I continue to receive comments from veterans of the recent wars about the post The Tin Anniversary of the Iraq War. Rather than just reply to each comment, here is what I want to say.
Politics debases our language. Language is a tool, and like all tools, can be used for good, for ill, or for some combination.
In the political context, it is hard to tell whether “thank you for your service” from various politicos is sincere, tactical or, most likely, both. But even if it is meaningful, it sometimes seems like an automatic phrase, much like the obligatory speech close “and God bless the United States of America.” It becomes a cliché.
The Vietnam War is not just a textbook case in modern American history. It is an entire encyclopedia. One of the sorriest lessons was the treatment of returning vets. “Thank you for your service” is something those vets rarely if ever heard. All these years later, they mostly still haven’t.
Here it is, to the veterans and the fallen of our wars, then and now, however essential or popular or ill-conceived the wars may be or have been, and to their families, friends and everyone who has supported them in all ways: Thank you for your service.
In a related note, thanks to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) for keeping the veterans of our longest wars out front and in our faces. Among our “never agains” should be never again asking Americans to sacrifice so gravely, then thanking them loudly or not at all, and then putting them at the back of the line. These people are not political props or calendar items, because every day is Veterans Day and Memorial Day.