Friday, January 2, 2015
Thank You For Your Service!
It's been a remarkable turn of events. The other evening I was watching the news, CNN I think it was, when just before an anchor began an interview with a police officer concerning the New York City matters, she said to him "Thank you for your service."
I was a bit stunned to hear that line which became popular when military veterans began to return from serving in first Afghanistan and later Iraq. It became de rigueur for folks to begin any conversation with any vet with that pro forma line, as if to suggest they didn't realize how much their time effort was respected. I suspect that in the afterglow of the 9-11 attacks when all things military became shiny again after decades of suffering a motley reputation, that in order to distance the new way forward from the bad old days of Vietnam when vets were indeed disrespected, a phrase was instituted to suggest these were not those times. But like lapel flags the lines quickly lost their deeper meaning and sounded increasingly hollow as they were repeated time and time again.
One vet discussed this with me and said that he didn't really like the line. He understood why folks said it, and appreciated the sentiment but felt it was misplaced. People didn't really serve in the military to do anyone a favor for which they should be thanked particularly but served because they felt a duty needed to be fulfilled. I got the impression he felt the line allowed folks to shift off their own responsibility with a callow phrase much like some folks throw a dollar at a beggar to make ourselves feel better less than to truly help a needy fellow citizen.
I'm conflicted on the matter, but I see both sides...at least in terms of military service.
But to say that to a police officer is a step too far for me. It suggests a mindset which sees cops as domestic soldiers holding at bay some dimly defined threat which is all too eager to ravage society. People complain properly that the police have become too much like the military and far less the men and woman who "protect and serve". That last part gets left off in many discussions.
Being what is commonly understood to be a law-abiding citizen my only interactions with the police are as distant adjudicators of my driving habits and guys I line up behind in the local gas-and-shop store. They are friendly enough, but then I'm a white guy living in an overwhelmingly white community. I'm as dull as dishwater in my daily habits and unlikely to draw attention, good or ill from the local constabulary.
But I know it's not the same for everyone. Being black or hispanic in my community is a challenge, because everyone stops and takes notice since so few darker faces are among the rank and file. No one is actively rude or openly hostile, but it's all too plain that underneath there is an awareness of difference. That's a shame, but it's a reality.
So when the mayor of New York City says something which no one actually thinks is untrue, that his black son should be wary when interacting with the police, I am awestruck that folks choose (and I mean "choose") to get offended on the behalf of the police. Particularly those on the right of the political spectrum who somehow feel that to not always support the police in every matter is to actively undermine them in all matters. It's foolish thinking.
I also note that of all the unions in the United States apparently the only good ones are the police unions. Public unions are the ruination of one metropolis after another according to some right-wing pundits, but apparently the police unions get a pass, not unlike the military when it comes to the federal government. The right has succeeded, after long decades of alienating the people from their government which serves them, making of it an enemy, but always set aside for special consideration is the military. Curious that distinction, and troubling.
We are a society which is in danger of ignoring our responsibility to govern ourselves and support the institutions set up to make that possible, but to do so always with a keen eye to making them better, more effective, more efficient, and more responsive. That includes all aspects of government, including the military on the federal front and the police on the local and state levels.
Thank them for their service indeed, but see to it that they serve as they ought.