Leading Article: Hero today, gone tomorrow

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AH, BUT that was last month. Great Heroes of our time have a short lease on acclaim; and that lease grows ever shorter. Last month, Captain Scott O'Grady was about as much of an All-American hero as it is possible for an All-American hero to be. O'Grady, you will recall, was the pilot shot down over Bosnia who lived on berries and evaded the circling, murderous Serbs with a compelling combination of training, coolness, and raw courage before being plucked up and out in a rescue of almost hysterically applauded precision. President Clinton, who needed a hero, could scarcely believe his luck. The Captain comported himself with all the modesty, humour and slight unease which we expect. Even the name was perfectly pitched, evoking exactly the adventure-comic ambience that surrounded the exploit. It was, of course, far too good to last; and it certainly didn't last long.

Now, we are told, O'Grady shouldn't have allowed himself to be shot down, and would have been rescued days earlier if he had known how to operate his survival radio and work out where he was. And when he was rescued, a sergeant had to knock his primed pistol out of his hand. So that's that then: a month. They used to get longer: Gordon, Kitchener, Churchill, Kennedy, Mountbatten; even Hugh Grant got a year. In sport, it has ever been thus: you are only as good as your last game. Life as a metaphor for sport marches apace. But perhaps, with O'Grady, we should have been forewarned, and not just by the hype. The Captain had a tendency to tears; and it was not long before he was claiming to have had a vision of the Virgin of Medjugorje. Thurber has a story where another All American Airman Hero, proving ghastly beyond measure, is pushed through a skyscraper window. Watch your back, Captain.