The family was listening, again, to the original cast album for the Broadway sensation Hamilton, when this dialogue from the song Helpless came on:
Thank you for all your service
If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it
And I laughed. The Wife wondered why, and I said that “Thank you for your service” is such a 21st century trope, used there as a deliberate anachronism. And by trope, I mean “a common or overused theme or device.”
This got me to wondering how vets feel about it. In Why Saying “Thank You for Your Service” Offends Some Veterans, James Kelly wrote: “As active-duty USMC, I have to admit that when people thank me for my service, I feel awkward and a little uncomfortable. But why? Where do veterans’ uneasiness come from?
“The first issue is that literally everyone says it. In fact, it is said so much that it has become, to many vets, an empty platitude, something you just say because it is politically correct.
“Some veterans believe that saying ‘thank you for your service’ is almost a way for civilians to massage away some of the guilt at not participating themselves.”
Rich (only name given), suggests “Thank You for Your Service” Can Actually Do More Harm Than Good.
“In her book Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers (2015), Dr. Nancy Sherman discusses this conflicted relationship veterans have with the phrase and the people who casually offer it. As University Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and the Inaugural Distinguished Chair of Ethics at the United States Naval Academy, she is a philosopher who lectures worldwide on moral injury and military ethics.
“Dr. Sherman relates this to a greater problem that she describes as the ‘gaping disconnect between those who wear the uniform and those who don’t.’ She describes thank you for your service as a ‘token of gratitude or something that is meant to break the ice, although it often doesn’t accomplish that goal.’ Instead, it can at times come across as ‘glib,’ or just a ‘one-stop remark [a person] can dispense with’ to avoid any meaningful communication.”
See also Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service.
So what should you do instead?
The first article notes:
“When I asked veterans how civilians should thank them for their service, one answer proved to be the most common: ‘VOTE!’ Volunteer in your community, try and make a difference, and vote for what you believe is right. Honor the actions of veterans by ensuring that your voice is heard at the ballot box. Educate yourself on veterans’ issues. There are a number of fantastic organizations that help veterans with real issues but the most impactful is to use your right to make your voice heard.”
“If you want to thank a veteran, be considerate, be genuine, and be willing to listen or have a conversation. Dr. Sherman suggests simple alternatives that may actually contribute to repairing the military-civilian gap. If the service member appears to be willing and able to talk with you, you should invite a respectful conversation.
“‘I am grateful for your service. Where were you deployed? What was it like?’
“You might also ask: How is your transition back home so far? What is/was your job in the military? How is your family doing with your service? What do you want to do now that you’re back?”
I must say that I would personally be very uncomfortable with doing this latter thing, for reasons stated in the article. “It’s also true that many [vets] do have physical and emotional scars or moral wounds as a result of their service and are dealing (or not) with lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or helplessness, among others.”
So I’ll probably do what I’ve been doing all along, which is giving the knowing head nod, hoping that’s it’s adequate, at least for the moment.