I hear this all the time. A person on radio or TV interviews someone who has been in the military and says, “thank you for your service.” And I say, Why?
I think back through the US military escapades since World War II (which is my lifetime): Korea, Guatemala, Cuba, Indonesia, Congo, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Lebanon, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iran, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya. I’m not sure this list is exhaustive. But, I don’t see one single campaign here that actually made the world a better place. I don’t see that any of it has really protected me or our country. Even going back to World War II, we can say, sure, we got rid of Hitler who killed 6 million Jews. But to do that, the world lost tens of millions of others, scarred people for their lifetimes; and we detonated not one, but two, atomic bombs. At the very least, one has to see that even World War II is a mixed bag. Since World War II, I’ve seen nothing from military actions but making the world a worse place.
Therefore, why would I thank people who participated in these military actions?
Don’t get me wrong. I fully acknowledge that people who have been in the military have made a huge sacrifice. I totally grant that for the most part, people join the military with very good intentions. They have risked their lives, and if they’ve come back not in a wooden box, they have often been changed physically and psychologically in very negative and devastating ways, changes which affect them for the rest of their (usually shortened) lives.
But simply saying “thank you for your service” implies that I believe what they have done has been helpful. What I’d really like to say is “I appreciate your good intentions, and I’m truly very sorry that you’ve had to go through all that hell for no good reason at all.” That’s right. Instead of thanking people for their military service, we should (perhaps in addition to thanking them) APOLOGIZE TO THEM! They go through inhumane indoctrination, travel to awful places, kill people they don’t even know, or get killed themselves, or get physically and psychologically damaged. And after all that, there’s nothing more to say for it than we need to keep doing more of the same! “Thank you for your service” just doesn’t cut it.
Why don’t we thank people who serve in ways that really do help and really do make the world a better place? How about the people who collect our garbage, or people who are working on medical advances, or people who bring us great pleasure and joy from their artistic contributions? Those are some of the many examples of services truly worth thanking.