To some, thanking an American for their military service is as automatic as thanking a stranger for opening a door. But giving the military gratitude tends not to come as naturally to younger generations. History tells why.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
How It Started
A United Kingdom citizen asked Americans in an online forum, When did you start thanking your military so much? They were curious because thanking the military isn’t common practice in other countries, from their experience. Where they’re from, “the military is seen as a job,” and “most people don’t see or refer to soldiers as heroes.”
One Side of History
Thanking the military is “definitely a post-Vietnam War thing,” says one poster. “There was a terrible culture clash between young people in the late 60s and those who served. Many veterans were mistreated and marginalized by mainstream society.” They explain when Desert Storm happened in the early 90s, many Americans were set on ensuring the military wasn’t treated like that again.
Thanking the military started post-Vietnam War all the way, chimes in another commenter. “After a generation of veterans (many of whom were drafted) were treated like complete and total dogsh*t, the pendulum swung hard the other way.”
“Collective cultural guilt over the way the country vilified military people who served in Vietnam” is how one American views why it became the cultural norm to thank the military.
The Other Side of History
While many people agreed with the Vietnam War and Desert Storm sentiment, others argue that thanking the military “is absolutely a post 9/11 thing.” According to one commenter, “Gulf War vets were celebrated a lot after the war, but the culture of having ‘salute to service’ at nearly every sporting event, and strangers thanking vets wasn’t prominent in the 90s.”
Another person adds, “It was one thing to thank troops for kicking Saddam out of Kuwait…. but when kids began signing up to ship out to Afghanistan to avenge New York, DC and Flight 93, it meant a LOT more.”
To some Americans, thanking veterans might be rooted in fear or shame. “People don’t want to join the military, so they’re grateful for the few daring folks who do,” observes one person.
A military service member agrees, going a step further by saying that thanking the military is “just to make yourself feel better.” They explain that they don’t care whether or not people thank them for their service.
You’re All Wrong
When joining the military “became 100 percent volunteer” is when thanking current military members and veterans became a thing, argues one person.
How One Is Raised
Many Americans “are raised to respect the people who are willing to go through h*ll and back to keep us safe,” agrees another American. “Especially when, in our country, military service is 100% voluntary and not mandatory.”
People vs Government
One commenter proposes that thanking the military became a way to prevent attacks against individual military members. “They want to make sure any criticisms of military actions are about the government, the military institutions, or particular officials rather than the rank and file.”
Appreciate It, But
A US Navy veteran says they always get thanked for their service when using their discharge document at museums and other places where vet discounts are offered. They say, “Although I appreciate the comment, it just feels so distant for me as my service was many years ago.”
One American would never dream of not thanking the military for their service. “The military should be thanked for serving and putting their lives at risk for our freedoms. I think it would be odd not to.”
A veteran believes that thanking Americans for their military service started with good intentions before moving to a “performative thing.” It then moved to be political and, finally, cooled down.
“Now, anyone who says [thank you] genuinely means it, even if they don’t really understand that some vets don’t like it. I used to hate it, but I’ve realized it’s easier to just thank someone for the support and move on than it is to get all pouty about a civilian just trying to be pleasant.”
“I definitely appreciate what our troops do, but I don’t thank random military personnel whenever I see them,” says one American. “They are paid, get benefits, base housing (or a housing allowance), tuition for college, etc.” They point out that these benefits are better than what certain other public service workers receive, such as police and nurses.
Walking a Thin Line
A veteran says they feel uncomfortable when thanked for their service, wishing people would thank good doctors and teachers instead since “they are the ones with the most positive impact on society.” However, they recognize that “there are quite a few veterans who need” to be thanked.
The challenge for civilians? Knowing which veterans want to be thanked and which don’t is impossible for a well-meaning stranger on the street to guess.
Food for Thought
“The more they thank [the military], the less they actually take care of them,” reflects one commenter.
Another commenter expands on the idea, saying Americans “don’t thank their military in the important ways.” They argue that few civilians visit military hospitals and homes, and Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day have become known as 3-day weekends instead of people reflecting on their origin.
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