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The War Hits Home

I've been meaning to post about the Nebulas, and I'd love to post about the wonderful experience I had at reunion, but something else is now occupying my mind.

At reunion, I found out that one of my best friends from high school, whom I shall simply refer to as J., is about to be deployed to Iraq. J. and I go back to about age 12 or 13, and we've always had a lot of good conversations about many different topics, especially politics. Our political views have diverged somewhat since high school, but we're able to "agree to disagree" when we talk, and explain why we stand where we stand.

Anyway, he wasn't at reunion, but one of our mutual friends told me about the imminent deployment. Now, I knew that after 9/11, J. had chosen to join the naval reserve, something for which I respected him very highly. After all, I know for a fact it's not something I could ever do, even though I believe deeply in the importance of the military and a strong defense. (And yes, this is coming from the left-leaning liberal Democrat who grew up in New York City and now lives in Massachusetts.) J. made the decision to defend the freedoms we enjoy in this country, and if it weren't for people like him, we might lose those freedoms.

I just got off the phone with J. a few minutes ago, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned for his safety. At the same time, though, I'm honored to be his friend.

At the end of our phone call, I thanked J. for what he's doing, and he told me a story of how three years ago, a UPS delivery man who saw him in uniform approached him and said something like, "I just want to thank you for your service." He says it meant a lot -- indeed, it meant so much, that he remembers it three years later.

Nomi and I have made a point of attending the town's Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances when we can, and I've always noticed how there's usually only a handful of people there. In particular, I've seen more people I recognize from the conservative or Republican side of town than the liberal or Democratic side. I recently met a lieutenant in the navy, and I made a point of thanking him for his service, and one of my friends thanked him as well. I asked the lieutenant, who has become a friend, if he gets thanked a lot. He told me he does get thanked, but not as much in the northeast as in other parts of the country. (I hope I remembered his response correctly; I'd hate to be wrong on that.) From my perspective, both what he said and what J. said makes it even more important for those of us on the liberal side to thank the soldiers who are working for us every day.

If you see someone in uniform, thank them. Let them know you appreciate their service. It makes a difference.

And as for my friend J., I'll be thinking of him every sabbath morning in synagogue, when we all stand for the rabbi's recitation of the Prayer for American Soldiers. I usually don't wear my religion or my politics on my sleeve, but in this case I'll make an exception. May God grant J. and all our soldiers safety, and may we soon see an end to the war.

Comments

As a native I have to tell you that I would be unlikely to just walk up to a total stranger, uniformed or not and say Thank you for anything.

We do not as a rule just walk up to total strangers and start talking to them. It is just not how things are done in Boston. We do not dislike the troops, we do respect what they are doing, we just do not as a rule talk to strangers.

Now if they walk into a bar, they are not going to buy a single drink of their own, and if they walk into any Sports arena they are going to get a ticket upgrade.

But, will I walk up to military personal on Tremont Street and say 'Thank you for your service'? No, I don't talk to strangers.
...Maybe you should start....
Some how going against three hundred years of ingrained behavior just does not appear likely.

How about I just do what I did a few months ago, and donate money to a group that purchases flack vests for the troops. More useful than a hand shake and a meaningless thank you.
Two thoughts.

1. I'm not a Boston native; come to think of it, I've never actually lived in Boston proper, but only in Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline. However, I have seen people in Boston approach others they don't know for a variety of reasons. And in particular, during fleet week a while back, I saw a lot of people say hello to the sailors in uniform who were outside the AMC Loews Boston Common movie theatre downtown.

2. I absolutely agree that a donation for flack vests is extremely useful. But I disagree with the categorization that a thank you is meaningless. One of the points I made above is that as far as the recipient is concerned, it is quite meaningful. My friend J. was thanked by a stranger three years ago and he still remembers it strongly. I have no doubt that the thank you helped, and still helps, his morale.
I grew up on the other end of the state (Springfield) and that behavior is just as ingrained in me. It freaked me out when I visited California and strangers kept striking up conversations with me on public transportation.

However.

Even beyond that, I don't think I could thank a service person for their service right now, because I'd just want to shake them and say, "Do you really want to die for no reason in this stupid war?!?" If we were just using our military for national defense and humanitarian issues (I consider stopping genocide humanitarian), then I might be able to do it. But now...

I wrote more, but I realized I was hijacking your thread with my issues, so I'll stop here.
J. and I talked about the reasons for the war. I can't really speak for him, but my guess is that if you were to ask him that question, he might reply, "No, of course I don't want to die. But I do believe that the war was necessary, and I feel an obligation as a soldier to win the war so we can make sure things are safer in this world for both the Iraqis and the American people."

I know that there are plenty of soldiers who feel that the war is a mistake, although they don't talk about it. But talking with J. reminded me that there are also plenty of soldiers who believe that the war was, and continues to be, necessary. Even if those of us on the other side of the political aisle might scratch our heads at that.
Check.

I don't like the war, but I am so proud of my best friend who was over there (and will probably be redeployed) that I could just bust.
I have struck up conversations in airports and around DC with service members coming from or going to combat zones. Mostly, I chat a little about them first, then thank them for their service and wish them and their families well. If the conversational vibe seems right, I let them know that though I and many others do not support the war, we support and appreciate them. I've never gotten a negative response.

Last January, on our way to GaFilk, stevemb and I arrived at the Atlanta airport in time to see a group of recruits marching through the food court on their way to their plane for Iraq. Most people stood up and clapped. I stood along with everyone else, but instead of clapping, I was surprised to find myself whispering the 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."
I was surprised to find myself whispering the 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Boy, that's no lie.
May he come home safe and whole.
While it is true that soldiers do go to war to protect our freedoms so we don't have to, there are plenty of others that protect us back here at home that we should thank as well. What about the police officers who protect back home? What about the firefighters (although that takes a different kind of bravery)? There are plenty of people who need our support, whether their jobs are popular or not.

That having been said, the best way to thank them is to protect them, both there and when they return. FAR too many soldiers come back mentally wounded as well as physically wounded and not enough is done to take care of them when they return. THAT'S the best way to thank them, IMHO.

My $0.02.
It's so strange because I am completely ambivalent about the situation. On the one hand, I want to stop the soldiers and tell them that they are pledging fealty to an insane man. On the other hand, I want to tell them that they are so much stronger than me to risk their lives for people that they don't even know.

We are approaching an era of true danger to the American people and many others around the world as we change Presidents. We may see a brighter future on the horizon, but real, serious damage has already been incurred. The ripples of the messes created by our government and this administration will last decades and cost countless lives. And in this era, soldiering may become the most noble and notable profession of all time.

There may come a day when we no longer wonder whether or not to thank a serviceman for his patriotism. There may come a day when we wonder whether or not it is socially acceptable to get on our knees, and beg forgiveness for being too weak to take out all of the trash generated by the scum of the Earth.

By the way, I'm Alex. Thought I'd check out your journal.
Welcome. Be sure to check out my profile page for my policy on comments and discussion in the blog.
I hope I didn't offend anyone!
I don't think you did. I just like to let people know what kind of place this is....
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