MALE DISPOSABILITY – Dear Abby and thanking veterans

M

A woman writes to Dear Abby:

Dear Abby: Recently I took a cue from my sister and her career Navy husband. They always make it a point to thank anyone they see in military uniform for his/her service and sacrifice.

I am somewhat shy by nature. But I am so thankful to these men and women who fight for our continued freedom that I stepped out of my comfort zone to verbalize my feelings and encourage those who cross my path.

Abby, the first and second thank yous I offered did not go well. The first gentleman I spoke to gave me a scornful look and proceeded to tell me I should be thankful for all military personnel — not just him — and especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

I felt three inches tall and very embarrassed, but I chalked it up to perhaps having said thanks the wrong way, so I tried again. This time I thanked a World War II veteran. I recognized him as a vet by the emblem on the bill of the cap he was wearing. His response was, “Didn’t have a choice — it was the draft or jail.”

Maybe I’m not cut out for verbalizing my thankfulness, or maybe I’m doing it wrong. Now my shyness has taken over again. Should I silently offer a prayer of thanks instead? — Twice Bitten In Washington

First off, neither of the men answered with very good grace at all. Maybe she did not deserve to have her head bitten ff. But maybe by the umpteenth time they had been thanked, these men had earned the right to bite some heads off.

Dear Abby shows she’s not quite tracking here though:

As to the WWII vet who entered the service one jump ahead of the law — give him marks for honesty in admitting his reason for entering the military was less than patriotic.

She is referring to an old recruiting technique where the Army would let judges let thugs  enlist in the Army as an alternative to going to jail. That’s what Dear Abby is referring to, but probably not what the man was referring to, because the fact, which a woman might tend to forget if she ever knew, was that when you were drafted, you either went to the induction center or to jail. The draft was conscription. Men, unlike women, were liable to being press-ganged into national service.

Something else is going on these two examples and it goes much deeper. Both men’s answers reveal a sense of alienation from the civilian trying to thank them. I know this feeling. It doesn’t have to be as rank as “Who the fuck are you to thank me?” it may just be a sense of the overwhelming impossibility of talking across the chasm. When the first man chides this well-meaning woman that she should be thanking all the guys who died, who actually sacrificed, he is trying to get some of his experience across to her.

This alienation is intensifying as military service is less and less and less a shared experience of citizenship and more an more just a government service that civilian/consumers pay their taxes/dues to receive the benefits of. There have always been stories of someone’s dad who served in WWII never talking much about it, but I have the sense that that is becomeing more and more common.

The second man’s response gets a little closer t this alienation. He is pointing out he had no choice, he was deemed disposable. I think anger at being deemed disposable explains the form and certainly the tone of these two responses.

Disposability is not an inherently bad thing. It’s what makes the social species model so successful – the individual sacrifices for the group and the group protects and feeds the individual. It’s a normal part of adulthood. What makes it a bad thing is when it is borne unequally, and that is the situation in our society. We hear all the time about gender imbalances in corporate governance. We never hear anything about how far we are from having our military forces 50% female. Or shouldn’t it be 52%?

Those men answered that woman ungraciously when all she was doing was trying to show her gratitude. The problem was that she happened to touch a really raw place in these two men.

We are going to be looking a little more closely at male disposability in the form of military service in the run-up to Veterans/Remembrance day. One aspect of this disposability is the thank-and-ignore pattern that society, all Anglophone societies, have developed with regard to veterans’ issues. That lady got real close to a landmine.

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Jim Doyle

<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="3475 http://www.genderratic.com/?p=3475">20 comments</span>

  • “Tommy Atkins” is the old British slang for men who served in wartime, what we call “G.I.s” in the States. Not sure what the Canadian is for it.

