The Problematic Insinuation of Heroism in Death and How We Remember Tragedies

Updated: Nov 14

Schools mostly teach us about how things are, how they were and how they’re supposed to go. Go to school, get an education, get a job. Be profitable for yourself, for the system. We aren’t really taught to question our surroundings, at least not in a deep fundamental way, because they’re not able to transmit certain habits of perception and imagination. These would be exactly the crucial habits to have in order to be able to observe ongoing events, to understand them, and place them for then to see what our situation is probably going to be like if nothing changes and to realise what these events might entail, if not more people will be able to recognise their circumstances.

I think in order for change to happen, it is necessary to have these skills of perception and imagination and for schools to teach them or at least attempt to. They can’t only convey the idea of the past and status quo, no. They should be required to teach us a vision outside of this. Question the status quo, recognise unfair circumstances, point them out and make them noticeable. It is about understanding your present, of being empathic and of connecting with the people that surround you. In the end it is all about bringing us closer together and to fix issues that in the end will harm all of us.

And to tie it all in, I feel like lies and certain myths are exactly what keep us from looking behind certain curtains, from questioning the image that we believe in and keep us from looking at our starting point from different angles in order to move beyond it. Now, what do I mean by that?

Myths - like the hero death for instance - are ideas ingrained within our brains that connect mostly unrelated things. Such as death and heroism for instance. But these myths give power to those that can make use of them. Left unchecked, they can lead to disastrous events. Put like this it sounds obvious to deny the effects of such ideas, but if we look closely this hero myth can be found everywhere. Especially in modern blockbuster movies that rely heavily on self-sacrifice and hero death in order to shake up their audiences’ emotions and thereby get to them on more than surface level. This idea is ingrained in our brains and it isn’t (at least in my opinion) as closely related to looking out for others and putting other lives’ before your own, but more to the idea of sacrificing your life for a greater good, which would mean that your life gained meaning through dying. But how can your life become more valuable by the act of it disappearing? And why is this idea so important to prevail?

I think this can be linked to our way of remembering as well. As already stated, before we tend to create meaning where no meaning can be found. The victims of hate crimes, wars, persecution and simply put; murder, are often later abused by authorities as a memorial to warn others of the paths that led to this point. I hereby don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t remember atrocities and the most horrendous parts of human history - very much the opposite. What I’m getting at is that there seems to be a meaning implied by saying or engraving in stone “May the deaths of these victims be a warning to all for such a thing to never happen again!”, insert any old human atrocity. It seems as if we are unable to deal with the meaninglessness of the murders and genocides that have ravaged our history and we thus try to fill these gaps with stories that are easier to grasp. It’s difficult to understand meaningless acts of violence that disturb our lives.

When Ruth Klüger, an Austrian-American author, visited the KZ Bergen-Belsen where she would’ve ended up and most likely died if she and her mother didn’t flee from the death march. She also visited the mass graves. She pointed to the inscriptions of these graves that serve - as I’ve exemplified before - as a warning and reminder for an event such as the Shoah to “never happen again”. The death of these victims is used - let their death be a reminder, a lesson for all! They didn’t die in vain, or would you want them to have died for nothing? Klüger sounds angered when she says that how can you bring sense to these murders and atrocities? Something so brutally senseless that grew from hate - and to give that sense and purpose? That in itself is something to question.

Creating a lesson out of victims is pointless. A victim doesn’t choose to be in the position they end up in; as a victim, you do not choose or decide to be in that certain situation, you are being put into it, that decision is made for you by someone else, and thereby it is a completely hollowed out and misleading attempt to add purpose to a random, arbitrary act of violence.

I am not sure how we should deal with our past, but what I am sure of is that we do not need more cover-up stories that make abominable events easier to take in. The victim-offender dialogue is a very delicate field that we must engage ourselves with in order to understand our positions within different times. It is by facing how needless certain acts are and how they cannot be filled with reason and purpose that we might learn from them and actually avoid them.


  • drawing by piigwire

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