You’re not honoring those who served when you bludgeon those who didn’t

One of the most impressive things I saw at yesterday’s Royal Oak Memorial Day Parade was a group of young servicemen, all in full dress uniform, marching down Main Street with a sense of devotion and purpose. Not a single one of them looked as old as 30, and all gave off a clear air of earnestness about service to their country.

Angie remarked, and I agreed, that it was good to see so many young people with a spirit like that. We both agreed about that.

And as I pondered how much I respected these young people and the commitment they showed, I have to admit I experienced something that made me wince.

I’m sure you’ve seen this, either in online debates or in real-life discussions. The subject of the military comes up, and for one reason or another, one combatant looks at another and says something that ends with: “Oh yeah, well then why didn’t you serve?”

Speak in favor of a military operation, you’ll get it. Express an opinion about defense spending, you’ll get it. Say something about the nature of military service – the discipline, the regimentation, the uniforms, for or against scarcely matters – and you can be sure someone will try to tear down your credibility simply by hanging your own lack of military service around your neck.

Some people are very sensitive about their own lack of military service. They explain that they would have served but for a bad back. Or they tell you about how they would have served had they had more focus and direction at that point in their lives. Or they lament that they were focused on certain other goals at the time and that they wish they had found a way to find military service into their priorities.

Stop. You do not need to do that.

Military service is an honorable thing. I’d say it’s an extraordinary thing. We should honor and respect those who do it.

What we should not do is use military service to separate the worthy from the unworthy. If not serving makes you dishonorable, then what you’re really saying is that service is a minimum requirement for you to be considered a good citizen – and if that’s the case then there’s really no claim to honor you can attach to it. Service isn’t extraordinary if you have to do it just to rise above contempt.

People who don’t choose to serve don’t have to explain themselves. We all have different callings in life, and each of us has an obligation to God and to those around us to make the most positive impact we can based on what we do. A college student or an auto mechanic or an investment banker can make a positive impact on people by doing whatever it is he or she does. It may not involve as much risk to life and limb as serving in the military, but that doesn’t mean you should apologize or be ashamed for choosing it.

One of the most obnoxious applications of this is the one that lambastes supporters of military operations for being “chickenhawks.” You’re all rah rah war, but I don’t see you signing up!

Think about the logic of that. If you couldn’t support an operation of the military without signing up, then there would be no able-bodied civilians supporting any war effort. You’d have to either join up or march around waving peace signs. And believe me, the military neither wants nor needs people who sign up out of guilt or compulsory obligation.

The one place you rarely hear this guilt trip is from present or former members of the military themselves. Occasionally you’ll get one who seems to think he can use his service to establish that he’s a more virtuous person than others, or more deserving of favor because he served. But most simply appreciate your thanks and respect, and don’t claim to be better people than you because they served and you didn’t. They know they need support from the home front, and they’re glad to have it.

I guess we simply live in an age when some people have to turn everything into a bludgeon against others, and that includes the simple respect we afford members of the Armed Forces. That’s too bad, because giving them respect and honor seems like one thing we should be able to do without turning it into a pissing match with each other.

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