He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
To say that there is a case for heroes is not to say that there is a case for hero worship. The surrender of decision, the unquestioning submission to leadership, the prostration of the average man before the Great Man — these are the diseases of heroism, and they are fatal to human dignity. . . . History amply shows that it is possible to have heroes without turning them into gods. And history shows, too, that when a society, in flight from hero worship, decides to do without great men at all, it gets into troubles of its own.
Most people aren't appreciated enough, and the bravest things we do in our lives are usually known only to ourselves. No one throws ticker tape on the man who chose to be faithful to his wife, on the lawyer who didn't take the drug money, on the daughter who held her tongue again and again. All this anonymous heroism.
In 1941 Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing out onto the wing of his Wellington bomber at thirteen thousand feet to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, he smothered the fire and returned along the wing to the aircraft's cabin. Winston Churchill, an admirer of swashbuckling exploits, summoned the shy New Zealander to 10 Downing Street. Struck dumb with awe in Churchill's presence, Ward was unable to answer the prime minister's questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. "You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence," he said.
"Yes, sir," managed Ward.
"Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours," said Churchill.
Courage is more exhilarating than fear, and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.