Thank You For Your Service
We need to talk about your patriotism.
Feeling proud of your home is a good thing. We should do that. We should celebrate all the things that are good about our culture, and those who make sacrifices for it. I am an American, and I am proud of a great deal of American history. I am an Oklahoman, and I am proud to be from a state that had to work hard to become a livable home. I also acknowledge that neither of those organizations I belong to is perfect, and much of that imperfection is self-inflicted damage.
I wrote an article once about the term “Thank you for your service”, and I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always been uncomfortable with blanketed praise on my military service. Not that I am not proud of it, I am. I served in wartime, and I was willing to go overseas if called. The Iraq war was over before I was out of basic training, and my service in a war campaign wasn’t needed then. Instead, I loaded munitions on the F-16 aircraft in a rather peaceful time in modern U.S. history.
My original service in the U.S. Air Force was for patriotic reasons, as well looking for my identity in my youth, and perhaps a bit of testing my courage. My continued service into the U.S. Army was more of a career decision, and to pay for college. I was poor, and I had no other means to pay for an education. I needed the structure, too, and did better when in an organization that required goals for my continued participation.
In my time in service, I made many friends. Friends who came from a family where it was tradition to serve, and to lead as an officer in war. Friends, like me, who needed the benefits to help get an education. Friends who were from money, friends who were much poorer than I had ever been. Some fellow soldiers weren’t even U.S. citizens, but joined to serve for our country, and that we still debate today that they shouldn’t get to stay in the country after their service ends. For many, they had little other options than to serve in the military. They either had no education options, or they lived in dangerous places, and this was their only means to get out.
I genuinely believe that when most people say “Thank you for your service” they mean to show their respect, and say it with a good heart. But I fear that all that blanketed patriotism, that attempt to glorify service, to make one an instant hero to put on a uniform, means a continued propaganda effort to recruit the poor and disadvantaged to keep serving, to find their promised honor, and to fill the roles so that we don’t have to draft again, and take the other kids who have means, who come from privilege, and see their lives as more valuable.
That’s quite an accusation, isn’t it? In the 1960’s-1970’s, while America was at war in Vietnam, and used the draft to force young men into service, affluent families were sending their young boys into the National Guard and Reserve to keep them from going overseas. Our own current president dodged the draft four times during Vietnam. It was clear that if you were white, and from a family of means, you had avenues to get out of service. After Vietnam ended, the Military restructured the Guard and Reserve so that part of its readiness units included them in with active duty. This means that if a president wanted to send Americans into war, he’d need to uproot citizen soldiers out of their jobs to do so, and that the Guard and Reserve were no longer safe havens for affluent families to send their children.
The other part of that criticism of the term “Thank you for your service” was aimed at businesses using patriotism to sell their goods and services. Many of them would make bold claims at their generous offers but when you looked closer at them, often you would get “No, but thank you for your service.”
Last, how *well* do we thank veterans for their service? More than just a handshake and a smile? How do we thank them for their sacrifice they made that changed their lives? How is our track record, as a society, of how we take care of our vets once they come home and have physical ailments or trauma they endured in their duty to our country? The VA has done a lot, and some of their doctors and staff are true heroes, I’m not going to deny that. But our government was shamed into the long needed improvements it’s made since starting the generation long war in Afghanistan, and it’s still not enough.
Supporting our troops is not a conservative thing, no matter what you’ve been told. The left thanks them, and is grateful for them, too. And to equate the protests of the NFL players who take a knee as disrespectful to the flag, or the anthem, is the equivalent of saying Rosa Parks was protesting a bus, or that Gandhi was protesting food. They were, and are, protesting injustice. When I was in the Army ROTC program, we took leadership classes. In leadership school we learned that a good leader doesn’t do what is popular, they do what is right. A soldier has to obey orders, but a soldier doesn’t have to obey an immoral order. We use our own moral compass to guide our path, and damn the popular view if it stands against it.
Protesting with a knee to the flag during the anthem is a respectful protest; it’s a peaceful protest. It’s what my grandfather fought for in World War II, and Korea, when America rose up against fascism and forced patriotism. It’s why I believed in America enough to volunteer twice to fight for it. To argue that it’s about disrespect to a flag, and a national anthem, is an invention by those who’d rather not talk about, nor discuss, nor address the racial inequality that exists in our country by filling up the airspace with talk of disrespect and ungratefulness.
We can be better than that.