The Thank You for Your Service Phenomenon

Some United States veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are speaking out about the “thank you for your service phenomenon.”

“Who doesn’t want to be thanked for their military service? Many people, it turns out,” according to a New York Times report.

Mike Freedman, who served as a Green Beret, refers to this issue as the “thank you for your service phenomenon.”


The New York Times reports: “To some recent vets — by no stretch all of them — the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters. To these vets, thanking soldiers for their service symbolizes the ease of sending a volunteer army to wage war at great distance — physically, spiritually, economically. It raises questions of the meaning of patriotism, shared purpose and, pointedly, what you’re supposed to say to those who put their lives on the line and are uncomfortable about being thanked for it.”

“‘Thank you for your service,’ … is almost the equivalent of ‘I haven’t thought about any of this,'” according to Freedman.

Some veterans “find that “something in the stomach tumbles” from expressions of appreciation that are so disconnected from the “evil, nasty stuff you do in war,” suggests Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam War veteran and noted author who was interviewed for the New York Times article.

Many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attend classes at my campus, Northern Illinois University. I think that students and faculty at NIU and other universities would benefit from reading the article in the New York Times and reflecting on how to communicate effectively with veterans and how to discuss their military service.

This entry was posted in History of Violence, Political Culture, War and Society, War, Culture, and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Thank You for Your Service Phenomenon

  1. Ed Raines says:

    I was in graduate school at The University of Wisconsin from 1969 to 1976. Most of the veterans I knew, particularly in the early part of that period, tried to hide the fact that they had served in Vietnam. They did not want to be called “baby killers” to their faces, and there was a group of students on campus who would do that—and worse. Thanking the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan for their service may be inadequate—but what in the world would ever be adequate? But it is certainly better than the reception that many Vietnam veterans endured at many elite campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

  2. Samuel Heffner says:

    By what measure can one gauge the sincerity of a thank you? Having never served in the armed forces, it is obvious that I can not truly understand what a soldier experiences in combat. As such, it should be clear that I do not know specifically what it is that I am thanking him or her for, but is that justification to claim the gesture itself lacks meaning because of it? I try to make it a point to thank every soldier I come across – it’s the least I could do – and will continue to do so regardless of whether a select few take offense at my “audacity” for doing so.

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