The Thin Line Between Good & Evil

GoodAndEvil1

The night after my second son was born, amidst the sleeplessness that comes with the birth of a child, I was captivated by the exuberant celebrations at Ground Zero, in Times Square, in rural Pennsylvania, and in Washington, D.C. as people throughout the United States of America began reacting to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. But, as they say, there are two sides to every story.

In James Bond's Die Another Day (2002), Raoul (Emilio Echevarria) observes, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

In the days following the news of bin Laden's death, a chorus of defiance, mourning, and revenge have emanated from bin Laden's admirers and supporters. In one video, bin Laden is referred to as a "freedom fighter", while others have referred to him as a "martyr".

This much is crystal clear: Osama bin Laden symbolically lives on. For Americans, bin Laden lives on as a symbol of the world's greatest evil, inasmuch as Adolf Hitler has been such a symbol for post-World War II generations. For those with extremist, jihadist world-views, bin Laden lives on as a symbol of a righteous struggle against oppressive American influences.

Who's right? An emotional, patriotic response would of course dictate that Osama bin Laden was an extremely evil terrorist. On the other hand, one person's villain may be another's hero.

But, is it possible to determine an archetype of a hero that supercedes cultural reference points? That is, does an objective standard exist for heroes?

To answer that question, consider the following people who may or may not be considered heroes by different groups of people ...

What do we do with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great civil rights and religious leader who also was dogged by allegations of adultery? Or George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who forged ground-breaking personal freedoms and liberty, but also were slave-owners? Posthumously, Mother Teresa has been accused of leaving a legacy of medical negligence and financial fraud.

Last week, concerns were raised about the ethical and moral standing of the United States officials who directed a "kill mission," despite espoused beliefs in universal human rights (such as due process) and despite the fact that key intelligence was obtained through questionable interrogation techniques.

These concerns raise the age-old question of whether or not the ends justify the means.

What do you think?

  • Do objective, universal standards for heroes exist? If so, what are they?
  • How do ethical or moral concerns or questions affect heroes' standing?

Please leave your ideas and thoughts in the comments section. Thank you!