America loves its men in uniform. Policemen and firefighters who responded to 9/11 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania were celebrated as heroes, as many of them were. Even a generation later, members of the American military — many who fought a war in the wrong country without ever questioning it — are given preferential boarding, preferential hiring, healthcare, paid leave, and state and municipal stipends the rest of us never see. Laws in some states place a greater value on a policeman’s life than on an ordinary citizen. State and federal laws criminalize false claims of having received military honors. Even among those who question American wars most fiercely one hears the familiar “thank you for your service.”
Until now Americans have regarded only a very limited (and mainly weapon-carrying) minority of American “workers” as worthy of our praise. When we attend professional sports events, out run men and women in fatigues to accompany the military flyovers. It has become so common for an on-leave service member to surprise his son or daughter at a school sports event or graduation ceremony that the President of the United States staged one of these heart-warming reunions at his last State of the Union address. Cash and spectacle are rewards for those who do the bidding of the Homeland Security industry without asking too many questions.
But America has real heroes — and they have been right under our noses all along.
The global pandemic we find ourselves in today has made it clear that those who continue to deliver the mail, pick up the trash, show up for work at supermarkets, staff the help lines, deliver pizza to the door, care for the sick, drive the trucks, fix the power lines, keep the internet working, the lights on, make meals for school children, look in on their elderly neighbors — we/you are truly the beating heart of a functional society, and just as much heroes as those we have chosen to police us and surround our borders with missiles and barbed wire.
To all Americans now being guided by their better angels, to all who love their neighbor as themself, care what kind of world we live in, and put their health on the line for it during this extraordinary crisis:
Thank you for your service.