The epitome of awkward

Elizabeth Samet, West Point’s Professor of English, had a thoughtful op-ed (read the whole thing) on Bloomberg yesterday that convinced me it is time to return to the blog after an inexcusably long hiatus (thanks to everyone else on KoW for keeping it real). Samet captures the ritualistic dynamic of the American civilian-soldier interaction perfectly:

…today, a woman or man in military uniform dining in a restaurant, sitting on a bench in Central Park or walking up Broadway constitutes a spectacle. I have witnessed this firsthand whenever one of my military colleagues and I have taken West Point cadets to the city to attend a performance or to visit a library or museum. My civilian clothes provide camouflage as I watch my uniformed friends bombarded by gratitude.

These meetings between soldier and civilian turn quickly into street theater. The soldier is recognized with a handshake. There’s often a request for a photograph or the tracing of a six-degrees-of-separation genealogy: “My wife’s second cousin is married to a guy in the 82nd Airborne.” Each encounter concludes with a ritual utterance: “Thank you for your service.”

I had almost forgotten the awkwardness I felt every time I went through one of these encounters after two years in London, when the only time I donned my uniform was a graduation dinner at Sandhurst at which I was a guest.  Then I went returned to my day job in uniform post-PhD and was thrown violently back into the maelstrom of American culture with my compatriots’ unnerving willingness to talk to perfect strangers so unthinkable on the Tube or in Heathrow.

I have yet to figure out the “appropriate” response to the “thank you for your service” refrain and I fear I live up to the title of this post. I am admittedly surprised to hear it personally as much as I do, living so close to an Army post where I’m hardly novel. I can understand it somewhat better in major airports where service members in combat fatigues are clearly returning from Iraq or Afghanistan on mid-tour leave, but at a convenience store within 15 minutes’ drive of the front gate? It makes me wonder just how wide the civil-military gap has become, if even those civilians right outside the post do not relate to those of us on the other side of the fence (or we to them). Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t want to be ungrateful for some degree of appreciation for what I have chosen to do in my career. Words, however heartfelt, though, come across as meaningless when divorced from the political process that results in our deployments (the yellow ribbons on cars at the height of the Iraq war bothered me far more…). I would much rather have a more engaged electorate than a random handshake and “thank you.” Am I being unrealistic in my hopes?

So with this random bit of musing, let me open it up to the readership in the comments section. Is there an appropriate response to this awkward, if well-intended, exchange? Or, is Samet right in her conclusion:

If our theater of gratitude provoked introspection or led to a substantive dialogue between giver and recipient, I would celebrate it. But having witnessed these bizarre, fleeting scenes, I have come to believe that they are a poor substitute for something more difficult and painful — a conversation about what war does to the people who serve and to the people who don’t. There are contradictions inherent in being, as many Americans claim to be, for the troops but against the war. Most fail to consider the social responsibilities such a stance commits them to fulfilling in the coming decades.


38 thoughts on “The epitome of awkward

  1. Mike Lyons says:

    I didn’t see it the same way you did. Why does she assume everyone who comes up and says to a solider “Thank you for your service” they are only saying in because they feel guilty? That’s a cynical conclusion, and doesn’t give much credit to the one offering the greeting. People are grateful for your service, whether they know someone who is serving or not. They really are. They get it now. We learned this on the back of the Vietnam Vet, who she completely glosses over as being the reason why today we love our soldiers regardless of our feelings about the war. (Just a veiled reference to whether they were really spit on or not).

    Once I was home on leave in civilian clothes at a party in New York (not Kentucky where I was stationed) and someone asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a Lieutenant in the Army. Her response was “Oh, I didn’t think anyone did that anymore”. Do you think anyone today gets that response? Believe me, I wanted to say “your welcome”, but did not feel the need to go to her level.

    Additionally, West Point cadets are a completely different animal to the GAP (Great American Public) – they wear a different and more distinct traditional uniform. If I had a nickel for every time a stranger asked me if I knew a WP grad from 25 years before I graduated that they expected me to know, I would be a rich person. West Point Cadets have been going to NYC in uniform since mules were the official Army transport system and will attract a crowd where ever they go.

