I remember some time ago that question came up; it was right after 9/11, and Bill Maher got into trouble for saying that the hijackers were very brave. He reasoned that it took a lot of bravery to crash a plane into a building. A lot of people were upset by his words, and it eventually led to his TV show getting cancelled.
Myself, I decided to think long and hard on his words; I didn't want to make a knee-jerk decision as to the validity of his argument. Finally, I came to the conclusion that he was wrong. It wasn't a brave thing at all to crash those planes - it was the act of a fanatic.
It's a funny thing about fanatics, they'll do just about anything if they feel it's justified by their beliefs. They'll wage wars, create the Inquisition, blacklist people who dare to speak out, burn or hang people as witches, engage in "ethnic cleansing", and so on. They'll also crash a plane into a building - especially if they're convinced that they'll go straight to Heaven and be given 72 virgins.
So, that's not an act of bravery.
What about the passengers of United 93 who tried to re-take their plane; were they brave? To an extent - yes; I give them credit for bravery, but not great bravery. The reason: you could argue that their actions were motivated by feelings of self-preservation. After all, they were talking to people on the ground; they knew other planes had been crashed into the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. On the other hand, they could have hoped that their fate lay along another path. Perhaps their hijackers had something else planned for them. So, they were brave.
Yet, what is the truest, purest form of bravery?
Those were the actions of the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York, the EMT's, and so forth; all the emergency personnel who responded that terrible day and went into the Towers, without hesitation. They didn't have to do that; any one of them could have easily begged off - done crowd or traffic control, helped with the injured etc. For that matter, they could have simply walked more slowly than their compatriots into the Towers, and up the stairs.
It's said that, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Well, I'm of the opinion that bravery can be similarly defined as this:
Greater bravery has no man or woman than this: that they charge into danger, into almost certain death, all for the sake of saving people they don't even know.
Perhaps that is the clearest distinction between us and those who seek to destroy all that we are.
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Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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