    If you can read past the colloquial 19th Century lower-class English, and realize what it’s saying, this is an incredibly sad poem about veterans:

    I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
    The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
    The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
    O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
    But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
    But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
    But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
    The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
    O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
    An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
    But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
    Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
    While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
    But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
    There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
    O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

    You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

  • They could just be like me and think its a crock. We had a job, we did it, end of story. I don’t need some stranger coming up out of the blue thanking me. For one think, it’s awkward & embarrassing. To me it also reeks of praying in public – let me make sure that someone sees me! For that reason, I hate yellow ribbons. I just don’t trust them; the “Sailors & dogs keep off the grass signs” aren’t that far in the past. Were I was stationed, the LEOs basically laid in wait for squids on the weekends. Then the locals whined that the economy tanked when we were deployed.

    Do something meaningful & do it in private. And for Pete’s sake don’t tell me “I could never do that!” Honestly, you probably could; you’ve just chosen not to. It’s not that hard.

    -female voluntary vet

  • A Wilkins, welcome.

    And your comment covers a lot of things in a small space:

    “They could just be like me and think its a crock. We had a job, we did it, end of story. I don’t need some stranger coming up out of the blue thanking me. For one think, it’s awkward & embarrassing.”

    This part gets ignored – the veteran as a normal human being as opposed to an idol to make merit with.

    ” To me it also reeks of praying in public – let me make sure that someone sees me!”

    Yes, yes, yes. Praying in public is one of my pet peeves.

    “the “Sailors & dogs keep off the grass signs” aren’t that far in the past. ”

    No they aren’t. I remember when we aere not allowed to wear fatigues or later BDUs in public.

    “Were I was stationed, the LEOs basically laid in wait for squids on the weekends. Then the locals whined that the economy tanked when we were deployed.”

    I am well acquainted with the economics of positioning troops and closing bases. half the time it all revolves around aid to dependent states. And the falg waving that accompanies it is nauseating.

    And thanks, Dean – that poem is de rigueur in this season.

  • I heard a joke the other day which relates to this:

    A man walks into a pub in England, he coughs a bit, then with a voice like a rusty gate croaks out. “Beer please.”
    The bartender sees that the man’s throat is a mass of scar tissue. “Jesus, son,” he says, “How’d you get that?”
    “Fighting in the Falklands,” rasps the man.
    “Well the beer’s free,” says the bartender, pushing the drink across to him. “For your bravery and sacrifice.”
    “Muchas gracias,” croaks the man.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoVavpbhBfM

    these guys were writing about disposable heroes probably before Warren Farrel talked about ‘male disposability.”

    (wonder if Dr. Farrell is a Metallica fan.)

    also the long ass hair makes these guys as unmilitary as possible I guess…

    If America had forced conscription, I would’ve surely expatriated to Canada or Mexico…

  • Jared,
    ““Fighting in the Falklands,” rasps the man.
    “Well the beer’s free,” says the bartender, pushing the drink across to him. “For your bravery and sacrifice.”
    “Muchas gracias,” croaks the man.”

    And the British veterans in the bar would certainly have insisted on it. You see this a lot in these various reunion events that go on at the Pearl Harbor monument and places like that, Japanese and American veterans all together. They say in some important ways they have more of a bond than they have with their civilians at home.

  • That’s what Dear Abby is referring to, but probably not what the man was referring to

    Don’t be so sure. http://imgur.com/KURjA3o

    The problem was that she happened to touch a really raw place in these two men.

    Dear Abby’s response is in and of itself the epitome of this “raw place.” Someone was drafted fro WW2? Let’s question his patriotism! Kind of makes me wonder if traditionalism is just the government being a bitch.

  • I agree that being thanked can be awkward and embarrassing. Mostly I am embarrassed for the person thanking and how deeply naive and transparent they often are.

    The woman’s mistake is the way in which she misses the entire context. The habitual thankers usually pick and choose men in their own social group, such as at a church function or at a like – minded political gathering. You don’t want to be the rich old man thanking a young war vet for serving while recounting that 30 years ago you signed up for JROTC. You don’t want to be a deadbeat telling a vet who has his stuff together that you would have served if only you hadn’t failed the drug test because you were high on E. And you certainly don’t want to be the type of woman who is so naive that she would actually ask Ann Landers for advice about war veterans.

  • “The woman’s mistake is the way in which she misses the entire context”

    Goddamit! That captures it! I knew I should have had you write this anyway.

