What is heroism?

William Manchester

William Manchester

“Heroism is often confused with physical courage.  In fact the two are very different.  There was nothing heroic about [Ferdinand] Magellan’s death.  He went into that last darkness a seasoned campaigner, accompanied by his own men, and he was completely fearless because as he drew his last breath he believed ─ he knew ─ that paradise was imminent.  Similarly, the soldier who throws himself on a live grenade, surrendering his life to save his comrades, may be awarded the medal of honor.  Nevertheless his deed, being impulsive, is actually unheroic.  Such acts, no more reflective than the swift withdrawal of a blistered hand from a red-hot stove, are involuntary.  Heroism is the exact opposite ─always deliberate, never mindless.” ― A World Lit Only by Fire, The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Copyright © 1992 by William Manchester, Little Brown, Page 287.


“The hero acts alone, without encouragement, relying solely on conviction and his own inner resources.  Shame does not discourage him; neither does obloquy.  Indifferent to approval, reputation, wealth or love, he cherishes only his personal sense of honor, which permits no one else to judge.  La Rochefoucauld, not always a cynic, wrote of him that he does “without witnesses that we would be capable of doing before everyone.”  Guided by an inner gyroscope, he pursues his vision single-mindedly, undiscouraged by rejections, defeat, or even the prospect of imminent death.  Few men can even comprehend such fortitude.  Virtually all crave some external incentive: the appreciation of peers, the possibility of exculpation, the promise of retroactive affection, the hope of rewards, applause, decorations ─ of emotional reparations in some form.  Because these longings are completely normal, only a man with towering strength of character can suppress them.” ― A World Lit Only by Fire, The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Copyright © 1992 by William Manchester, Little Brown, Page 288.

About Michael

Retired military officer; retired Air Force civil servant; retired executive, DS Information Systems Corporation; writer; researcher; reader and avid yachtsman.
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