    The reality is the Civil-Military “Gap” is as CLOSE as it’s ever been, maybe as close as it can be. First, there are 5,000 members of the media who have been embedded with units since 2003. They have the names and email addresses of let’s say 100,000 service members in their cell phones and blackberries and vice versa. Soldiers have friends in the media. They are doing a great job writing about soldiers and what they are doing overseas and at home now more than ever, and that’s as it should be.

    If you yearn to have the GAP engage you in a spirited conversation or all of a sudden have more social responsibility, that’s a truly Pollyannaish. Her conclusion is truly pessimistic about the intent of the public – calling it a “theater of gratitude”? Frankly, I found her entire editorial bordering on self-aggrandizing about being in the military in the first place. Soldiers have much bigger things to worry about than spending more than a nanosecond thinking about this topic.

    Here’s the (golden) rule – when someone says “thank you for your service”, your response is “Thanks, and thanks for your support too”. There is no need to go into a deep dive over “the inherit contradiction of being for the troops and against the war”.

  2. When someone thanks me for my service, I take a quick breath and say thank you back to them.

    Yeah, it’s awkward. But the alternative sucks.

    • cincinnatusjr says:

      Having bitter and lasting memories of the alternative after 13 months in combat that sadly included the death or injury of 53% of my Marine rifle platoon and later company, I concur wholeheartedly.

  3. Rmart73 says:

    When I get the “thank you for your service” I always say “no need to thank me, I was just doing my job.” and if there is a vet from WWI/II Korea, Vietnam I say “go thank them, they went through alot more than I did.” I always get that awkward look as if they are wondering if they said something wrong. I think, some military members have actually grown to expect a thank you, as if the world owes them something for doing what they took an oath to do. I’ve seen that numerous times in my 15+ years of service.

  4. Total says:

    My issue with Samet’s article is that she assumes that she knows what people mean and assumes that they don’t understand any of the complexities. Why does she think that’s necessarily true?

  5. As mentioned in an earlier response in this blog, I recently wrote about this strange dichotomy – hate the war, not the warrior.

    I speculated that there may be an element of shame created by the treatment of Vietnam veterans, that is guiding current behaviors. If so, then we who served in the 60s and 70s should be
    consoled that we suffered those “slings and arrows” to some good purpose.

    How should someone currently in uniform respond when thanked for their service? Graciously. Smile and say, “It’s my honor.” That should do it. And, enjoy it while it lasts.

  6. Cinncinatusjr says:

    First let me point out the obvious that 2 polar choices are not the only possibility–as in my case a try to stay current in my knowledge of the larger policy issues involved in the use of military force, while at the same time expressing my appreciation to our current gereation of service people. I also acknowlege that my perspective is also colored forever and indelibly by the unjustly and undeserved didlsdainful treatment our citizens gave us returning veferans of the Vietnam war.

    More to the substantive aspect of your musing, I think a key aspect missed in your post, and largely “the answer” is the well-embedded principle in our Constitution and culture that civilians control the military. As such, even as one of the great unwashed offering heartfelt thanks to service personnel, this will not also entail a discussion of policy matters that are primarily, and in terms of go/no go decisions exclusively the provincr of civilian officials.

    The real point here is that in tterms of the one-on-one encounters of genuine thanks from an American to a member of our military what difference does it make if the person is or isn’t conversant to some standard we in the ivory tower set for sufficent knowledge of the policy issues of a given conflict to then allow an expression of thanks to the military member who must do the bidding of his or her civilian masters.

  7. morgan says:

    I am old enough to remember the reaction during the Vietnam War. It wasn’t “thank you for your service,” but being spit upon or taunted with venom as “baby killers,” etc. Today’s reaction is the exact opposite and a much better tone of civility.

  8. fjr says:

    It is too bad Elizabeth Samat has taken to analyzing sentiment expressed to service men and women by civilians. Does it make the “thank you” any less viable because it was expressed by a civilian who knows nothing of the dynamics of being a member of the armed forces? I am a student in classrooms where professors are mostly military (active and retired) with a mix of students that include civilian and service members. Most all of the professors thank their fellow service members (students) for their service. I am a civilian, I too thank them as I am most grateful for the sacrifice given on behalf of the rest of us who have chosen a different path. Does this make my thank you less valid and the professor’s greater? I think not.