    This confirms that:

    “Kind of makes me wonder if traditionalism is just the government being a bitch.”

  • The alienation notion is interesting. But the other side of that – and I think a source of those deflective, almost hostile postures of the soldiers is that those ‘thanks for your service’ moments are too often spawned from that same kind of politically correct relativism that dilutes anything genuine with that bittersweet saccharine effect. Just like when the mainstream media tries to go all human-interest-support-the-troops – or when an advice column seems to be about sacrifice but it is really about broken men who aren’t giving such a warm-hearted woman the feedback she is entitled to.

    The letter writer was shocked, uncomfortable, confused, hurt by the responses of the men. That’s the “story”. That’s why it made it into Abby. It’s got nothing to do with the men who served and their stories. It is about this woman not *feeling* what she wanted to feel. She was doing something that entitled her to a certain kind of response – one that was about her, that would make her feel good for being such a good person. Its that same kind of gentle narcism that drives so much of how people engage these days.

    Sure, those men could have – maybe should have just said ‘thanks’. But that is entirely up to them. She has no right to expect anything in return, let alone some canned PC response that leaves her feeling all warm and fuzzy because she is SO selfless as to verbally thank a stranger for something that she can in no way understand – an experience that is theirs alone.

    If she wanted to be so thankful there are a 1,000 ways that should could giver her time, her money, her support; dozens of organizations that support service members and their families; multiple outlets in which various forms of gratitude can be offered free from that anticipatory receipt of good citizenship she was expecting. But then those would be empty exchanges; they would lack the immediate gratification, the attention drawn to her. She should just ‘thumbs up’ the army on her Facebook page and move along to the mall with the rest of the sheep.

  • Welcome, Laszlo! Whoa, powerful comment, many good points.

    Fiirst about the posy quality of the tahnks – very true. They ring a little false. Second, on the focus of the Dear Abby thing being the woman’s puzzlement or hurt feelings – dead on the money. That one got right past me.

    And the rest of your points were just as good. Thanks.

  • Glad I stopped by. I check in once and a while, dig the work done here.

    The disposability issue isn’t really a new thing, right? But the difference is how it is framed in society, how our culture chooses to value those sacrifices – and to what end those sacrifices are made. Those latter things are driving men away from the notion of sacrifice in no small part because the incentives, rewards, and how the entire culture has come to view (expect) the role of men have all changed.

    It is hard for the recipient of these types of ‘thanks’ to not feel the disingenuous origins when the entire culture has marginalized male sacrifice in all its forms.

    Of course, it is not just about men who serve (or otherwise give of themselves) but I think men who have served are thrust into an awareness of just how distant their role as warrior, father, provider, protector, and citizen with the god-given liberties he signed up to protect, has become in a culture that has chosen to value the commoditized, trivial, and convenient aspects of male disposability above those things that have called men to lay down their lives or their freedom from the beginning of time.

    You should dig around and see what they are doing to the military. Arguably one of the last bastions for men to stand side-by-side is falling prey to unbridled equality-seeking, and political-correctness. While we are busily making sure we don’t offend anyone – including our enemies, we are gelding the honor and duty right out of an already tenuous military.

    I did my job. Got my college paid for. Have decent residual benefits. All that. I get that people want to lay ‘thanks’ because it feels like they are doing their part. But I also get how a lot of soldiers just don’t want to hear it. I stepped away from the suck when my dad died. Its kind of like the “sorry to hear that – sorry about your dad” thing. Sure, I know. But shouldn’t death make you want more out of life than apathetic consumption and rampant self-absorption, interrupted by these occasional gestures? It can ring kinda hollow.

    You want to thank a soldier lady? Turn off your TV, read the constitution, and open your eyes. Give them a reason to feel good about bleeding – or even just spending the physical prime of their life in some shit-stained third-world goat patch while you were probably worrying if Mr. Big was ever going to show up and save whatsherface on Sex and the City. [end lecture]

    Laz
    Captain (retired), United States Army, 10th SFG, CJSOTF Arabian Peninsula
    De Opresso Liber

  • Ecellent comment again, Laz. You may end the lecture for now on the promise you will come back and give more.

