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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