I enjoy reading letters to the editor that make me say to myself, Wow, why didn't I think of that -- it makes so much sense.
Today's Portland Oregonian features a letter from Jim Sumser (of Vancouver) that garnered that Wow response. He points out that police officers and fire fighters are just doing a job, as are so many other people.
Letter writer Darryl Willis ("Respect for police," June 13) doubts that employees of the Red & Black Cafe would have had the courage to arrest a burglar in his home. It was hard for me to make sense of this. Are baristas expected to catch criminals? I thought their job was to make coffee drinks, not to protect the citizens.
On the contrary, the police are paid to do this. There's no reason to give them thanks. That's their job, and there's nothing moral about it. Same with firefighters, who have managed a publicity campaign over the years (especially since 9/11) that presents them as bystanders who happened by a fire and, by sheer force of individual magnanimity, put it out. No, they are paid to put out fires. This is why they arrive on the scene with all their trucks and hoses, and why police officers arrive with all their guns. The scenario is hardly comparable to some barista who, walking home from work, hears or sees something out of place.
When you're paid to do something, all references to morality, courage, sacrifice, etc. are ridiculous. It's quite another story if you find yourself in a position to do something exceptional for which there was no monetary compensation. Otherwise, all jobs are the same.
Yet we tend to elevate public safety professions and others -- such as soldiers -- into a strangely elevated moral sphere. Often I hear talk show hosts (usually conservatives) say to someone who mentions being in the armed forces, "Thank you for your service."
Why isn't the same thing said to teachers at inner city schools, medical researchers, or those who work in much more dangerous professions than public safety?
Police officers and firefighters aren't in the top ten of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Fishing, logging, and flying have the highest fatality rates, followed by iron/steel workers, farmers/ranchers, and trash collectors.
So to all the fisherpeople, loggers, and pilots out there, thank you for your service. Of course, like Sumser says, you're getting paid for what you do -- just as police officers and fire fighters almost always are.
I admire people who put their lives on the line to provide the rest of us with some valuable service. We just need to remember that public safety work isn't the most dangerous occupation, and there's no reason to put any particular profession up on a pedestal.
[Update: I decided to check out how dangerous being in military service is. The death rate per 100,000 FTE's has been in the general range of the most dangerous civilian jobs mentioned above -- fishing, logging, flying -- even during the early stages of the Iraq war. That is, between about 55 and 110 deaths per 100,000 FTE during the 1980-2004 period. So people in the military don't put their lives on the line more than people on a fishing boat do.]