What is your reaction (if any) when you see someone say to a military man, “Thank you for your service.” You probably don’t think of it in terms of how “fashionable” it is, but I don’t recall it being said with such ubiquity (if at all) a decade ago. Certainly no one ever thanked me for my service in the early 1960s and, if they had, it would’ve made me feel awkward….not so much because I was drafted and served during a period “between wars” (a stranger seeing me in uniform wouldn’t know that), but because even if I had been in combat, why should I be thanked for surviving a situation which I had no choice being put in?
These thoughts were brought to the forefront for me by a New York Times article last week by Matt Richtel in which he related being told “No problem” after thanking a veteran for his service….but the vet’s expression/reaction said there was a problem. It seems that not all vets appreciate what one on them calls the “thank you for your service phenomenon.” For them, “the thanks come across as shallow, disconnected, a reflective offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there….and who never would have gone themselves or sent their own sons and daughters.”
“To these vets, thanking soldiers for their service symbolizes the ease of sending a volunteer army to wage war at great distance — physically, spiritually, economically. It raises questions of the meaning of patriotism, shared purpose and, pointedly, what you’re supposed to say to those who put their lives on the line and are uncomfortable about being thanked for it.”
I suppose that’s why I can’t help being a bit cynical when I see politicians saying “Thank you for your service” to a man or woman in uniform. Unless you’ve walked the walk (like, for example, former Vietnamese POW, Senator John McCain), what authority does one have to talk the talk? Wouldn’t it seem less smarmy if a political office holder (who humbly wants to thank a vet) said something like, “If I may speak on behalf of the people of my state/district, I want to thank you for your service.”
Perhaps that kind of “meaning well” would help make it less of a problem….if not “No problem.”