Heroes and Real People

Brass Tacks

THE OTHER EVENING, as I was watching television, a commercial came on the air. A man's deep voice was soliciting money from private citizens. He asked Americans to contribute to the Space Shuttle Children's Fund, a trust fund benefitting the 11 children of the astronauts who died on the space shuttle Challenger.

The Challenger's dead gave their lives for their country. We Americans owe something to their children, he said.

In 1983 a handful of Americans died in our invasion, or "liberation," of Grenada. President Reagan told America that our soldiers were heroes, protecting the lives of Americans, at home and abroad, against the "domino effect."

But no trust fund was established for their children.

In 1983, several hundred American marines lost their lives in Lebanon when their compound was bombed in a suicide mission. They died for their country.

But no trust fund was established for their children.

In the 1960s and 1970s, over 50,000 American soldiers were killed in Vietnam, fighting for their country. Their children receive the same Veterans and Social Security benefits as the children of the Americans killed in Grenada and Lebanon--and on the Challenger.

But no trust fund was established for their children.

About 15 years ago, my friend Christy's father, an air force pilot, was killed in an accident. He was training a rookie pilot--training him to fight in a war, to die for his country.

Christy's father had survived Vietnam. His death wasn't fiery. It wasn't glorious.

And no trust fund was created for Christy.

The astronauts on the Challenger gave their lives for their country. But is the loss of their lives of more significance than the loss of the lives of thousands of veterans, all of whom died for America?

People's lives cannot be ranked in order of importance like hits on the American Top 40. The astronauts on the Challenger died in a dramatic explosion that shocked us all. Our heroes were killed right before our eyes. They were doing what so many Americans can only dream about--exploring the unknown.

Their deaths are tragic, but no more so than the death of any human being, a soldier killed in a war or a civilian killed by a drunk driver. Nancy Reagan agreed to serve as honorary chairman "to lend legitimacy to the fund." What she and others do not understand is that no celebrity's name or endorsement can ever lend legitimacy to a program that devalues human lives by placing them in an artificial hierarchy.