I do not want to appear disrespectful or ungrateful, but should we meet on the street one day, do say “Hello,” or “Fine day” or other such nicety, but please do not thank me for “my service” as a United States Marine. I make this request because my service, as you refer to it, was basically, either to train to become a killer or to actually kill people and blow shit up.
Now, that is not something for which a person should be proud nor thanked. In fact, it is regrettable, and for me a source of guilt and shame, something I will have to live with for the rest of my life, as the past cannot ever be undone. So, when you thank me for my service, it disturbs me … a lot. First off, it brings to mind my wasted youth and lost innocence, and the horrible and unnecessary deaths of good friends and comrades. Second, it reminds me of my responsibility and culpability for the pain and suffering I caused innocent people, again something I would rather forget, but cannot. Third, it reinforces my belief that you have absolutely no idea about the nature and reality of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, because if you did, you would understand that thanks are inappropriate. Fourth, it reminds me that many of those who feel the need to offer thanks were apathetic about – or even supportive of – the war, while they refuse to participate themselves or did little or nothing to end it. And lastly, I have to admit that I doubt the sincerity of these expressions of supposed gratitude, as “Thank you for your service” is just something to say not because you care about what I did or sacrificed, but only to demonstrate your supposed good character, or patriotism and/or “support” for members of the military and veterans.
In making this request not to be thanked for my service, I am, of course, expressing only my opinion, and, perhaps, my idiosyncrasy, and I make no claim to be speaking for other veterans. I would wager, however, that many, perhaps even most, who have experienced the horror of war and have the courage and presence of mind to think about and evaluate what the war they served in was truly about would understand and probably concur with this request. Those veterans, however, who may not agree, who cling to the mythology of heroism, glory, honor and nobility of war, do so in large measure from fear that acknowledging war’s reality would somehow diminish their sacrifice and the sacrifices of those whose lives were lost. Perhaps understandably, they view such sacrifices and loss as difficult enough to live with when they had value and purpose, and as intolerable if they were misguided and unnecessary. To these brothers and sisters, I would offer the following questions and observations for them to ponder.
First, what was accomplished by your sacrifice and by the waste of lives and treasure in Vietnam, in Iraq and in Afghanistan? Where is the honor, glory and nobility in killing and dying for greed, incompetence, and paranoia? Second, the mythology you cling to for comfort is a tool of political leaders to make war palatable, to garner support for their militarism and abandonment of diplomacy. It is what motivates future idealistic, perhaps naive, young people to “heed the call,” to seek honor and glory, by enlisting in the military to fight for a cause they have been deceived into believing is right, just and necessary, but which is, in reality, a string of wars for corporate greed, power and hegemony. All who are touched by war are tainted and require readjustment, perhaps even rehabilitation, but in order to truly come home from war, to make the perilous journey of healing, one must face the realities of one’s own war experience head on, as no healing is possible from fantasy, myth, rationalization and distortion of truth.
So, in the future, if you really insist on thanking me for something, do not thank me for the eight years I spent as a Marine, but for the 45 or so years following my discharge from the military that I have spent as an activist fighting for human rights and social justice and to end the insanity of war. Frankly, however, I would prefer that you just say hello, or fine day or other such nicety. You see, my activism all these years warrants no praise or merit, as it is not something I choose to do. Rather, I do it because I must, perhaps as penance for my culpability for the sacrilege of war. And if you truly want to demonstrate your good character, patriotism, and support for the troops and veterans, rather than merely mouth meaningless expressions of gratitude for something you don’t truly understand or care much about, do something meaningful and real. Do what is truly in the interest of this nation and of those victimized by war.
Make some demands.
Demand, for example, an immediate end to the corporate takeover of our “democracy” and to the undue influence of the military-industrial-Congressional complex. Demand sanity in Pentagon spending and a reallocation of finite resources to people-focused programs such as health care, education and jobs rather than to killing and destruction. Demand an immediate end to wars for corporate profit, greed, power and hegemony. Demand that we adhere to the Constitution and to international law. Demand accountability for those who make war easily and care more for wealth, profit and power than for national interest or for the welfare of their fellow human beings. And finally, demand the troops be brought home now, and that they be adequately treated and cared for when they return. So, should we meet on the street one day, do say Hello, or Fine day, and as you talk to me about your efforts to make this country and the world a better and more peaceful place in which to live, I would be happy to thank you for your service.