I'm looking for some...

I have been losing many of mine lately. It’s because more information has come to light about the people I (and most Americans, I suspect) have always revered. We grew up with the stories of the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They’re our own national heroes. But the stories have palled and  I’ve grown disappointed, to the point where I wonder if we really have any heroes.

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Take Lincoln. He ended slavery and saved the country from splitting in two. I do not want to undervalue these accomplishments; can you imagine where we would be today if not for him? But I learned recently there was another side to his presidency, something you don’t hear about much. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus shortly after the Civil War began, because of riots and militia unrest. People considered disloyal were arrested and detained without trial. He shut down newspapers that attacked his actions and arrested their editors. And his views of the slaves were not what we have been led to believe. In a debate, he once said, “I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt steered the country through the Depression, launched the New Deal, and us in World War II. But he also rounded up thousands of Japanese-Americans—most of them U.S. citizens—and put them in detention camps during the war. It was officially labeled as necessary for national security. But in 1983, a congressional panel declared that “race prejudice, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership” actually prompted the action.

During the lead up to the war, our country, under FDR, paid little attention to the growing persecution of Jews in Germany. In 1939, the U.S. refused to allow the entry of the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, to Miami. The ship had to return to Europe. In fact, the administration actively discouraged admitting Jewish refugees to the U.S. FDR is recorded as saying in 1940 that calls for help for Jewish refugees were “Jewish wailing” and “sob stuff.”

I don’t mean to overlook the arena where we definitely do find heroes: the military. These people risk their lives, and sometimes give their lives, for others. They are heroes. But I have had to readjust my thinking about some of the people I’d always thought were heroes. The problem, I think, is that Lincoln, FDR, and others like them were in the world of politics, which is not exactly conducive to heroism, to put it mildly.

One person I do see as a hero is Martin Luther King, Jr. But he was an activist, not a politician.

Are there any heroes out there in politics? It seems to me we could use some.

definitely do find heroes in the military


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