The following Editorial in the NYT by William Deresiewicz is well worth a read, especially the last paragraph. (h/t to Kos).
“America needs heroes,” it is sometimes said, a phrase that’s often uttered in a wistful tone, almost cooingly, as if we were talking about a lonely child. But do we really “need heroes”? We need leaders, who marshal us to the muddle. We need role models, who show us how to deal with it. But what we really need are citizens, who refuse to infantilize themselves with talk of heroes and put their shoulders to the public wheel instead. The political scientist Jonathan Weiler sees the cult of the uniform as a kind of citizenship-by-proxy. Soldiers and cops and firefighters, he argues, embody a notion of public service to which the rest of us are now no more than spectators. What we really need, in other words, is a swift kick in the pants.
This is a sentiment I agree with completely. Our national anthem describes this country as "the land of the free, the home of the brave" and yet for the past ten years certainly we have seen an overwhelming tendency to treat any sort of scary scenario, including purely imaginary scenarios as direct threats that must be eliminated. To no extent are we, or at least a large faction of the population, willing to face the existence of some potential danger while we determine what, if any, danger actually exists. So we invade Iraq to save ourselves from nuclear bombs fired by Saddam's ICBMs, none of which existed. I sometimes disparage this as conservative courage, namely the willingness to be brave once the government first guarantees that there is no chance whatsoever that I might get hurt. The truly sad thing about this attitude is that all experience from history shows that the way to intimidate one's enemies is to treat things that frighten them as if they do not bother you. In short, show courage. A willingness to kill does not intimidate your enemies, showing no fear of death does. To be secure each individual citizen needs to willingly and bravely take on some of the risk, not try and pass off all risk to a small handful.