    I believe the author has failed in this article by omitting interviews of the civilian side of things. Certainly no civilian can ever understand or identify with a service member nor do they profess to. There is a simple transaction occurring during these encounters that Samat has picked apart for what reason I cannot fathom. If an analysis of the interaction is to be made, I argue there should be inclusion of all members of the transaction and not just Samat’s narrow-minded assessment. As it stands, Samat refuses the expressions of gratitude believing they are a, “poor substitute for something more difficult and painful – a conversation about what war does to the people who serve and to the people who don’t.” This is not a setting for a conversation on what war does to anyone. As commenter Cary Reams at the Bloomberg comment section has pointed out, the process only lasts around 30 seconds. During this time the choice to express gratitude is always the optimal choice.

    Samat needs to inquire of more on both the military and civilian side before tossing out such a haphazard, negative opinion of this simple, positive dialog. If I could, I would order up a ticker tape parade for every service member I come in contact with because I am exuberantly, incredibly thankful for each and every service member’s time given no matter if I know what that entails – the simple fact they have become part of the security of my country, willingly leaving family, friends, and home to do so is more than enough for me to say, “thank you for your service”.

  9. Infanteer says:

    Civilian: “Thank you for your service”

    Me: “…and thank you for your support”.

    Pretty easy. If the civilian seems really interested and keen, I’ll throw in a “we can’t do it without you guys behind us”. They usually like that.

    Ain’t civility grand?

    • Michael says:

      I like it too… “Your Welcome” works too. That is what I always say. In the Navy we would say that you are “Nuking” this, as in Navy folk who go to Nuclear power school and analyze things far to deeply as a result. That is charitable.

      In reality Hyphen you are delving pretty close to an odd sort of self hatred— a bit like rich people whining about having too much money. Let me assure you that the Vietnam era vet that got spit on, was ostracized from his community, called a baby killer, and then was denied access to higher education or employment because he was a veteran would be eager to trade places with you. A wise man would be grateful and move on.

  10. Charles says:

    Good to hear you’re all receiving some form of gratitude, as I can’t say that I know anyone who has been thanked – I know I haven’t been, and the only time a civilian was excited to see me was a little boy in the back of his parents car waving like mad to me as I followed them in traffic in an ADF Land Rover. As others have pointed out, having grateful civilians may feel a little awkward, but the alternative could be worse.

  11. Peter says:

    It is a remarkably American pleasantry, and very nice for all of us foreigners that get caught up in it as well. However, to me it always feel like that Americans are saying that you could have focused on yourself, on making money, and on taking advantage of all those opportunities American business offers but instead you choose a (they assume less-well paid) life of public service and for that you are to be commended. A charming comment – that maybe doesn’t travel well to other societies built on different paradigms.

  12. Chirality says:

    Is this not just a slightly more subtle way of discussing the much debated civil-military gap – the difference in culture, norms and understanding – albeit at the personal level?

    Indeed do Elizabeth Samet’s comments not just confirm this gap (something of a necessity for the demarkation of civilian control of the military) but also act as a barometer on the current size of the gap?

    If the question is reduced to solely discussing “awkward thank you’s”, then maybe the current gap is of little significance? On the other hand is this just one small marker of a much larger issue?

    Also what of the difference between the situation in the U.S. and U.K. alluded to in this piece? Very different indeed.

  13. Richard7298 says:

    A person in uniform is serving the public — that’s me. They get paid less money. Their living conditions are not plush. They risk getting killed or maimed. That is sacrifice for the public good — again, that’s me. For my part, I have been there, US Army 1970-1976. I keep up with the events in the war and the military pay, benefits, equipment, funding, and policy. My oldest son graduated from college, is enlisted active duty and has deployed twice in combat roles. To me, “Thank you!” means, “I cannot do it any more. Thank You for doing what needs to be done and for making a sacrifice for your country, for me.” Does it have to be complicated? Isn’t that worth a beer or a meal or switching seats on an airplane? I do feel a little guilty, maybe someone will understand. In the early 70s I traveled through the Seattle airport in uniform. I have forgotten the exact words but I haven’t forgotten the volume, faces, or the spit. People who serve the public should NEVER be treated that way, even less people who sacrifice. Combat leaves a mark. I am trying to make sure that our military people will remember the gratitude of those who they served, not the insults.

  14. TJM says:

    I ETS’d in 2008, so it has been a while since I’ve been given the “thank you for your service” treatment.

