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September 11, 2002


Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Dr DeAngelis is Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2002;288(10):1280. doi:10.1001/jama.288.10.1280

The unthinkable tragedy of September 11, 2001, broke the hearts of Americans and many others around the world, and it made us rethink our collective consciousness. The terrorist attacks were a rude awakening to our potential vulnerability and a sober reminder of the precariousness of life. But the events of September 11 also reminded us of the true nature of heroes, and a year later we react by seeking out and honoring them.

America has been starved for heroes, but they are all around us. Apparently, we had either forgotten the definition of "hero" or become accustomed to a different meaning. According to Webster's dictionary, a hero or heroine is "a man [or woman] of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his [or her] brave deeds and noble qualities."1 Because "hero" has come to mean both men and women, I have combined the definition and will use the term to mean both. Nowhere in the definition is there reference to money or power. However, it may be easy to forget that fact with the substantial attention given to some chief executive officers (CEOs), politicians, movie stars, and sports figures when they are referred to as heroes. We have confused courage with cash and nobility with power.