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A time of longing for heroes?

Written by Tea Dahl Christensen, Ph.D. Candidate at Center for War Studies

In Politiken on March 15, the newspaper addressed the issue of hero worship. Under the heading ”Free us from heroic acts” it reads that Politikenattended the gala premiere of the new movie, 9. April. The movie portrays the young soldiers that single-handedly and bravely defended the Danish border, when the Germans occupied Denmark. At the premiere an aged veteran sat in the audience. When the movie ended, the movie director thanked him for his help and support. Not only did the director thank the veteran; the veteran received standing ovations from everyone present.

With this scene Politiken critically concludes that in Denmark, war has become cult. Extending that conclusion with the question: Does this mean that the soldier has become cult too? No doubt the audience felt inclined to hero worship having just viewed a patriotic drama about the defence of the Danish border. 

Hero worship takes many forms though there seems to be a common denominator. The hero is a figure of idealization, the hero possess what “we” strive and long for, the hero is, what not everybody can be. So is the soldier what we strive and long for? Is the zeitgeist of our day that we, as Politiken implies, worship the men and women, who have fought, and are fighting wars? 

New developments have surfaced the last ten years. The introduction of a flag-flying day for Denmark’s deployed personnel on International Missions after 1948 (2009), a Veterans’ Policy (2010), the instigating of a number of new medals (2009-2010) and a national memorial (2011). These are all examples of public, social and political changes that evolve around the soldier. 

Alongside this, the portrayal of soldiers on film, in books and in paintings is yet another example of how meaning is conveyed about the soldier and maybe even challenged too. All these examples form interesting points of departure in critically investigating the intrinsic lines that tie together the strategic narratives of war and the narratives of the soldier as a potential hero.

This blog post is inspired by my forthcoming article The figure of the soldier. Discourses of indisputability and heroism in a new Danish commemorative practice.

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