There was a series on TV a few years ago called Heroes that a lot of my friends really liked. It’s one of those stories that you secretly wish were true, that there are people on this earth with superhuman abilities (like the ability of my bowels to tell me which country I am in). You wonder what day—maybe today—you will come to know of your powers. You wonder what those powers will be. You even wonder what you will do with those powers, which leads to the big question we all ponder—your purpose.
I guess the draw of superheroes is that they have such a visible and obvious purpose. They live for something bigger than themselves, they fight for a greater cause. And they win. They know why they are here and that single purpose drives their actions, redirecting them when they lose their way. That must be part of the draw of superheroes, why we like them, or part of the reason why movie after movie is made of the various DC Comics and Marvel superheroes.
Luckily, we have real-life superheroes. They’re called soldiers, the military—people who serve in the armed forces. Because they protect us and risk their lives, they are heroes. Because they serve our country we should honour them as real-life superheroes. Leaving behind the debate of the complexity of war and whose interests war serves, I’ve always been confused by the sentiment that the military serves our country.
It is true the military serves the country, but the way people say the phrase implies “the military serves the country whereas other people do not.” I’ve experienced that thinking as false. There is a host of ways to serve your country. Many people will immediately think police officers and fire fighters. Yes, they serve your country. But there are many more. A public official, elected or appointed, can serve your country. Doctors serve your country. Immigration workers, judges, journalists, and social workers serve your country. Most importantly, teachers serve your country.
The second problem I have with the implication that “the military serves our country” compared to others who do not, is sacrifice. I’ve been told that the military serves our country because they sacrifice their life to do their jobs. I agree; it’s true that many military women and men have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. To describe the manner of that sacrifice, I would like to quote General George S. Patton Jr.: “the object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other guy die for his.” I agree with him. Armed servicemen and servicewomen do die, but they are trying to avoid death and sacrifice in the hopes that the other side dies for its country.
Contrast that mentality with a willing sacrifice. Where do you find that? You find that in people who offer a living sacrifice. As powerful as the effects of the death of certain individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., I feel confident in saying that an alive Dr. King would have done more work and more good than the assassinated one. So, a death-based sacrifice does have some meaning, but the more powerful statement is someone who gives their life to something—a living sacrifice.
It is in this way that you begin to see how people like teachers can be a living sacrifice. Teaching when you could be doing something else with your time and degree, teaching in tough neighbourhoods, teaching underserved children, doing a job in which you work nights and weekends and are compensated comparatively less for doing that job, a job based on seniority when you are junior and excellent, or a job based on excellence when you are senior and respected. Doing a job in which the actual responsibilities of your job on day one are the exact same as the responsibilities on your last day of your final year but you’re still expected to achieve all the same duties no matter which day it is—doing such a job is tough. I would like to elevate teachers (among many other service professions both explicit and implicit) to the level of super-hero, for some teachers are super-heroes who serve our country.