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Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

The poet W.B. Yeats was right in 1919 when he said the center cannot hold, as if, following the first great industrial slaughter of modern times, he discovered the lethal vacuum at the center of modernity itself. There was a lot to be nervous about after the First World War. And right away, of course, enter, stage-right, Adolf Hitler. We’re still trying to explain that cat to ourselves, and not just the Germans, either. Who cannot be awed by the appearance of genuine evil in the world?

Although, perhaps most remarkable in our time is not merely the presence of evil, but the eerie dearth of heroes, and by that I do not mean supernatural gym rats in spandex outfits swinging from the Frank Gehry condos on cords of spider silk. I mean living, breathing humans willing to engage with great and implacable forces. American sniper Chris Kyle was one of the rarees, and he was a strange case, really. Not just because of his alleged frailties, his tendency to play up his exploits, brag, maybe lie a little, but because he carried out his lethal deeds mostly at a remove — up there on the dusty rooftops of Fallujah, where he could reach out with his sniper-scope and swat human flies from a position of relative safety. Yet it is not hard to identify with his mission to kill “bad guys” — especially two years after his loopy martyrdom on a Texas gun range at the hands of a deranged fellow soldier driven mad on his own wartime mission.

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