The Trouble With “Thank You For Your Service”

On Veteran’s Day, should we be thankful, contemplative, or angry?


A few years ago, in the wake of the Afghan and Iraqi wars, it was fashionable to say, as soon as a non-veteran learned of someone’s veteran status, “Thank you for your service.” This wasn’t just a conservative cause, though of course conservatives were more adamant about it. The corporate media was well on board. Though I’m not a veteran myself, something about this practice made me uncomfortable. For many people, these had the air of empty words spoken automatically, like blessing somebody after a sneeze. At present, the adulation has subsided, but we see it recurring at times like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, which is once again upon us.

If the words are spoken sincerely, and in many cases they are, I agree with the sentiment. Being in the military is a difficult but necessary job. Somebody’s got to do it. Even as powerful and relatively isolated as America is, we could still be invaded. In fact, we ARE being invaded from the south, because the current administration is encouraging the invaders. But that’s another story. Though I’m grateful that our military provides deterrence and some modicum of order, I don’t go out of my way to say “thank you.” As I see it, there are two big problems with this practice.

The first is that the greeting does nothing to help our wounded and psychologically damaged veterans. If we want to truly show our thanks, we should donate to veterans’ charities. We should also vote for candidates who will represent their interests and agitate for more funding. Of course there must be a continuing audit of the historically corrupt Veteran’s Administration.

The second problem is that it doesn’t address the proverbial elephant in the room. Why have all these troops been sent overseas anyway? Since 1945, these have all been wars of choice and we’ve been stalemated or lost almost all of them. Even when we seemed to win, as in the first Iraq War of the early 1990s, that’s because we stopped before the mission was completed. We didn’t unseat Saddam Hussein, nor did we make any deals with him to promote better behavior. Instead, we sanctioned and crippled his regime as an excuse for further intervention.

More recent military adventures have not just been failures, they’ve been complete disasters. Take for example the American-sponsored overthrow and murder of eccentric Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi. He may have been oppressive by Western standards (or not, given recent events) but he kept his nation in order and provided his people with one of the highest living standards in Africa. Removing him interrupted the flow of oil and provided a conduit for millions of “refugees”–actually economic migrants–into Europe. Many people, myself included, suspect this was the actual goal of the operation.

I’m quite certain that the whole “thank you” campaign as promoted by the government and corporate media was designed to bolster public support not for veterans, but for the misbegotten foreign wars which have killed and crippled so many of them. For a while, there was even talk that protesting these wars was somehow disrespectful to vets and their families. Never mind that in the Vietnam era, veterans’ groups were some of the war’s biggest opponents.

I want to make two things perfectly clear: I don’t condemn any American who joined the military and went to war overseas, even though I view all our recent wars as both unnecessary and counterproductive. They did what they felt was right and we civilians have no right to judge them. My second point is that I don’t advocate for anyone, not a single solitary person, to join up, not until our nation’s priorities change. If this brings on military conscription, so be it. I’d like to see how our pampered, mentally fragile Millennials and Zoomers react to that. The ensuing riots will dwarf the George Floyd fiasco.

On that cheery note, I want to wish all our veterans and current service people well. Be safe, get out as soon as you can, and question (at least mentally) what your superiors tell you. And thank you for your service.