The Heroes of Hell Island

Just finished a book about the heroes of the siege of Malta in 1942-43; it’s called “Hell Island” by Dan McCaffery (copyright 1998 by Dan McCaffery, published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd, Toronto.)

This is a book about the tiny band of young British Commonwealth fliers (many of whom were Canadian) who overcame impossible odds, sometimes approaching 100 to 1, during the siege of the island of Malta by the German and Italian Axis forces in 1942. Like the medieval sieges of old, this one involved disease, starvation, death and massive losses. However, for me, one of the most striking paragraphs of the entire recounting came in the author’s epilogue. It said…

“I decided to write about the siege of Malta because I feel it tells us a great deal about the true nature of heroism and where it comes from. Like it or not, we need heroes. They are important role models for the young and an inspiration for those of all ages. Unfortunately, it seems to me, our modern world produces precious few genuine heroes, military or otherwise. The brave young man who sailed forth in his propeller plane has been overtaken by a faceless figure in a concrete bunker, poised to press a button that will send a computer-guided missile halfway across the globe. On the civilian front, great inventors like Thomas Edison, who toiled for countless hours in cramped, dingy laboratories, have been replaced by teams of anonymous scientists working in posh glass towers for giant corporations. Bereft of true heroes, we have turned to celebrities instead. It’s sad, really, because while the celebrity may be famous, there is often little that is particularly heroic about him or her. Perhaps even more serious is the fact that the cult of celebrity has diminished the worth of the so-called ordinary person. Worse than that, it challenges the democratic notion that everyone is created equal. While the 1940s generation admired regular folks who stood up to the Nazis and won, today’s society has been reduced to worshipping overpaid professional athletes, musicians and actors.”

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