EDITORIAL

Yankee heroes rise and fall but ours have the stuff of grandeur’

Peter C. Newman January 12 1981
EDITORIAL

Yankee heroes rise and fall but ours have the stuff of grandeur’

Peter C. Newman January 12 1981

Yankee heroes rise and fall but ours have the stuff of grandeur’

EDITORIAL

Peter C. Newman

Heroes reflect the countries that anoint them. Europe and South America tend to specialize in leaders who spend most of their time on palace balconies, waving at befuddled mobs. The United Kingdom has been reduced to resurrecting figures from the past who carried out that mandate from heaven that was the British Empire, worshipping the generals, admirals and crafty traders who ran the world when most of the five continents were tinted red. The Americans, requiring heroes as a constant reminder of their capacity for love, manufacture idols as quickly as they tear them down.

This tendency to whip up adolescent crushes and cravings over even the most mundane public figures is emphasized by Time’s choice of Ronald Reagan as its Man of the Year. Reagan, who may or may not turn out to be a passable president, is portrayed as a mixture of John Wayne and Mother Teresa.

The magazine’s gushy cover story paints Reagan’s face as “ruddy, in bloom, growing younger by the second” and his voice as having been “decorated by a florist.” That a voting majority of Reagan’s four kids hardly speak to him is dismissed by the assertion that he “gets along better with grown-ups” and, anyway, “Reagan bears much of the

aspect of an adorable child himself.”

Maclean’s choice as Canada’s hero of 1980 is very different: Terry Fox, the young athlete who hobbled his way across half the country and into all our hearts during last summer’s dogged marathon (page 28). His solitary ordeal raised our spirits because he tried— with the stubbornness that makes survival the dominant strain in the Canadian character—to overcome the insurmountable. Few will forget seeing him on his abruptly curtailed journey from sea to sea. Watching Terry run made people look at their own lives and problems with fresh perspective.

Canadians don’t have nearly enough heroes. Most of our explorers came from somewhere else; our few military heroes fought mainly on foreign soil. Everyone should have his or her own list of candidates for heroworship—people who seem to be charged with some special force that we lack, yet desire.

The political theorist Hannah Arendt caught this phenomenon in her preface to Men in Dark Times. “Even in the darkest of times,” she wrote, “we have the right to expect some illumination. It may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain flickering and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and works, will kindle and shed over the time span given them on earth.”

I’ll take Terry Fox over Ronald Reagan, any day.