Superman was created in 1938. He remains a superhero who fights for ‘truth, justice and the American way’. He was followed a few, short years later when Captain America came into existence. He came on the scene to fight the Nazis during the dark days of World War II. Both of these superheroes represent something good, something comforting, especially in times of societal fear and uncertainty.
A couple weeks ago I attended Engineering Data Management’s International Conference on Overhead Lines. The conference banquet featured two of the security force members from the attack on the American diplomatic compound on September 12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. I had the honor and privilege to sit at the table with Mark “Oz” Geist and John “Tig” Tiegen. They told their story, which is the subject of the book and movie “13 Hours”. These two men are bona fide American heroes. I will never forget that evening.
Earlier this year an American Society of Civil Engineers staffer told this story. He was attending a Structural Engineering Institute meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. He was in his 10th floor hotel room when a significant earthquake struck the city. The quake’s severity shook the building violently and he feared for his life, thinking, of course, of buildings that occasionally collapse during these events. The quake ended, nothing was damaged and he was safe.
He suggested that his safety resulted from being in a properly engineered structure. At some point, a structural engineer…well, did his job in a professional way. This contributed to the health, welfare and safely of the public. This is the mandate for all licensed professional engineers.
Successful designs, particularly those related to Lifeline Infrastructure applications, can be considered heroism. We typically assign heroism, and rightly so, to police, firefighters, medical professionals, etc. Yet, I like the concept of engineering heroism – saving people because the bad stuff does NOT happen.
Cinematic heroes are increasingly popular. One possible explanation for this was proposed by Mike Ryan, senior writer for entertainment site Uproxx, who said “The world is not a fun place right now, and having a hero who is a symbol for good is strangely comforting.”
My wife is an amazing seamstress. I need to go see how the superhero cape she’s making for me fits. Be safe!
Would you say that our engineering efforts are heroic? Why or why not?