    “You should dig around and see what they are doing to the military. Arguably one of the last bastions for men to stand side-by-side is falling prey to unbridled equality-seeking, and political-correctness. ”

    There is a rhythm to this. The Army inhales for a period of years, and then it exhales. You were in sub-community and all my experience was oput in the main herd, but I have watched thtis with weight control, gender integration and even some of the racial stuff. Eventually an equilibrium is reached.

    But it can take a long time. They are only now looking at getting rid of the unscientific tape test.

    There is hope on the gneder issue. It took at least three generations to get the racial shit ironed out, so there’s the time line.

  • I get this sometimes. I got it a lot more when I was still in uniform – especially when I was traveling in uniform. It never bothered me. If someone is going to go out of his/her way to say something nice to me, I’m not going to be upset. I’m old enough to have been called “Baby Killer” by a complete stranger just walking down the street minding my own business. “Thank you for your service” is a pretty big step up from that.

    It all started after 9-11. Between the sudden realization that bad people REALLY wanted to kill Americans, and the well-deserved national shame over the treatment of Vietnam vets, it became normal for soldiers to have strangers say, “Thanks” once in a while.

    I fumbled about for a proper response the first few times: sometimes it was, “My pleasure” or “You’re welcome.” I finally settled on, “Thank you for paying your taxes” with a little smirk. Sort of like the “Army or jail” comment, which was probably meant as a joke that the woman is too young to understand.

    As for the joke above about the Falkland’s vet, Gingko is certainly correct that any British soldiers present would buy the guy a beer. I met a guy who had emigrated from the Soviet Union after the walls came down. The place where he had worked was on my target list, and I would have smoked him and all his comrades without a second thought if it had ever come to that. I knew it – he knew it – and it didn’t matter at all. He was no longer a target: he was just a cool guy I knew. We became pretty good friends.

  • I resent the expectation from society that I got to think thugs who kill for the state? Thank them for what killing people?

    Stop trying to brainwash me into believing that state hired thugs kill for freedom.

  • “I resent the expectation from society that I got to think thugs who kill for the state? Thank them for what killing people?”

    You live in an oil-based economy. You live and die based on what that economy gives you. You benefit directly from all this. Moral posery doesn’t change that.

  • tamerlame

    Actually, part of the point is that the ‘thanks’ is better when not contrived, glad-handed, or in the form of repurposed apathy coming from the likes of you. No resentment necessary. No need to stand, wave flags, or hold hand to hear. You may remain on your couch watching TV.

    In my case, I was doing a job for which I was compensated and neither desire or expect any ‘thanks’, certainly not from myopic dolts. But if you popped off with that kind of disrespectful language in my company I’d have the back of my hand into your larynx before you adorned that familiar self-congratulatory grin that I’m sure is quick to follow such ‘bold’ statements. But then I’m just a thug with PTSD.

    As for real thugs, there are no shortage in this country, and the vast majority are not in the armed services. The vast majority of service personnel never see any ‘action’, for many, not even deployment in conflict zones. They are doing for more for your precious economy than killing insurgents or however CNN choses to frame it.

    I wouldn’t expect you to understand freedom, nor most people in this country really, for that one must be wide awake and have had the distinct displeasure of true oppression – not the sh*t the Atlantic pens about wealthy white women failing to find the hot guy to marry at 38 or the heavy invisible hand of white male privilege hoarding all of the literacy and cushy corner offices, but the kind that craters under a boot to the skull of your child or a sword to the neck of your parents. But then part of why I served is so people like you could spew your genius. Carry on.

    As a side note, I think brainwashing you would be a waste of detergent.

  • Thank you Lazslo for taking out the trash.

    “In my case, I was doing a job for which I was compensated and neither desire or expect any ‘thanks’, certainly not from myopic dolts.”

    You cana call it compensation if you like but to my mind there is no compensation for this kind of service. There is maintenance for the people who do it, and it comes in the form of a salary, but it really is only support for people so they can carry on. But no one has the money that could compensate you.

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