    Often times when somebody thanked me, I had the impression that the person thanking me had no idea what they were thanking me for. When it was not clear what I was being thanked for, I did not know how to respond. My responses were usually as vague as the thank you: “No problem, I enjoy serving.” Something like that.

    Some people made it clear that they were thanking me for something that I was not doing, and would not do. For example, some thought that I was “killing ragheads” for the sake of killing a category of people wrongly perceived as a threat. Others thought that I was sacrificing a “better life” (whatever that is) for the hard slog of life in the Infantry (actually, I loved being an Infantry Officer).

    A small minority of people actually expressed sympathy that I “had to serve in Iraq.” They expressed this burden as “terrible” or “awful” or, my favorite, “criminal” (as in, “it’s just criminal that you boys are forced to go over there and get shot at”).

    Whenever somebody expressed the belief that I was being deployed against my will, I usually phrased my response in such a way to make it clear that they were mistaken. “Oh, I volunteered to go Iraq and hope to return there again if the conflict continues. It’s my pleasure my serve.”

    I’d estimate that about half expressed thanks for something specific enough, and appropriate enough, that I did not feel too awkward for kindly accepting their thank you. These usually were along the lines of, “I don’t know what it’s like over there, but I’m sure it’s dangerous, I’m sure your families are worried sick, and I’m confident you are doing everything you can to make the best of a bad situation and leave that place better than you found it. We’re proud of you for doing that. Thanks for your service.”

    • Ed (the real one) says:

      That is literally the opposite of the uniform’s purpose: it is so the wearer blends in with other wearers. That’s what “uniform” means.

  15. Ben001 says:

    How do folks feel about active duty personnel being invited first onto a commercial airplane flight? This happened at JFK a few weeks ago (American Airlines, and I think Delta was doing it too). I know AA meant it kindly but it seemed awkward. I don’t remember whether anyone took them up on the offer.

    • This topic has grown legs, hasn’t it? And, here I am again (third time I think) responding.

      I appreciate any little privilege afforded to service men and women. While driving to Las Vegas with my wife, we stopped for lunch and found some servicemen eating. I paid their tab and thanked them. Why?

      This nation was born in the crucible of war. In the two hundred odd years of its existence, it has been defended by people such as these. Our national anthem asks the question, “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave?” Yes it does thanks to its service men and women as well as the citizens who support them.

      Would I do the same for a civil servant? LOL – Of course, not. Government did not build this nation. If anything, it broke it.

      I have been both a civil servant and a service man. I expect no gratitude for my for formal and never received any for the latter (I’m a Vietnam Vet).

      There you have my answer.

  16. Mark R. says:

    I’ll preface this to say that I’ve never been in the military.

    Certainly this is a better thing than how troops in uniform were treated in the Vietnam days. But there is an underlying problem too in the “thank you for your service” encounters that is one really of ignorance.

    Going off on a bit of a tangent, I’ve had some dialogue with some “wounded warriors” who express both dismay and outrage at being called “heroes.” It’s the same type of thing really, but it goes a bit further. As one vet told me, “Hell, I signed up to escape a shotgun marriage I didn’t want at 18, got shipped to Iraq, my legs blown off by an IED, that doesn’t make me a hero by any means!”

    His outrage was based on the fact that he was there long enough to see real heroism, and felt as if this label put on him was a betrayal of the real heroes in combat.

    What if, say, an encounter went like this:
    Civilian: Thank you so much for your service.
    Soldier: Dude, I was given an option, jail or the Army, don’t be so naive.

    Or this:
    Soldier: It was the only way out of the shithole I was living in, sure didn’t know what I was getting into.

    I get that these encounters aren’t looked at in terms of they can’t be handled any other way than those expressed in the other posts. “Thank you for your support” and “You’re welcome” are fine responses to these short 30 second encounters…but if you seriously delve into what it means as far as outcomes down the line I sincerely believe that perhaps some of you vets might talk about and consider different responses than those.

    Otherwise, civilians remain ignorant and are able to think a shitload of thank yous absolve them from promoting change or helping the returning vets (and their families) with volunteer efforts in so many ways.

    Another response could be to carry around a brochure of your liking:
    Civiian: Thank you for your service.
    You: Appreciate that very much, but if you really want to thank me please consider helping with X cause.

    Could be assisting military families in many ways, could be helping with wounded vets, could be sending care packages to troops overseas, a wide array of things could be promoted to actually encourage more than just a “thank you.”

