Here's a way to support our troops
Monday, May 23, 2005
WE ALL SUPPORT the troops, or so claim the forest of bumper stickers, yard signs, and even placards at demonstrations in defense of or against the war in Iraq. But in conducting interviews with veterans for a book on war leadership, I've noted a degree of wariness and cynicism about the chorus of praise for our soldiers, marines, flyers, and sailors.
One Vietnam vet said, "You watch: Another year, and people will be spitting on Marines at the airport." A World War II vet noted, "Putting up a yellow-ribbon yard sign is easy, but what are we really doing to support the troops?"
As a student of the way society views the military, I'm uncertain, too. Politicians, generals, and bureaucrats debate over compensation packages and death benefits for servicemen and women, and we should encourage our leaders to be as generous as possible. But something more is needed: personal gratitude expressed in small, everyday acts of support.
Call it "treat the troops." And it should not become a big institutionalized social movement, just something all of us do once in while.
I started my campaign two months ago when I was in a local toy store. A young man in an Army uniform was shopping for some toy cars, presumably for his kids. As he stepped up to the counter, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Let me take care of that."
He blinked. I asked the clerk to put his purchases on my bill. I shook the young man's hand and told him, "Thanks for serving your country."
We exchanged a few pleasantries and he left, Hot Wheels in hand. That was it. No big deal - or big cost. Just a token of thanks.
Later, at a restaurant near my campus, I saw a young man in an ROTC uniform eating lunch with a young lady. I pointed them out to my waiter and said, "Put their ticket on my bill." Leaving, the young man stopped to thank me. I shrugged. "No problem. Thank you for volunteering to serve your country."
So far my "treat the troops" campaign has cost me about $40. I have no elaborate plans, nor any set budget; I want to be spur-of-the-moment. Frankly, it's more fun that way.
Certainly, America treats its servicemen and women and veterans better probably than any armed forces in history. Military medical care, in the field and at home, is superb. But support must come from the bottom, not just from Washington or from established organizations. There's evidence from the past that, in raising the morale of armies, little things do count a lot. Great war commanders such as Napoleon were famous for using their prodigious memories to single out individual men with personal conversation and compliments. Military leadership, in human resources terms, is the art of making every member of the unit feel you care about him or her personally.
In a democracy, however, the morale of men and women in uniform is the people's responsibility, too - whatever one's feelings about this particular war. So, go ahead, treat the troops. Do it in shops, movie theaters, restaurants, and dry cleaners. Do it modestly, without ostentation; don't demand or expect effusive thanks. Imagine the effect if millions of Americans expressed their gratitude with a little cash and kindness. That would show we support the troops better than any yard sign or bumper sticker.
David D. Perlmutter is an associate professor at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU and a senior fellow at the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs. He is the author of "Visions of War." This appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. Send comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(2) Gerald F. Merna's comments:
Sir or Madam:
I don't know if I'm writing to the author of this excellent piece by David D. Perlmutter or someone else, but regardless, it is right on target and I only hope it resonates with a whole lot of folks.
As a two-war
Military support is not shown by a bumper sticker or a flag, but it helps, and is a good first start. But I'm afraid there's only about 30% of our Country that truly supports not only our troops, but our Country as well. Most go about their business considering the "war" an "interruption" of their daily routines, complaining about gas prices while they buy bigger cars, ignoring news about the war to watch American Idol, etc.
The Media is part to blame--hyping everything unimportant, and underplaying what really is. If I had a nickel for every "Fox Alert" about some mundane, stupid, idiotic story, I'd retire rich! Then when they do have a good, interesting discussion going with some folks who really know what they're talking about, not only can you see the impatience on the face of the so-called "interviewer,"glancing at his or her watch, but then the idiotic words come out "We only have 10 seconds so tell me how we can win this war?" as they "break" to watch the arrival of Michael Jackson in court "live" on TV, for the 56th day in a row??? The media's reckless publishing of so-called “scandal” photos and such which absolutely will result in the loss of life for some of those very servicemen fighting overseas they allegedly “support” is then justified as "pure Journalism" or the "people's right to know!" I'm one of those "people" and I DON'T WANT TO KNOW!
Unlike a lot of others, I personally feel we have too darn many rights in this country, just like we have too many models of cars, refrigerators and beer! And a whole lot of other "too many's!"
The Press is not a religious institution, but wants to be treated like one. Oh for the days of World War II when we truly believed “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” The enemy doesn’t need an intelligence force, all they have to do is subscribe to our military magazines, newspapers, and watch TV where we not only tell them everything we’re going to do, but then put "military analysts" on the air to tell them how, when and where we're going to do it! And this "supports" our troops?
And our Federal Government refuses to enforce our immigration laws and police the borders of our country to prevent future 9/11’s! And why? Because they want that vote! All of this directly relates to supporting our troops. Why should they give their lives or limbs in a far-away place only to come home and face threats from within?
My wife and I have
done some of the same things for military folks suggested in Mr.
Perlmutter’s article, and know the great satisfaction received by
both parties of which he speaks. We also try to
engage some in conversation, including parents and spouses, to let them know
"we know!" I also wish everyone could read some of
the letters from “Military Moms” that we do fin a weekly military
newsletter we receive. That’s the real
God Bless America, Our Troops, and the families and friends of all of them. And you, Mr. Perlmutter, for trying to shake up some of the building lethargy out there amongst us!
Gerald F. (Jerry) Merna
Potomac Falls, VA
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