Please don't thank me for my service
The last few years have been marked with overwhelming public pronouncements of “Thank you for your service.” Thank you is an ending to a discussion.
Thank you — for what? If you want to thank me, spend a few hours with me discussing your reasons and my response. If you do that I will accept your thank you. I also suspect you may change your mind.
Would a reasonable person thank me for violating the law? Or, thank you for willfully committing acts in direct violation of society’s and your own moral code of ethics? When a person gives me their token and naive “thank you,” they are thanking me for breaking the law and the moral code I was raised to believe as sacred to my core as a human and member of society. The thank you is, for the majority, coming from people who have no clue what wartime service involves.
When a select few of us graduated from a six-month special intelligence school in 1965, our graduation ceremony was in secret. The commanding general issued a warning that we possessed the knowledge to drive any police force in the world crazy. The authorized use of military force gave us a get-out-of-jail-free card to break the law in the name of God and country.
Thanking me for my service asks me to accept a gift, and glory for violating the law and my own moral code. That is cognitive dissonance to the max.
Some compare war traumas with civilian traumas. This is half true. In civilian-world violations there are clear-cut perpetrators and victims. True, victims often blame themselves. In war, however, you are both the perpetrator and the victim at the same time. We are the person being raped and the rapist.
There is no way to explain this to a stranger at a Veterans Day parade. Better to not go than to tell someone to kiss off for a mindless “thank you.” Or, go away depressed and angry with no outlet for the bottled-up emotions.
For me, war was/is a moral wound. The “S” in PTSD should be change to “soul”: Post Traumatic Soul Disorder. I don’t think I am ever going to be ready for a parade and a hollow “thank you” from some leaders that want to send more of us into the cauldron of war. And yes, I am conflicted, because I know we need a military.
Think for a moment about our response to a justified police killing of a criminal. The shooter is temporarily relieved from duty, given all kinds of support and society acknowledges the severity of the sacrifice. That is just the opposite of what is done in the military. I was told, “If we wanted you to have feelings we would issue them to you.”
Finally there are, for me, the insane tributes to the military men and women “Who gave their lives ” Nobody gave their life like a church-service offering. Life was torn from them in horrible ways and their future denied. We say a policeman “Lost” their life when killed in the line of duty. To say some 19-year-old “gave” his or her life and forfeited their future may make you civilians feel better. It doesn’t make me feel better. In fact, just the opposite.
Let me make it clear. I want no sympathy, don’t you dare saddle me with that. I am not a victim. I am a loved and loving survivor. Do not try to take me down with your misguided and potentially deadly concern that treats me like a crippled soul. If I harbor any doubt or guilt it would be from not having the courage to not go to Vietnam.
I have come to know that I served with bravery and honor in a war that for many of us had no honor. I am at peace with my decision to not march in, or attend, military-centered parades and ceremonies for any reason, with one exception. That exception is burial ceremonies. My participation in parades and other such events will not be used to send another young version of me to another war of choice.
Larry Slessler lives in Medford.