    • Charles says:

      Good point, I know I have helped other serving members while they were overseas by sending them food they simply couldn’t get there (and wouldn’t spoil if not refrigerated). Our mail service (Aus) allows up to 2kg parcels to be sent to servicemen overseas for free, and as far as I’m aware there is no limit to the number of these parcels you send – it’s a small contribution, but it could help maintain sanity.

    • corey says:

      You say you aren’t in the military. Were you even alive during vietnam? Did you ever witness any spitting on vets? Ever?

      Maybe it happened but there’s no footage of such disgraceful behavior and it sounds like pro war demonization of “dirty hippies who didn’t approve of vietnam”.

    • Richard7298 says:

      re: spitting — I did, first hand. I think that it was 1973 in the Seattle airport. They weren’t dirty hippies; mostly they were nice clean college students. Based on facial expressions, language, and spitting, soldiers were their enemy. I was traveling to a funeral and I had to have my uniform cleaned. The US is a pretty crazy country but our military pays in blood so we can choose our own future. Thank you for your sacrifices and thank you for standing up for us.

  17. Thomas Cardellino says:

    Too young then to be drafted, now 58-years-old, during the Viet Nam Draftee War my custom became to say “Thank you for your sacrifice” all the while having heard with utmost repugnance about the self-righteous “spitting” upon the returning soldiers by many of those lucky or conniving enough not to be drafted. It is of great importance to remember that predominant conscription then versus our recent conflicts’ volunteerism for the most part (remaining conscious of the vast variety of sociological reasons for “volunteering”) makes a notable difference with different interpersonal dynamics between civilian and military citizens. Back then for me, in a very personal way, witnessing the darkly obvious changes in the personalities of a few of my older brothers’ friends who had served in Viet Nam was soul shockingly sad. They left so young in spirit and body but returned so very much less vital. It was witnessing that vivid change as a younger teenager that started me questioning the original reasons (now known to be lies by Secretary McNamara’s own impotent admissions) for our military escalation in Viet Nam. With the first Nixon campaign’s promise to end the war remaining unfulfilled after four increasingly deadly years, I decided to actively protest that war on behalf of my fellow Americans’ seemingly besmirched sacrifices. Today, when I have the chance, I still greet both uniformed Service Members as well as all active duty as well as retired military, my fellow citizens, with the same phrase of “Thank you for your sacrifice.” From my merely anecdotal civilian perspective, I have encountered in recent years many folks who seem pleasantly surprised and genuinely grateful for my expression of thanks. Fortunately, there have been quite a few times when circumstances have allowed these great warriors enough time to speak more deeply about their lives and their service. I feel no need to selfishly use their scarce free time to hear about my civilian life’s angsts, hopes, empathies or misgivings about today’s wars. It is they who have agreed to curtail their civil liberties (an immediate sacrifice they take on) in order to fulfill their Constitutional oath to protect mine. However abused their sworn oaths are by the government they enduringly obey is a matter for another occasion in another form of interaction amongst the many types of citizens who show their love of the USA through their belief that America’s greatness always has been facilitated by our Constitution. In the end, amongst the vast majority of patriotic citizenry, the deadly gamble of putting your life on the line to defend that great document has differentiated many groups of patriots. It’s that differentiated sacrifice for which I am grateful.

    • Just a couple of observations here. First of all, I respect your decision to protest the war in Vietnam. I am firmly in agreement with President Eisenhower who said that “Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels — men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, we may never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” However, I disagree with some of your factual assertions: Vietnam was not the “Draftee War.” The rate of volunteers during the Vietnam Era was three times greater than during WWII (I was a volunteer – I joined the Army voluntarily and volunteered to serve in Vietnam, twice). Secondly, yes, young men (and women) returned from Vietnam carrying scars on their souls as well as their bodies as happens in all wars. Unfortunately, those scars were exacerbated by the treatment that they received when they returned. Lastly, you will have to clarify which “lies” you refer to. Most that I have heard of came from the protesters and the news media of that time. Indeed, my current mission is to write a novel exposing those lies and hopefully being a voice for their victims.

    • cincinnatusjr says:


      We share much in common regarding the Vietnam era except I was a Marine (force recon platoon leader first, 2d time a rifle company XO/CO until “shot out of my saddle.”)

