Hearing “thank you for your service” on Veterans Day can be especially uncomfortable. When someone says it to me, I don’t doubt their sincerity, but I recognize that the term has become a proxy for what many veterans see as the American public’s apathy toward our increasingly complex conflicts around the globe.
Being “thanked” for my service while attending baseball games, before boarding a plane, or in car dealership commercials has become so predictable, that it often makes me feel outright awkward. While I enjoy all of the comforts modern American life provides, others are half-way around the world and in much more danger than I ever was.
The plight of being a victim of excessive appreciation most certainly seems like a trivial complaint at best, but I worry it’s indicative of a much deeper issue: a population largely unconcerned with our perpetual state of war.
Every Veterans Day, we remember and honor the ones who returned from war. We also fly flags, some have the day off from work (I don’t), and some look for deals at a Veterans Day sale.
What we don’t do on that day, is talk about the wars. Sure, we may discuss conflicts in a vague sense, but I find it often lacks specificity. How many Americans know why we have SEAL teams routinely going in and out of Yemen, why we’re training AMISOM troops in Somalia, or why we’re enduring a 16th year of combat in Afghanistan? How many could confidently identify each of these countries on a map?
That’s not to say those who’ve never worn the uniform are always unaware, or ones who have are automatically attentive. However, I have become increasingly convinced that the “thanks” is a way for many to inoculate themselves from being actively engaged in our national security policies.
Veterans Day should be a day of celebration, reflection, and thoughtful conversation. The best way to honor our veterans is by reflecting on the reasons that brought them to war in the first place.
If you wish to convey appreciation, make it compassionate and personal. If you’re curious about a veteran’s service or sacrifice, allow them to recall the memories they choose without forcing them to relive the ones they hope to forget.