Have genuine, flesh and blood heroes in battle become a dim memory to the present generation – and will

they be merely the stuff of legends for generations to come? I am talking about those brave men who put their lives on line for a cause, very often armed with nothing more than raw courage and a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for a cause they believed in. This chain of thought was set off by a very unlikely circumstance. I have just finished watching a DVD of that classic Western, High Noon, with Gary Cooper. As the story unfolded of this US Marshall – who was certainly no superhero – being deserted in his hour of greatest need, by the very townspeople he had helped keep safe for years: as I watched the despair and disillusionment build on his face, as he realized he could rely on no one but himself: as he quietly wrote out his last will and testament and strode out with quiet determination to do what he had to do: I could not help adversely contrasting him with the Terminator and his kind, who blast away at the bad guys with awesome firepower at their disposal. The latter, unfortunately, is what passes for heroism in the minds of today’s young people. Today’s heroes necessarily need to be larger than life, with prodigious attributes that ordinary folk cannot hope to emulate. Gary Cooper’s character would be regarded as a wimp and treated with derision. I regard this as a sad loss of values. It would be tolerable, perhaps, if the pre-eminence of weapons and gadgets over true grit was restricted to the movies and works of fiction. It is not. It is evident in all arenas of modern combat. Compare the GI’s of World War Two with their peers fighting in Iraq. That “grunt” went out to do battle with little more than a steel helmet and a single shot rifle – and no body armour at all. He did not have the luxury of spraying a hundred bullets at an enemy soldier, hoping one or two would hit the target. He had to make his first shot count; or he would probably wind up dead. His modern counterpart comes equipped with body armour, night vision and an automatic rifle with tremendous firepower. If he gets into a tight situation, he does not need to have to fight his way to the field radio operator to call in an air strike. He can do it from where he’s standing. It is not my intention to cast any aspersions on the bravery of today’s fighting men. But, let’s face it; the odds are stacked in their favor. It’s the same situation with air combat. In the Battle of Britain, it usually boiled down to a one on one dogfight, with every fighter pilot relying principally of his flying skills to bring down the enemy – or even to merely survive. Today’s combat pilot, quite often, does not even see the enemy. He presses a button and a computer-guided missile does the rest. It’s all about technology. I would not be too surprised if, a hundred years from now, wars come down to machines fighting other machines. That may not be a bad thing, actually – even if it does make the concept of bravery superfluous. Many reading this would scoff that I am living in the past; and that I need to come to grips with the real world. Perhaps I do. Perhaps I am romanticizing about the fighting men of days gone by, who were probably just as vulnerable and scared as their modern counterparts. Still, if I ever get into a really tight spot, I’d much rather have a Gary Cooper by my side than the Terminator.