“Don’t thank me for my service:” the sentiment has almost become almost axiomatic to a sizeable minority of veterans. It is so widespread that we’ve even posted an article or two about it right here on The Havok Journal. And now, it appears that the “don’t thank me” crowd might be about to get their wish.
In the last couple of years, trust in the U.S. military has declined precipitously in at least one major poll dropping a whopping 14% in the last three years alone. While a drop of 70% to 54% is concerning, that lower figure still represents the highest level of confidence in any American institution. Confidence in law enforcement, the Supreme Court, and the news media is also on a three-year downtrend, while institutions like public schools, and, rather surprisingly, Congress, are both gaining.
Source: Reagan Foundation
Even though confidence in the military is still high compared to every other major institution in the U.S.—and even nearly as much as Congress, the media, and the Presidency combined—the decline in trust in the military, which considers trust its bedrock principle, is deeply concerning.
There are many possible reasons for the drop in confidence in the US military, including a pair of lengthy and lost (or at least losing) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Capitol Hill incident, and the general political malaise gripping the US. But I think a part of it also comes from us veterans. From “don’t thank me” to the “dysfunctional veteran” lifestyle to blaming any kind of bad behavior or poor life choices on PTSD, I think we own part of the decline that our fellow citizens have in us as an institution.
While the issues of “dysfunctional veterans” and “blame-the-PTSD” have been well covered in The Havok Journal, I wanted to take a moment to offer a personal opinion on “don’t thank me for my service.” While I understand the rationale, I don’t agree with it. When someone comes up to me and offers some variation of “thank you for your service,” I never think that they mean it to me personally. After all, I have never done anything special or particularly noteworthy. And I don’t do it for this for the public accolades. When someone makes those kinds of remarks, I think that they are expressing gratitude for the concept of military service, for the unlimited liability we assume when we raise our right hands and swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. That type of service is, in my opinion, worth acknowledging.
Trust is hard to win and easy to lose, and the consequences of America losing trust in its military would be extreme, both for the military specifically and for the country in general. Tearing down the Veteran Community from the inside by adopting a “dysfunctional” lifestyle or rejecting well-meaning sentiment will further erode trust and confidence. It’s not going to take long for calls to “defund the police” to morph into “disband the military.” Trust is fragile, and the support of average American citizens cannot be taken for granted. Any Viet Nam War veteran can probably better explain that than I can.
So, fellow veterans, I suggest we be careful telling civilians “don’t thank me,” because however you feel about the phrase and the sentiment behind it, having the American people feel the opposite way about us would be infinitely worse.
America is right to be proud of its military, even with all of its faults. The military is one of the few genuine melting pots left in the United States, and one of the few things in which the American people can find shared appreciation and common cause. People need role models. They need someone to look up to. They need heroes. Instead of putting their emotional support behind demagogues, sports stars, or entertainment celebrities, it seems like putting it behind a service profession like the military is a good thing. Institutions across America are under attack and are crumbling. We veterans don’t need to help it along.
To my fellow veterans who subscribe to “don’t thank me,” I would simply offer that we should be careful what we wish for because it is already on the road to becoming true.
DISCLAIMER: Charles Faint is an active duty U.S. Army officer. His views here do not reflect an official position of the US Government or any other organization or person.