All too often in the news I hear of our ‘servicemen and women’, referring only to those who serve in our army, navy, or air force. These people undoubtedly do serve our society, they are in every way worthy of the term ‘service’. Yet they are not the only ones deserving of that title, or the respect and adulation that it entails.
What about the police officer who is the first responder to the scene of a car crash, who is greeted by screams of agony and fear? Or the fireman who follows moments later with the Jaws of Life, and who pulls the mangled child out of the car? The paramedics who try to keep that young girl alive so that the nurses and doctors in the hospital can save her life?
These people protect our streets, they fight our fires, and they save our lives. They suffer for it just as much as our soldiers do, both physically and psychologically. They work late nights, in dangerous and stressful circumstances. Every day they see scenes we can never imagine, that we can never hope to comprehend. Many, like those who serve in our armed forces, suffer depression or post-traumatic stress.
We have memorials and statues for our defence personnel, we look after them long after their service has ended, as we should. But, if we judge service to our society in lives protected or saved, we should also look to our police, fire and health staff just as much as we look to those who fought in the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq. Our current government has slashed funding for healthcare, and our police and firefighting forces are dangerously overworked. We would not dare to cut the defence budget, or leave our defence force underfunded or understaffed. Yet that is exactly what we are doing to the other sectors that protect and serve our society and our people.
We are asking more and more of our service men and women every day. We ask our declining police force to patrol Kings Cross, and stop the people who seek to break the locks on doors. We ask our firefighters to work unimaginable hours fighting the vast bush fires that we created by failing to respond to climate change. We ask our paramedics to clean up the glass wounds on the young man’s face who the understrength police were unable to protect at the Cross. We demand that our nurses and doctors attend five or six patients each, at any moment, and do it for twelve hour shifts in public hospitals that are woefully underfunded.
We, as a society, need to reassess how we define ‘service’ and what makes somebody a serviceman or woman. Furthermore, we need to stop failing those who serve our society, by no longer threatening their penalty rates, or demanding that they work extra hours simply because we are unwilling to adequately fund the police, fire and health services. I often wonder on the fact that a banker on Wall Street can make ten million dollars a year, while the nurse who saves his life makes only a fraction of that.
What does that say about our society?