jumps off a bridge, doesn't mean you have to." God, I wish I had paid more attention to that man when I was young and foolish! It seems more now than ever that there are too many sheep and not enough leaders, good leaders. I remember one time though when I came across two teenage boys on bikes and one of them took his bike and rode it down a set of stairs while the other kid watched. Well, the guy that went down the stairs told his friend to follow his lead, but he didn't seem to like that idea. So, I told him, you don't have to do it just because he did, you could fall off your bike and break your arm or leg and that would mess up your whole summer. Well, he didn't go, and I guess what I said helped him get up enough courage to not worry about what his friend thought. I have to say, that I was always proud of my dad and at that moment thought to myself, he's still teaching some young kid something even if it was through me who said it.
    God Bless America, land of the free because of the brave!

  2. Alfred Finocchiaro

    Yes, I wish I would have listened to my father more in my "know it all" years. So many words of wisdom he imparted on me and how true time proved his words to be. How much pain and suffering I would have saved myself had I listened. Like most kids, we want to find out for ourselves what this life means. Sometimes this takes us down paths that are just one way. Its a shame that we realize the wrong turn way to late. Some of us spend the rest of our lives fighting our way back trying to make amends. Others are lost on their path and try to make the rest of us pay for their poor decisions. Nothing brave about that!

  3. Carl Butler

    One of the most sublime but powerful tools in cultural change is the dissipation of meaningful words and concepts, and you hit it right on the head with the term 'bravery.'. My father earned a Purple Heart on Iwo Jima and hardly a week goes by that I wish I could pick up the phone and get wise counsel, a concept that eluded me for far too long. I also worked for a man who rode a tank in the Battle of the Bulge, he became the tank commander when his superior officer was killed when peeking out of the turret. My boss had to shove his fallen comrade out of the turret and become the commander on the spot. He guided the tank through to the end of the battle and I believe he also earned a Purple Heart as well.
    My point is that an untested generation knows little of the true of sacrifice and bravery and will never know whether they possess either unless or until they are presented with a literal 'do or die' physical threat.
    I've seen some of the same tictoc idiots you have seen, young men trying to convince me that their sexual confusion is somehow grounds for social martyrdom. Frankly, my internal response is to want to grab them by the throat and slap them silly until they come to their senses. I know that is emphatically not a Christian response but how can a man come to Christ if he cannot come to grips with who he is, legitimately and biologically?
    I honestly confess that my life made little sense and offered little hope until I came home to the One who loved me and gave Himself for me.


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