The word hero conveys all kinds of images to us. When writing about heroes, you would expect that an author comes up with some sort of definition; it might even be a personal one. Lord Ashcroft wrote a book about heroes, and he didn't put a heroic effort into it. Special Forces Heroes is not that special and lacks in force. Heroically, though, I read it from beginning to end.
Special Forces Heroes by Michael Ashcroft was published by Headline. It is a collection of heroic incidents as reported by the special forces. The royalties of Lord Ashcroft's book are donated to Help For Heroes, a charity supporting servicemen injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is the best thing I can say about the book. You might donate directly, though, and save yourself the trouble of reading the book.
It was in the expectation of getting some insight into what makes heroes tick that I started to read this book. It had been handed to me on the understanding that it contained the answer to the difference between a hero and a coward. Lord Ashcroft had spent years studying the bravery of soldiers in battles before penning this book setting out to answer that question.
Maybe the book tried but can't tell, the author certainly didn't try hard enough. I found it a grueling read, taking me from battlefield to battlefield through blood and bravery. In time, the stories started to resemble each other to the point of deja-vu. Sometimes I was sure I had read that paragraph earlier in the book.
Michael Ashcroft is an expert, and his stories are certainly well researched and dutifully recorded. But their fascination must be for others. I felt like having walked into a stamp collector's den spending time enthusing over his stamps. Expecting to see colorful stamps from the entire world with exotic animals, butterflies, and landscapes, I got to see 600 times the same grey stamp with a dot here and missing line there. And that was all to distinguish one stamp from the other.
Ashcroft distinguishes between two types of valor: spur of the moment bravery and cold courage involving planned heroism. The book does not give any clues to where he draws the line. Obviously, there are other forms of heroism that go unmentioned, e.g. perseverance. And still others probably would have been out of scope for this book. But they are not even mentioned to define what the author is talking about, and what not.
The book was corollary damage to Five TV’s series of the same name. It is in all probability a commissioned book. It has all the marks of homework made, checklist checked, word count done, and all without any joy or enjoyment. So, what is heroism? Probably reading this book from font to end is.
I found the book lacking in conclusions and explanations; definitions are missing as well as details regarding Lord Ashcroft's personal views. According to him, his book should treat only heroes receiving medals for premeditated bravery. That might be his point of view, but I don’t share it. What premeditation can there be in a surprise attack from enemies? This question still baffles me after finishing the book. I put it down gladly at the end, and it will not be one I'll take up again.