Heroic Acts

In times of upheaval, there are heroes among us. Their presence comforts us, even if we don’t know their names. They inspire us by fighting for their lives or by risking their lives for a greater good.

The year 2011 was tumultuous. Online, readers were drawn to stories of survival and of people whose acts were sometimes incendiary, sometimes peaceful, but in either way heroic. The terrifying days following the Tohoku earthquake in Japan had the world on edge, watching the damaged Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant and remembering the Three Mile Island threat and the Chernobyl catastrophe. And yet, even as people feared the far-reaching effects of radiation, they admired the heartbreaking sacrifice of the Fukushima plant workers who worked day and night to forestall disaster.

Another type of chain reaction riveted people: the power of an oppressed citizenry rising up to topple long-standing regimes, from the bloodless coup in Egypt to the civil war that tore through Libya. In America’s campaign against terror, an anonymous elite military team took down the most wanted terrorist. There was no such anonymity for Dakota Meyer, who defied his chain of command to save American and Afghan lives. He became the second living soldier to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Some heroes, like Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia, did not survive their bold acts. The street vendor’s fatal protest led to regime change in Tunisia and sparked the
Arab Spring. Other people became heroes for living and telling their stories, including CBS reporter Lara Logan and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Logan spoke about her appalling assault during the Tahrir Square celebrations, showing how far Egyptians have to go in establishing rights and safety for all. Giffords recovered from an assassination attempt that left six others dead, and within the year, she returned to the House floor on one of its most contentious days.

Sportsmanship offers a different kind of hero, and this year Women’s World Cup soccer provided a summer respite from turmoil and tragedy. Not only did the U.S. women’s soccer team display valor on the field, but they also faced the players of Japan, part-time athletes who carried the glory of a recovering nation.

Then there were people for whom bravery is part of the job. The record wildfires that blazed across millions of Texas acres engaged the state’s volunteer and professional firefighters for weeks at a time. Drought and heat weren’t the only natural disasters to hit the United States, which was whipsawed by blizzards and tornadoes. The Red Cross converged on scenes of natural disaster to offer shelter and comfort.

For Americans, 2011 held a significant event: the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which changed the direction of our country and challenged our character. The enemy came from outside the U.S., but many citizens, like John Feal, struggled with their own government to champion the rights of first responders. He, and millions around the world, observed a moment of silence on September 11, 2011. This was a moment for the nation to reflect on who we have become and to remind us that, despite the wearying climate of political partisanship, we are all Americans.

Start with Gabrielle Giffords.

The Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events, pop-culture idiosyncrasies, and online behavior to probe the “why” behind what’s hot online. On Yahoo!, her articles can be found in News, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame. Across the Net, there are remnants of contributions to a cultural travel guide, martial arts encyclopedia, movie criticism, business profiles, and A&E/features reporting.