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The Nurses of Bataan: Liberating Wartime Heroes from Melodrama


This essay addresses rhetorical implications involved in naming national “heroes.” I show that contemporary discourse holds narrow conceptions of heroism that limit who may be granted agency in social narratives and do so by examining one of the quintessential forms of heroism in the United States, namely, wartime heroism. Dominant constructions of “heroism” follow a melodramatic frame that privileges masculine, individualistic actors who rescue the weak by eliminating or conquering the enemy. By examining undertold stories of nurses interned in the Philippines during World War II, I explore rhetorical resources that might broaden this frame to help us envision a “healing heroism.”