A response to Justin Doolittle’s piece Stop thanking the troops for me: No, they don’t “protect our freedoms!” Comments section is blocked in-country and I don’t have Twitter, but if anyone wants to link this onto his twitter, I’d appreciate it. @JD1871.
By conflating “the troops” with “the military”, you truly lower the bar for an opinion piece. I’m honestly shocked that Salon accepted this; this is disturbingly poorly articulated. I’m not going to bother citing examples, you can read any paragraph to see the error here; making ‘thanking the troops’ synonymous with ‘supporting the military’ is an alarming blurring of pretty clear lines and offensive to a lot of people who aren’t veterans but like to show appreciation.
We have a saying that is popular among instructors who are trying to teach junior Marines to communicate effectively: words mean things.
As a member of the U.S. military who is currently serving on active duty, I’m not going to say that my opinion is unbiased, but in truth I’m more offended as a writer and a consumer of what I thought was decent journalism than I am as a veteran.
I agree with the fundamental point that professional sports marketing goes too far out of its way to appear patriotic; I’m willing to wager that they spend more money putting on the appearance of ‘supporting the troops’ than they actually spend supporting troops. If pro sports actually wanted to make a difference there, it would be done with money, not air time, because the programs that work to support veterans don’t need publicity nearly as much as they need cash-flow.
But Mr Doolittle isn’t concerned with the patriotism-cum-marketing that I find so disturbing, instead he’s upset that people are thanking the troops, because they “volunteer to fight in wars of aggression”. All these vets are running around erroneously accepting praise for defending “freedom” the true meaning of which the lay-person can’t even articulate, according to Mr Doolittle. I agree that “freedom” as a word has been bent—if not broken—by 12 years of conflict. It has been co-opted by many a marketer and war profiteer. But less than half of 1% of Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, so how does the fault of the misuse of this word fall on the shoulders of the few who have taken an oath to defend it? I’m sorry, you did know about the oath right Mr Doolittle? See when I commissioned, I took an oath to defend the Constitution (not the president, not the dollar bill, not pro football, and not you) from all enemies, and the way I understand it, the Constitution is what a lot of Americans consider to be the document that grants them their “freedom”. It also contains the Bill of Rights, which sets forth our rights, which are sometimes refereed to as “freedoms”. So maybe people aren’t so far off the mark when they thank service-members for protecting their freedoms.
My father was drafted to go fight in Vietnam, a war that he didn’t agree with, and he had the courage to go down to the draft office and sign in but then tell them he wouldn’t go. He makes a very clear distinction between “the troops” and “the military”. The military was the organization that was interested in fitting him for government issued uniforms and equipment, putting him on a plane, and sending him to climb up muddy hills that were held by men from another organization that would shoot at him. The troops were the guys, neighbors, relatives, friends, who were also being called into those offices all over the country and being put on those planes and sent up those hills. The men on top of those hills shot and killed a lot of the men that our country sent over there, but those that survived came home to an ungrateful home. The people who had dutifully paid their taxes and voted every November, and done all their standard civic duties, those people weren’t happy with the men they had sent to Vietnam, and they were willing to line up to insult and berate those men, those “troops” that had been drafted into service.
Generally speaking, I don’t think a lot of insightful things come out of the mouths of professional athletes; no offense guys, but you’re paid to play, not comment on current events. But Carl Yastrzemski was right, it is a different time. Americans no longer conflate “the military” and “the troops”. My parents and their friends, former hippies mostly, all came to wish me luck when I shipped out. Nearly every one expressed misgivings about the current conflicts. No one among them was happy that the U.S. was at war in foreign lands or that I may go serve there, and none of them were afraid to tell me that, but every one of them gave me a hug, wished me luck, and told me they were proud of me.
I’ll be the first to stand up and tell people that all the flag-waving and half-time shows don’t mean shit. When people thank me for my service, I thank them for paying my salary (even the hitchhikers I picked up in Virginia, who I’m almost certain did not pay taxes), that’s just the way I see it. I have a job I like, I make sacrifices as part of that, and I’m glad that my friends and family don’t have to. If people want to show their appreciation, in words or actions, that’s their prerogative, and it is not an admission of indebtedness as Mr Doolittle makes it out to be. I enjoy the work, I believe in the Constitution, and no one has fired me yet, so I’m proud to say that I’m one of “the troops”, but “the military” is my employer, and everyone knows that work sucks: that’s why they pay you for it.