      I had/have much disdain and worse for various sectors of our “society” for their behaviors during that halcyon (not!) era (among others, SDS, Weather Underground, Black Panthers, “flower children,” draft dodgers who did not accept the legal consequences of their “moral” (many had other more pedestrian motives) decisions, many in the “news” media who were anything but journalists (almost wholly this way today as the literal propaganda organ of our current progressivist Masters, elected and otherwise) and those who abused our military, especially those in uniform and obviously returning from combat, so shamefully here at home.

      After reading much of the now-declassified official record (from White House tape transcripts to the various revisionist and mea culpa books by “important” personages at the policy level of our government) I have added the officials of the several administrations involved in the “Big Lie” (whether or not they actually believed it at the time). I use the royal form of “Lie” in that I include spin, disinformation, negligent, reckless or wilful misinterpretation, obfuscation or failure to acquire the relevant information and data, and in some cases similar failures of senior uniformed officers in terms of providing competent and honest strategic and operational advice to their political masters.

      This is demonstrated beyond cavil by such things as the Gulf of Tonkin “incident,” the use of “body counts” as a (and for a time THE) metric of success in largely a COIN environment, manipulation of information to influence the American people to support already failed policies and strategies etc.

      As a consequence for me the worst part of it ALL is the never-fading memory of young men who volunteers (I was fortunate to be in a service and specialty that necessarily meant I only dealt with volunteers, even our corpsmen who, while they may have been “drafted” (actually or virtually), had to volunteer for recon duty.

      I applaud and encourage you in your novel writing as I agree that, just as we are now seeing in the “race” riots in the UK as well as almost every major civil disturbance in Western nations since Vietnam, many (if not most) of the participants are hardly driven by conscience and principle to air their grievances through peaceful protest or if they are they are then crassly manipulated by cadres of others with far different agendas.

    • cincinnatusjr says:

      Substitute the following for the second to last paragraph as the memories raised caused me to lose track of my point–

      As a consequence for me the worst part of it ALL is the never-fading memory of young men who volunteered (I was fortunate to be in a service and specialty that necessarily meant I only dealt with volunteers, even our corpsmen who, while they may have been “drafted” (actually or virtually), had to volunteer for recon duty) knowing that for all practical purposes they were going to Vietnam, and not “just” for a year but for 13 months (the 13th being for most a horrible eternity). The most painful of these memories are of the 22 Marines and 2 Navy Corpsmen whose young lives were taken under my leadership and responsibility.

  18. Not many people would say this. Youve got some guts. I will say this, though. If you dont want to alienate any readers, youre gonna have to stop generalising so much. Perhaps you should try seeing both sides of this issue instead of assuming that yours is the only valid opinion. Id still read it, I like the way you write. But I can tell some people getting upset.

  19. I joined the Army shortly before 9/11. After finishing initial entry training about 5 weeks after the attacks I was in uniform at the airport in Atlanta on my way to my next duty station when a man I had never met came up to me and asked if he could shake my hand. In short order I was surrounded by people who wanted to express their gratitude for my “service.” It was one of the most humbling, and awkward experiences of my life. In my mind I had done absolutely nothing to justify the attention.
    These exchanges can be awkward for service members, but most of us get used to it. As some of the other commenters pointed out, when uniformed service members are in public they are acting as ambassadors for the larger military community. While the gratitude of a stranger may be unjustified as to the individual service member it would be wrong to discount it is insincere or self-serving. Military members should welcome these encounters and treat them as opportunities to help build points of person interface with the civilian communities they serve.
    Thanks for an interesting and timely article. Here is a link to a blog that covers civil-military relations and compiles resources from around the web on the issue.

  20. From a civilian perspective, it is a gap between those in the military and those outside it. But I think we forget that the two are part of one society and we drift further apart with each conflict. What comes across in these posts is, almost an anger at civilians just for ‘being civilians’. Samet’s comment touches on that a bit, at least it’s honest.

  21. Captain P says:

    Agree about the civil-military gap…but not sure that the awkwardness is avoidable or even a bad thing. Agree about a more engaged electorate…but I’m not sure that someone thanking you for your service and being more informed are mutually exclusive.

    As for Dr. S, her article conflates an awkward exchange as “street theater.” She goes on to make some even bigger assumptions about post-Vietnam guilt. I find that conflation much more uncomfortable than the fumbling exchange between civilian and Soldier.

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