On this day in 1776, Nathan Hale officially became a spy for the colonists against the British troops. Two days later, he was sent behind enemy lines. Less than two weeks later he would be dead. He sent back no intelligence. So really, he is only a national hero because he was foolish enough to volunteer for this crazy assignment. He definitely never said, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.” And he probably never said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
But what if he had said it? It is just as stupid and harmful as, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. As Patton said in the movie, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Making war romantic is always a bad idea. And Hale’s life, death, and legacy are nothing but the romance of war. If he had been older, he doubtless would have understood that. There is no glory in war once you’re dead.