A different kind of thanks

On Memorial Day, my social media timelines are filled with messages thanking all those serving in the military and in particular giving rightful reverence for those who have lost their lives in that service. I don’t know if the absence of a similar post from me is conspicuous on other people’s timelines, but if so I’d like to explain why.

As a high school teacher, I have had many students either choose to enlist in the military outright or attend college as a member of the ROTC. When I talk to juniors and seniors (as I have most years I’ve been teaching) about choices after high school, I am a strong advocate of military service as I believe it can provide an excellent training and structure to one’s life. Evidence of that is strong as I see the growth of those same former students across all the different branches of the armed forces. While I frankly do not believe in American exceptionalism, I absolutely believe in the exceptionalism of individuals that choose that path. I am ridiculously proud of my kids that have made the choice to serve.

The United States has had a 100% volunteer military since 1973. For almost my entire life, every person serving on every base, ship and bunker has made the choice to be there. That, frankly, astounds me. Every one of these people, whether they report to reserve duty on a base in Kansas one weekend a month or are actively seeking out militants in a remote part of the Middle East, deserves recognition and thanks. They have made a commitment that a large majority of us do not make.

So why do I not openly express that gratitude on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, etc.? Is it because I am not the most patriotic of people (although that is true, as most of my friends could tell you)? No. Is it because I just don’t care about the sacrifice that our military men and women make? Absolutely not.

It is because by adding my voice to the chorus of thanks on those days I feel like I am being hypocritical and patronizing. In my everyday life, I do next to nothing to be a stronger advocate of promoting peace so that those serving do not have to return home in a flag draped coffin. I do not lend support to organizations that help soldiers returning from war. I do not write my representatives asking for better physical and mental health care for military families. I do not volunteer to build houses for veterans that have lost it all.

So while waking up on this Memorial Day and writing ‘thanks to all who serve’ on my Facebook wall or Twitter timeline would get some likes and favorites, to me it would seem hollow and insincere. Do I deeply appreciate what they do day in and day out, when they could have made a choice to not be there? Yes. But I hope I will do a better job to express that appreciation every day, rather than just on the last Monday in May.

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