Commentary

On 246th anniversary of death of Nathan Hale, we ask: who are our heros?

Statue of Nathan Hale, with feet bound before his execution, stands outside Tribune building in Chicago

by Guy Page

Nathan Hale died by hanging September 22, 1776. He was 21. A captain in the Continental Army led by General George Washington, he went behind enemy lines to gather information about the impending British invasion of Manhattan. The British caught him. Before he died, he is reported to have uttered these words memorized by generations of American schoolchildren:

“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Hale’s words were spread far and wide across the colonies in an effort to inspire American colonials and show the British what they were up against. After the war, educators made sure students knew about the brave example set by the patriotic, idealist young son of privilege and student of Yale College.

It makes you wonder: who are the Nathan Hales of today? Does our society even want to admire patriotism, courage, and humility – especially in a person born male and white?

What is a hero, anyway?

Like Hale, a hero acts on his ideals. He/she values Something Greater more even than life. British Gen. Howe left Hale’s body hanging for the birds and animals to eat, as an example to other ‘traitors to the crown.’ A hero like Hale risks not only death, but humiliation of his remains and his memory.

Hale did not express hatred for his enemies. No curses were called down. Nor did he beg, or offer to buy his life with traitorous words or service. An admittedly uncertain historical record recalls only his words of wistful courage.

For a compelling account of Nathan Hale’s life, death and place in American history, read Genevieve Carlton’s July 22, 2022 story on All That’s Interesting.

And ask yourself, as I have been asking myself: who are my heros? And why? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Categories: Commentary

3 replies »

  1. Another example of what makes VDC so readable. Thank you Guy. I remember reading a book titled “Hail Nathan Hale” in 4th or 5th grade and the story made a big impression on me. This and other history books instilled in me a strong sense pride in my country and an appreciation of the people who sacrificed so much to leave it to future generations. It is sad to think how our history is being de-emphasized in schools now.

  2. Today, it is regarded as a great act of courage to come out as non-binary, a far cry since the sacrifice of Nathan Hale and those Allied troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy…

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