The impact of the American heroism which occurred a little over a week ago in France served to remind the world — and should remind ourselves — what makes our nation so exceptional. At a time when our own president prefers to lead from behind, it is inspiring to see true American heroes stepping forward, into the the face of danger with not a second’s hesitation.
As Michael Gonzalez wrote for Forbes.com, Symbols matter, especially in relations between states. When Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler—joined by Briton Chris Norman—stopped an Islamist terrorist attack in a French train last week, it should have reminded Europe that the Atlantic Alliance is still a bedrock need.
French President Francois Hollande praised the heroes for putting themselves at risk to save the lives of an untold number of the 554 passengers on board. On Monday, Hollande awarded the four France’s highest honor, La Legion d’Honneur.
And it extended to “supporting cast” members, Mark Moogalian, the French citizen who tried, though unsuccessfully, to restrain El-Khazzani, turned out to be American-born; he holds dual French and American nationality.
But it is the impact that this act of heroism has had in France—which possesses, in Henry Kissinger’s famous phrase, “the always prickly French pride”—that is most noteworthy. As the BBC’s Hugh Schofield observed:
The French are enthralled by the three Americans who acted so swiftly to stop the Thalys gunman. In their news conference Sunday afternoon at the US embassy in Paris, they came over as archetypes of American masculine virtue: handsome, strong, modest. It is heartening to see the virtues of strength, modesty and courage are still part of the American gene. Long may it remain that way. We must constantly remind ourselves — and instill in our children — that we are the land of the free only because we are the home of the brave.
Deep in the French gene, there is something that responds positively to this. It is the same spirit that is so grateful—70 years on—for the American sacrifice in the Normandy landings: a recognition of the American capacity to join moral clarity with swift, decisive action.