The Atlantic

If you're joining us late: My piece on "The Tragedy of the American Military" is here; the "Gary Hart Memo" is here; an extra reading list is here; and here are previous reader responses No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4. As mentioned earlier, I'm including these in our American Futures saga because, while from a different vantage point than our normal city-visits, they're about the civic texture of American society

Today's installment No. 5 is reader mail on the general subject of recognizing those who serve.

1) All the whooping and hollering. From a young American who has not been in the military but has spent time in Iraq and Turkey working with Kurdish refugees:

One point in your analysis that finally puts into words something I have struggled to vocalize for years. I was always put off by the whooping and hollering that went along with those military appreciation football games at [the University of North Carolina].

Those young men and women were paraded onto the field, drunk college kids falling over one another to show how proud they were by screaming "America!" and "Go Heels, Go America!"

I sat questioning what exactly it was that these folks were cheering for.  Were they cheering because they knew what these young people would face if they were deployed? Were they cheering because of the useless and sometimes counterproductive violence that our military and political leaders would ask these young people to inflict upon others? Were they cheering with the knowledge that the C.I.A. had failed to notify our soldiers that they might come into close proximity and/or handle leftover chemical weapons in Iraq (even after they knew these weapons existed)?

No, none of these, they were cheering because they wanted to be seen as patriots and they wanted to feel as if they were doing something rather than do anything at all.

To think critically about the military would be too difficult, too risky, too doubt-inducing. So instead, they choose to cheer and go home, forgetting about the military or anyone in it until the next game day.

I sometimes find myself becoming bitter when I think of how superficial all of it is—from politicians, to students, to older folks, no one knows what our military really does, how they do it, or why. They'd rather not know, and hang out their "support our troops" sign and forget about it all. They don't want to know what's wrong, they just want to think they are safe.

I never cheered at these games... Then I attended a program at the U.S. Army War College and another program at the U.S. Air Force Academy. These programs gave me the chance to speak directly with the people who have made it a part of their life to understand, improve and participate in the military. My thoughts on it, surprisingly, did not catch their ire, rather, they were welcomed. In mainstream society, any rebuke of the military in any form is quickly quashed by nationalistic fervor and patriotic ramblings, and sometimes, personal attacks.

I am well-educated, come from a modestly wealthy family, and I was lucky enough to be afforded great opportunities. It is people like myself who shun or even despise the idea of serving in the military. Although I never served, through my time roaming the streets of Cairo, Erbil, Hatay, Tehran, Ramallah, Mosul, etc. I have met many soldiers and others associated with the military. These interactions have shown me that the job is difficult, it is important, and it is crucial, for our soldiers are our country's most accessible ambassadors in regions of the world where our dominance is questioned, tenuous and good will towards our nation dwindles if it is not cultivated. Soldiers are part of a larger culture that must be developed in a thoughtful and democratic manner.

2) What kind of service is "thankworthy"? From another reader who has not been in uniform:
Two quick comments. Nothing profound.

First, my dad was drafted for Vietnam, hated every second of it, and could never stand it when people thanked him for his service—or the pervasive, treacly displays of thanks to others' for their service.

Second, I did an extended volunteer tour in the U.S. Peace Corps (three years, instead of two) in the mid '90s, and nobody has ever thanked me for my service. Not that I really give a damn (I would probably laugh if anyone did.) But it is odd that the military is the only national service deemed "thankworthy" by the public.

It makes me wonder whether Peace Corps (or Americorps, or anything where you don't use firearms) would even "count" if we had compulsory national service.

3) "When you say, 'Thank you for your service,' this is what I hear." From a Marine Corps combat veteran of Vietnam, with later service in the Balkans:

I read your article with great interest.

Things have changed since 9/11 but not the isolation of the military from mainstream America.

And I can’t help it but when I hear someone say to me “Thank you for your service” it sounds more like “Get the hell back in your foxhole.”


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