Veteran’s Day, comic book movies; there have been plenty of occasions to talk about heroes lately. As a nerd, I can list off a long list of superheroes. I will always be more of a Captain America guy than an Iron Man follower. Before they got all supped up, one said, “I don’t want to kill anybody. I just don’t like bullies.” The other made billions off of selling arms. The guy who will take the hit so that others’ won’t suffer will always get my loyalty over warmongers.
For your consideration, I offer a few of my real heroes.
The event happened over 1700 years ago, so there are a few versions of the story. Rome was still hosting their gladiator games in the Colosseum and such. (Fun fact: “arena” is Latin for sand. The sand covered the wood floors to soak up all the blood.) As one version describes it:
“(Telemachus) had set out from the East and for this reason had repaired to Rome. There, when the abominable spectacle was being exhibited, he went himself into the stadium, and stepping down into the arena, endeavored to stop the men who were wielding their weapons against one another. The spectators of the slaughter were indignant, and inspired by the triad fury of the demon in delights in their bloody deeds, stoned the peacemaker to death.”
Telemachus was not the first one to protest. Other attempts had been made to stop the gladiator games before. But Telemachus’ death resulted in the games ceasing a decade later.
I equate it to stepping in front of a group of horses that is charging in the Kentucky Derby. Like getting in between two boxers without any protective gear. I’m not brave enough to try to soothe a raging bull, let alone two. Yet, there was Telemachus. Clinging to his beliefs. Being murdered, not by the men with swords or tridents, but by a bloodthirsty crowd.
Doss did not have to serve in World War II. As a shipyard worker, he was offered a deferment. He was given the status of a conscientious objector. Yet he still wanted to serve. The thing that set him apart, was that he was the one man in the Army that refused to kill anyone. After much hazing, he was sent off to war.
The short version is that Doss and his fellow soldiers were charged with taking a ridge. It was essentially a cliff with plenty of enemy combatants perched at the top. Over the course of the battle, Doss saved dozens of men by carrying them to the edge and lowering them, two at a time, down to safety. He treated both his fellow men and enemy soldiers. He tried to kick away a grenade and received shrapnel as a result. He threw himself off a gurney so that another wounded soldier could be treated first.
The respect that Doss acquired was so great that an entire mission was delayed so that he could pray first. He was awarded three Purple Hearts, multiple Bronze Stars, and the Medal of Honor. Currently, it is the only Medal of Honor given to a conscientious objector. As the citation states,
“Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Private First Class Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”
Though he was the topic of a documentary, The Conscientious Objector, he turned down multiple offers to have a movie made of him. He preferred the quiet life. It was not until after his death that Hollywood was allowed to make a movie about his heroism, Hacksaw Ridge.
Lewis is probably the one that most folks are familiar with. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives for over thirty years. Seven times there were no candidates to oppose him. His lowest victory was by 69%. Popular guy.
Baptist Minister. Non-violent marcher. Freedom Rider. Whatever his role at the time, he kept getting into “good trouble, necessary trouble”.
People beat him bloody and he didn’t fight back. The legal system seemed to work against him. He joined it to improve it from within. Young people might not have heard his story, so he took to comic books to present it to them.
You can refer to his 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom. You could see him standing up (and sometimes sitting down) for what he believed in. He fought back, but he did not throw a punch. It is no wonder that he was referred to as the “conscience of Congress”.
I am a huge fan of assisting people, not hurting them. And yes, sometimes that takes a toll on us. None of us, not even the three men above, can be counted as perfect. But if we have to choose between beating our enemies, or serving those around us, I vote for helping as many people as we can. There’s what our resources are capable of. Then there’s what they should do.