Fort Hood hero: White woman or Black man?

4081081892_0d4f05b230With blazing gun and selfless courage, the 5-foot-4, 120-pound female police officer stopped Nidal Malik Hasan’s rampage at Fort Hood. Sergeant Kimberly Denise Munley, mother of two and SWAT team marksman, leaped from her squad her and gunned down Hasan even as she was wounded by two bullets fired by the murderous Muslim madman.

Or, is this what really happened? Sergeant Munley  was downed by Hasan’s fire as soon as she confronted him, taking her out of the fight. The gunman was shot and critically wounded by Sergeant Mark Todd, a male, black police officer.

Story #1 was the Army’s version immediately after the shooting, and it was seized upon by a gleeful media enthralled at the vision of a petite woman defeating the evil terrorist. “Tough Woman Cop Hailed as Fort Hood Hero,” blared CNN. “Heroic Civilian Police Officer Walked Up and Engaged Shooter,“proclaimed the Washington Post. “Sergeant Kimberly Munley: A Real American Hero!” was the title of a Facebook group.

But the New York Times suggests that story #2 is what really happened. The Times piece quotes witnesses as saying that Sergeant Todd was the officer who took down Hasan. Munley and Todd jointly appeared on Oprah, but neither has really said who shot Hasan.

This case bears an eerie resemblance to the Jessica Lynch story in 2003, where the Army and the media claimed that a cute female private bravely fought back against an Iraqi ambush of their convoy before she was wounded, captured and tortured. It later emerged that Lynch’s gun had jammed, her Iraqi captors had treated her well, and the spectacular Army rescue mission to save her might have been staged. Lynch complained that she hadn’t sought portrayal as a hero, though that didn’t stop her from signing a million-dollar book deal. Her fellow soldier, Shoshana Johnson, didn’t receive any attention. Johnson is a black female.

Does race explain why Munley got the headlines and Todd got the third paragraph down? Perhaps. It’s interesting how advertisements for martial arts schools love to show small white women defeating big black men. But I’m more inclined to blame gender. Ever since Charlie’s Angels and Xena, kick-ass women have become a Hollywood favorite. Yet more than that, apotheosizing Munley is like the frontier woman in an old Western who fights off the Indians single-handed. One of ours is worth tens of theirs. If a petite woman can defeat a terrorist, then our victory is assured.

Does it matter who shot the Fort Hood gunman? Both police officers behaved courageously and professionally. How ever many rounds Munley managed to fire, she took two in her own body. The answer is that heroism based on lies is no more than a myth. Munley and Todd were not heroes. They did what well-trained police officers are supposed to do; confront and take down a gunman. Whether Munley shot Hasan or not, she did what she should ahve and she did the best she did the best she could have. Amid the incompetence of bankers and politicians, in a society where even the simple things seem to be falling apart, shouldn’t that alone elicit our gratitude and admiration?

In the end, perhaps it  just boils down to simple fairness. If the male, black police officer shot the gunman, then he at least deserves acknowlegdement. I hope he gets it. But I have a feeling that if it’s either Kimberly Munley or Mark Todd who gets the book deal, it won’t be him.

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