I know what you’re thinking:
“DON’T thank you for your service? But why?!”
I’ll tell you why: because I, like a good portion of service members, joined for my own selfish reasons. I wasn't thinking about service to country, freedom, the Constitution, or anything noble like that – I just wanted to get by and live my life, hopefully getting out of the Marines with a few skills that I could use to acquire a real job.
I’m sure that there are many service members and veterans out there who feel differently – and they have every right to feel that way. I just want to let people know that there is more to the story than the patriotic "symbol of freedom" cardboard-cutout soldier/sailor/airman/marine/coastie that you were taught to revere (or at least respect).
“But…you protected our freedom!”
No, I was a simple POG (Personnel Other than Grunt) – I did my job, and after being discouraged from being innovative or creative by various superiors, I gave no more effort than was required to perform the minimum. It was like any other crappy job in the civilian sector, except I wasn't allowed to quit, because I entered into a contract – an indentured servant by any other name...
Also – I keep wondering how starting conflicts in other parts of the world constitutes as “fighting for freedom” or “fighting terror.” It looks more like imperialism - you know: a country using its military power to subvert and control another territory for its own gain (otherwise known as “nation-building”). Don’t believe me? Take a cursory glance at a map of our military bases worldwide. Is there anything that we do in Japan or Germany that they couldn't do for themselves?
Another question – if you believe that it’s okay that America has military bases abroad, then how would you feel if another country decided to plop a military base anywhere in the lower 48 states? If you’d be angry about that, then ask yourself this question: If it’s not okay when it’s done to us, then WHY is it okay when we do it to other nations?!
...and I'm not even going to get into how much freedom we have - if there's any left.
“So, how do I show my appreciation for the sacrifices that American service members have made?
Easy – don’t treat us like anything special. I understand that you may have been taught to respect uniforms (whether uniforms in general or military uniforms in particular) as a symbol of power that somehow commands respect – but just stop. Stop right there.
Also, you may be feeling some misplaced guilt – perhaps the reasoning that since you didn't have the health/courage/strength/whatever to “serve,” you should respect people who do. Feel free to relieve yourself of that guilt right now. No harm, no foul – it won’t be held against you. I promise.
You see, it really bothers me (and others) that service members as of late have been turned into a powerful patriotic symbol; it borders on hero worship. It’s seen as unpatriotic or un-American to not show your respect to service members or veterans. But see – idolizing the military isn't patriotic. The fact that politicians are doing this (and encouraging you to do it, too) exposes how deeply America needs heroes now. Think about it – our culture seems more than willing to glorify the military – people who are paid by you to destroy and kill at the behest of the political class. Have you ever asked yourself why this is?
It wasn't until I was in the military that I realized the real depth and scope of the corruption and waste that abounds in the U.S. military. I remember budgets that we were encouraged to overspend – because if you didn't show a need (however trivial) for that money, you wouldn't get as much the next year. Because of this, there's no incentive to be thrifty or resourceful. I remember that we paid many times the market price for simple supplies that made it possible to do our job – and those supplies were of frighteningly substandard quality, produced by government contractors, of course.
But no –WE didn't pay for it. It was you.
Politicians turn our service members and veterans into propaganda tools, and rant and rave that we shouldn't cut military spending – “But think of our service members,” they whine, insinuating that a cut in military spending would result in a cut in pay or benefits. Voters are then sucked into it again, by the magic of political rhetoric – either not knowing or refusing to acknowledge that military spending could be cut drastically without even touching service member’s pay or benefits.
Companies favored by the government for one reason or another (a politician owns stock in the company, served on the board of the company, has many constituents that work at the company, the company gave him a fat check or an earnest promise in exchange for his/her support, etc.) are given government contracts on a silver platter. These are often exclusive – no other companies bid or compete. There is no incentive for them to produce goods at a lower cost or better quality to save the government (nay, the taxpayer!) money. That’s what we call “crony capitalism” folks – unlike regular capitalism, which encourages innovation and creativity and taking measured risks, crony capitalism is when a company utilizes political connections to secure its future at the expense of the American taxpayer. In essence, they’re parasites - just like the government representatives that they target.
This is your money, America.
What’s even more disturbing is that many people blame the corporations for this. But to do so is blaming a symptom, not a cause. When government is allowed to regulate, expanding its power ever-further, it behooves corporations (large and small) to hop into bed with politicians and infiltrate the regulatory agencies to take advantage of the system using regulatory capture, or simple cruelty. Your government set up this system. The corporations simply took advantage of whatever openings they could find. Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.So, every time you see a service member or a veteran, I want you to think of that person as a poor sucker, just like yourself, forced into a system that quashes innovation and discourages individual freedom for the sake of fleecing the populace to enrich favored corporations and their political lackeys. Please, stop idolizing the military. Many service members don't want their military service to define them - it's dehumanizing, to say the least.
So, think twice before you thank a veteran or a military member for their service. Just treat them with respect, like you would any other human being - and they will likelyreturn your respect, with gratitude.