News Analysis

‘Thank you for service’ now applies to far more people than our nation’s veterans

Hopefully we’ll come to recognize more forms of courage than just “going downrange,” and it turns out even your grocer has some.

The President says we’re in a war. In this case, it’s a very apt metaphor. COVID-19 has the potential to cost more lives than any war back to at least World War II. 

Much like that war, the U.S. is late coming to the fight, which has arguably cost many lives.

We’ve lost more Americans to COVID-19 than on 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. The last time we lost this many on the home front was the Civil War. Unlike in the Civil War, though, most of these deaths won’t be for a higher cause, dying to make men free, as the Battle Hymn of the Republic puts it. 

They’re due to the negligence of many of our political leaders.

Yet in spite of not having a cause to stand up for other than helping their neighbors, it turns out that when the going gets tough, people actually do step up. That’s true not just in the military, but among doctors, nurses, and EMTs. And not just among those medical professionals, but also police and firefighters. But more importantly, even ordinary citizens, by and large, have been stepping up to the challenge.

Medical personnel, much like troops in pre-surge Iraq, are going into battle without enough protective equipment. Many are becoming casualties. If Italy is any indication, their jobs may soon be as dangerous as that of frontline troops, and even worse, they aren’t just facing danger themselves, but also visiting it upon their families.

While the novel coronavirus is less visible than bullets and bombs, hospitals in hot zones can be as deadly as battlefields. Hundreds of healthcare workers have died from COVID-19. They are the grunts of a different kind of war.

They aren’t alone. They’re backed up by any number of people, from other public servants, like cops, EMTs, and firefighters, to, oddly enough, grocery store cashiers and sanitation workers. Sadly, the nature of the virus means that they aren’t merely risking their own lives, but also those of their families.

No, it’s not charging the beach at Normandy, but it is a battle, and people are doing the right things for their communities. As much as memes may make light of how insignificant most peoples’ sacrifices are, the sacrifices being made on the home front are greater than anytime since World War II, and likely before that.

The social distancing measures necessary to combat infection have caused pain great and small, from the economic hardship of the suddenly unemployed to the emotional hardship of the elderly dying even more isolated and alone than before.

Courage is too often associated solely with the military or at least with physical confrontation. But more often, courage is just doing your job when a rational cost/benefit says you shouldn’t. You keep doing it because people need it.

Veterans often find themselves on the receiving end of “thank you for your service.” The current coronavirus crisis has given Americans many more people deserving of thanks. It turns out that freedom isn’t free. But it isn’t always military servicemembers paying the bill.

I don’t think this country will ever fully acknowledge the sacrifices and risks borne by medical professionals and other public servants during this time. 

Seeing a dozen patients with the same PPE and catching a deadly virus isn’t as emotionally compelling as jumping on a hand grenade. It turns out that no one has a monopoly on courage. 

Hopefully we’ll come to recognize more forms of courage than just “going downrange,” and it turns out even your grocer has some.