Heroism is Not Instinctive

It is easy to be an armchair hero. We prefer to picture ourselves as sheltering an escaping slave rather than closing our door to a desperate runaway. We lecture our children about coming to the aid of a bullied classmate, and we imagine ourselves intervening when we see an animal being beaten. Yet, until tested, we do not know what we would do. Overcoming instincts of self-preservation and putting oneself at risk by doing courageous and dangerous acts is not the default position even of good people.

I have just finished reading The Watchmaker’s Daughter. At the conclusion of the book, author Larry B. Loftis tells us that before writing his book, he asked himself the obvious question. Corrie Ten Boom’s famous book, The Hiding Place, describing her work in the Dutch resistance and her incarceration in Gestapo prison and then a concentration camp during World War II is so powerful, what could he possibly add with a biography about her life? He concluded that there was an opportunity to round out her story and that of her family’s as well as providing historical data along with information of her later years. His book is well-researched and interesting, though if you are going to read only one book about Ms. Ten Boom, I would recommend her own, co-authored by John and Elizabeth Sherrill.

Both books, however, leave one in awe of those who chose to actively resist the Nazis rather than keeping their heads low and waiting for evil to pass. Nazi vengeance against those who resisted them was fierce and sadistic. Members of the resistance risked not only their own lives but the lives of their families. There were few fairy tales; as the souls of these heroes soared, their bodies were tortured.

As I was reading Mr. Loftis’ work, my news feed recounted the arrest of Daniel Penny. This ex-Marine stepped forward and intervened when a menacing and out-of-control man, Jordan Neely, violently threatened a car full of passengers on the New York subway system. I read a rather pathetic attempt at a fair-minded portrayal that said that Mr. Neely’s death after being subdued by Mr. Penny and two others was unjust, and Mr. Penny’s arrest was also unjust as he had good reason to take the threat seriously and intercede.

That mushy language is wrong. Mr. Penny’s arrest is unjust; Mr. Neely’s death is tragic. Whatever injustice there was took place previously in New York’s failing court and mental health systems, not at the time of his death.

Daniel Penny’s arrest is the perversion of justice as is the persecution of law-abiding bystanders on January 6, 2020, the raid on the home of pro-life father Mark Houck, and numerous other frightening examples of the political weaponization of the country’s justice apparatus. These out-of-control prosecutions are intended to intimidate. I am not equating woke District Attorneys and leftist politicians to Nazis. Yet, successful societies embolden good Samaritans, reward bravery, and encourage protecting defenseless people around us. Prosecuting Mr. Penny leads in precisely the opposite direction.

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