Who’s a hero and who’s a coward? Trump is no judge
Yonden Lhatoo explores concepts of bravery and cowardice in the context of the US president’s boast that he would have run unarmed into a school to save students from a gunman on a shooting rampage
How many of us have stared sudden, violent death in the face and reacted like a hero?
I was no braveheart when I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time during the middle of an armed insurgency many years ago in my old hometown of Darjeeling.
To cut a long story short, a paramilitary soldier jammed the barrel of his assault rifle under my chin and threatened to blow my head off. I was a terrified school kid and it was enough to send me into catatonic shock.
The second time I stared death in the face was after I had just finished school and was earning some pocket money by taking a group of Canadian tourists on a trek high up in the Western Himalayas.
We were traversing a steep slope when we found ourselves caught in a sudden rockslide. There was no place to run or take shelter, so we just stood there, fully exposed to danger, as rocks the size of water melons came crashing down upon us.
By some miracle, we escaped with our lives, but I remember how petrified and helpless we were, staring up at what seemed like certain death from above. I watched the man next to me tilt his head to one side to dodge a jagged rock that would have decapitated him, had he not made that slight movement. We were all numb with shock.
That’s what I’m thinking of as I listen to the shrill chorus of condemnation against the armed security officer who lost his job for remaining outside a Florida high school while an expelled student went on a shooting rampage inside, slaughtering 17 people last month.
US President Donald Trump was quick to brand the veteran officer a coward, but was he, really? It turns out the initial police radio transmissions reported shots were being fired outside, and he followed protocol for responding to outdoor gunfire, which required him to take cover and launch a code red lockdown of the school while waiting for backup.
Trump, being Trump, expected him to go charging in, guns blazing like Rambo on the rampage, and annihilate the shooter.
“I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” declared the five-time Vietnam war draft dodger.
For other shining examples of Trump’s bravery, you can check out a video clip on the internet showing how he reacts to a bald eagle flapping its wings and snapping at him during a 2015 photo shoot in his office.
Watch him in another video clip during a 2016 campaign rally in Ohio, when a disturbance breaks out behind him and Secret Service agents jump on the stage to protect him from a protester trying to push through his security cordon. “I was ready for him,” Trump says afterwards. Yeah, right.
The thing is, “brave” and “coward” are words that are easy to bandy about, but they very rarely capture human nature in absolute terms. A brave man can end up fleeing from danger while a coward stands and faces it.
If you missed the brilliant 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure, it’s more than worth digging up to think about how much we really know ourselves when it comes to facing sudden death, stripped of all our illusions of security and self-confidence.
The film focuses on family tensions on a skiing holiday following the father’s conduct during an avalanche, and mercilessly explores human frailty in the context of self-preservation as well as the hollowness of traditional gender roles when it comes to marriage and masculinity.
It leaves you thinking for a long time about yourself, more than the protagonists in the film.
Who was it who defined a coward as a hero with a wife, kids, and a mortgage? Makes wicked sense, I must say.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post