By the time of Jimmy Carter’s failed attempt to rescue the Iran hostages in April of 1980, respect for the American military had fallen to historic low, both abroad and at home. Many veterans from the Vietnam conflict came home to be vilified and spat upon. But with the election of Ronald Reagan in November 1980, our men and women in uniform have seen a return to their proper position as true heroes. “Thank you for your service” has almost become a trite saying, even though it still deserves repeating to every veteran we see.
In recent months, we’ve seen people from other walks of life elevated to “hero” status: nurses, doctors, researchers, anyone connected with treating Covid-19. Just as infantrymen must dodge bullets on the battlefield, our emergency responders and health professionals must dodge infection while helping others.
I suspect in time we’re going to reevaluate the importance of several other groups of people. During the nationwide shutdown, students, teachers, lawyers, financiers, politicians, members of the media and others were able to move their activities online. A great many others, mainly blue-collar workers, had no choice: work or go broke. I’m seeing a slow realization that these people deserve recognition too.
The truck drivers who delivered fresh supplies to stores; the clerks who restocked the shelves; the waitresses who brought food out to waiting cars; the construction workers who can’t build things by pushing a button on a computer. The farmers and producers who grow and process our food and meat. The guy who mans the shack at the rural dump site. The gas station workers, auto parts suppliers, grocers, cashiers…the list goes on.
During the Great Depression, the people we now call the Greatest Generation learned pragmatism the hard way: how to make do with less. Smarter, more efficient ways of doing things. The differences between wants and needs. Thanks to them, we’ve enjoyed 80 years of relative wealth and lack of want…and we’ve gotten spoiled.
Witness the insane rush to stockpile toilet paper of all things.
Now, as things seem to be easing back to a more open society, I wonder if we’ll carry the lesson forward. Will we tip our restaurant staff more fairly? Will we drive more courteously around a big rig? Will we look closer to home for our business and food? Will parents give teachers the respect they’ve deserved all along?
Time will tell.