F. Flagg Taylor, Ed., The Long Night of the Watchman: Essays by Václav Benda 1977–1989. Translated by Barbara Day
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“Everyday hero” has become a familiar term in American media to describe people who have performed noteworthy deeds. In our predominantly egalitarian, peaceful, prosperous, middle-class, and law-abiding society, acts of kindness and thoughtfulness are considered heroic. The vast majority of Americans do not live in a time of war or crisis where extraordinary or dangerous actions are required, and yet we want to be inspired by outstanding behavior. Therefore, we admire people pretty much like ourselves, but who do more good. There is nothing to disparage in the conduct of everyday heroes. In a functioning civil society, exhibiting civility is an important quality.
Americans would consider the things Václav Benda did quite ordinary. He wrote down his ideas, spoke his mind, and criticized the government. Benda did not exhibit the life-and-death bravery that characterizes a military champion. Rather, he fought a long, difficult, and, what seemed at the time, hopeless struggle against an...