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Quite the World, Isn't It?

On Chile, rescued miners and the threshhold of heroism

Like countless others, I've been riveted by the live scenes from Chile as the trapped miners emerge, one by one, after an incomprehensibly long and close brush with death. It's a fascinating story of luck, perserverance, and survival by the miners, and dogged persistence by those above ground scrambling to rescue them.

align="left">But it was also an intriguing example of media, and image control. The usual throngs of reporters and cameras were kept at bay, and the Chilean government handled the video and audio feeds. From thousands of miles and several time zones away, we were able to sit in our living room and watch the rescue unfold, from the camera in the mine itself to the ground-level reunions with families and rescuers, to the wheeling away of the gurneys (and the omnipresent Chilean flag, like a company logo).

But you have to wonder what would have happened had the rescue failed (and I fully recognize it still might; miners continue to be pulled through that long drill hole as I write this)? Would the Chilean government have kept that feed live? Or would a disaster have led them to pull the plug? And this isn't ghoulish speculation: A free press is only as free as its access to news events. The rescuers were well-served keeping the media throng at a distance, but leaving the pool feed in the hands of the government involves too much opportunity for censorship. Better to have let the media set up their own pool feed, with no government overseer's hand on the plug. And one of the telling moments of the age: The miners apparently requested they receive media training before they face journalists.

One final thought: Again in a dramatic moment, we get lots of TV reporters tossing around the word "hero" like a pronoun for "trapped miner." Maybe I'm becoming too curmudgeonly, but surviving to me doesn't equal heroism. Same for the Americans who successfully drilled the rescue shaft (and plaudits for their decision to decamp for Santiago by the time the rescue began, leaving the limelight for the miners). The drillers did a tremendous job under trying circumstances, but does that earn the mantle of hero? The miners were brave, resilient and resourceful, especially as evidenced by their ability to self-organize for mutual benefit. As for the drillers, doing their jobs well should be an expectation, not an act of heroism.

So I'm wondering, what should be the hurdle for declaring heroism? If it's simply surviving under difficult, life-threatening circumstances, I know a lot of everyday people who would qualify. Same for those who do their jobs well in a difficult environment, and under extreme pressure. So it has me thinking about that old Joe Jackson song, "Real Men," but with a different lyric: What's a hero now? What's a hero mean?
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