Wednesday, August 3, 2011

You're Welcome America

Making the rounds yesterday was this op-ed from West Point professor Elizabeth Samet in Bloomberg on the habit of civilians to say "thank you" to men and women in uniform. Samet attributes this to a number of possible reasons: they don't know what else to say, it's from guilt over how lousy Vietnam vets were treated, absolution from collective responsibility, and maybe something else I wasn't getting. My old friend, Captain Hyphen, adds some more thoughts and anecdotes to this very common occurrence that is definitely worth the read.

This happened to me a lot in uniform and still does now that I'm out and it comes up in conversation that I spent not a little amount of time in Iraq. Yes, it's somewhat awkward. No, I certainly don't expect to be thanked for my service. But the people who say it, whatever their reason for doing so, usually just don't understand what you've went through and just want to express that they care. It doesn't really matter why they do it. I have one piece of advice for those of you who deal with this: get over the awkwardness and simply say "You're welcome." It's the usually the proper and polite response when someone says thank you. If you don't feel comfortable saying that, then just say "thank you" back to them - as in "thank you for showing you care." Merely pick one and run with it. Everyone who says "thank you" to a veteran has their own reason for saying it and you're not going to figure that out in the space of a few seconds, so it just doesn't much matter, does it? Just don't be rude and stare back at them. Now we can all stop being awkward when this happens, because it's not going to stop any time soon.


  1. Amen. Get over yourself. They are just being nice.

  2. If I might, I'd like to offer the perspective of one of the people who does the thanking in public. I have a lot of family members who served in the military, including my grandfather, my dad, my uncle, my brother, my cousin, brother-in-law, father-in-law, and grandfather-in-law. I've never served. But I appreciate the sacrifice and the effort of those who have served, and I try to make that appreciation known. More importantly, when I am with my 7-year-old son and we meet someone in uniform, I try to encourage him to politely introduce himself and to say thank you, because I want to instill in him a proper respect for the uniform and for the men and women who wear it.

  3. I dunno Anonymous... If your kid thanks doctors and teachers and fishermen and utility linemen, then great. But I believe I'd be teaching my kids wrongly if they learned that a superior order of gratitude and honor belongs to the uniform. And I say that though my kids have a grandfather an uncle and others career military. I'd say, I'm grateful to the military -- and others who act in defense of this country's welfare & nobler values -- in some good deal b/c this is a country where we DON'T bow to the uniform. And I'd hate to see that undermined further. (As many have observed, Reagan's Hollywood -- but antiprotocol and antitraditional-- salute of uniformed military was the beginning of the decadence.

  4. It sounds like the problem is the awkwardness of receiving thanks and praise in general. Outside of the rote daily exchanges of thanks and you're welcomes which politeness guides painlessly, it is hard for a lot of people to take a blast of praise or gushing thanks for something they've done when it's being singled out as special. We all want to be loved and appreciated but it is embarrassing when it happens because we don't like being placed above the person in front of us like that or we feel unworthy of that feeling, etc.

  5. Followed link here and now I feel awkward, in front of all this military personel (and ancillary sympathizers).

    What if the problem is the irreducibility.
    Even if you just coast over the whole thanks/thanks thing, it doesn't change the fact of what it is:
    a totally slight and swift bit of etiquette in response to a massive complex of pasion and opinion.

    It's awkward more than annoying. And that people seem too easilty in denial of the awkwardness of complexity just makes it more annoying.

    Most interaction in life is equally superficial and unsatisfying/near-meaningless. So, in "life or death" cases, it's just too obvious that this doesn't cut it.

    And it's dishonest, too. If you have some awful story that makes you a "legitimate" thanker, saying thank you hides that legitimacy by non disclosure.
    If you're an anti militarist who wants to "re engage" "the troops" just as an ordinary citizen, in contradistinction to militarist claims that you should "support the troops by approving of war and shut up", then your ordinary act of political defiance has no existence outside your head as the soldier can't make a decision on how to interpret.

    It's a weird way of conveying info "thank" without conveying any info (the explanation or meaning). It becomes a nonsense word.

    So, my question is, for who feels comfortable speaking on behalf of all servicemen (each and every one !), how would it be if ordinary citizens actually started a conversation about war (or anything, in fact)?
    Perhaps even more annoying, to be accosted by an opinion that won't change anything.

    a. thanks for killing those awful jihadis so we don't have to kill them over here. September 11 made me cry. But my tears are dry now and I have to get back to the "real world" which you boys lose out on in your great sacrifice.

    b. you guys are like superman.

    c. your career choice was a very poor one in our materialistic society but I condescend to congratulate you and make you feel better for not being a banker

    d. I just want you to know that although I hate our leaders who have you risking your lives to bomb often innocent people, I don't hate you and I "understand your position" (which I assume is agreement with me).

    e. are you in the military?

    f. your job is dangerous and difficult, often times. I bow to you because it is true.

    Take your pick.
    Who needs this crap?
    The truest thing would be to say nothing at all. But then that would be true for so many things, aside from math there would be nothing to say ever.