Respect vs. pity

I have long observed this and written about it, that instead of honoring those who hold the military vocation in the traditional way–admiring their prowess in battle and celebrating their victories–today our culture’s support for our troops is expressed by feeling sorry for them.  Now this is getting on their nerves:

The troops are lavished with praise for their sacrifices. But the praise comes with a price, service members say. The public increasingly acts as if it feels sorry for those in uniform.

“We aren’t victims at all,” said Brig. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, who commanded troops in Iraq and will soon leave for Afghanistan. “But it seems that the only way that some can be supportive is to cast us in the role of hapless souls.”

The topic is a sensitive one for military leaders, who do not want to appear ungrateful or at odds with the public they serve. They also realize that the anger that returning troops faced in the latter years of the Vietnam War was far worse.

As a result, most of the conversations about pity take place quietly and privately among combat veterans. . . .

The military’s unease springs, in part, from American indifference to the wars. Battlefield achievements are rarely singled out for praise by a country that has little familiarity with the military and sees little direct benefit from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“We, as a nation, no longer value military heroism in ways that were entirely common in World War II,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Instead, praise from politicians and the public focuses largely on the depth of a service member’s suffering. Troops are recognized for the number of tours they have endured, the number of friends they have lost or the extent of their injuries. . . .

Lower-ranking officers feel a similar frustration. “America has unwittingly accepted the idea that its warriors are victims,” Lt. Col. John Morris, a chaplain for the Minnesota Army National Guard, told the Rotary Club of St. Paul in August.

via Troops feel more pity than respect – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    I understand this, but even pity is far better than how the military was viewed by many in the late 19th Century. There are also plenty of words in this brief article snippet that indicate the military has decided to give itself its own perception of the troops that wasn’t around in those vaunted years of WWII. To wit – “America has unwittingly accepted the idea that its warriors are victims,” Lt. Col. John Morris, a chaplain for the Minnesota Army National Guard…

    Warriors? Really? That has got to be one of the most offensively un-American words one could use to refer to our troops. Using terms like “warriors” does bring up feelings of pity in me. Saying “warriors” indicates the troops aren’t there for wives, families and country – they’re there for the king, the lord, the war chief, who commands them at his whim to go out and fight for him.

    We believed in the heroism of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of WWII precisely because they were average, everyday, citizen-soldiers, not a nascent hired mercenary class. Citizen-soldiers have always been loved by their fellows since the days of Athens and Rome. A continual professional (often mercenary) military class of “warriors” generally has been loathed since Athens, or Rome, or Constantinople. There are exceptions – the French Foreign Legion is one.

    Military service is a good calling. Just don’t complain about people shifting their emotional response towards you, when you yourself have been shifting your own image.

  • SKPeterson

    I understand this, but even pity is far better than how the military was viewed by many in the late 19th Century. There are also plenty of words in this brief article snippet that indicate the military has decided to give itself its own perception of the troops that wasn’t around in those vaunted years of WWII. To wit – “America has unwittingly accepted the idea that its warriors are victims,” Lt. Col. John Morris, a chaplain for the Minnesota Army National Guard…

    Warriors? Really? That has got to be one of the most offensively un-American words one could use to refer to our troops. Using terms like “warriors” does bring up feelings of pity in me. Saying “warriors” indicates the troops aren’t there for wives, families and country – they’re there for the king, the lord, the war chief, who commands them at his whim to go out and fight for him.

    We believed in the heroism of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of WWII precisely because they were average, everyday, citizen-soldiers, not a nascent hired mercenary class. Citizen-soldiers have always been loved by their fellows since the days of Athens and Rome. A continual professional (often mercenary) military class of “warriors” generally has been loathed since Athens, or Rome, or Constantinople. There are exceptions – the French Foreign Legion is one.

    Military service is a good calling. Just don’t complain about people shifting their emotional response towards you, when you yourself have been shifting your own image.

  • Lou

    SK, “Warriors? Really? That has got to be one of the most offensively un-American words one could use to refer to our troops”

    Dude, that is what the Army calls its members. Every manual or regulation written since 9/11 changed “Soldier” to “Warrior”. Even the Soldier’s Creed is now called the Warrior Ethos.
    It may be offensive to civilian types, but the reality is that this is what they are called and what they call themselves.

    However, I think your point about the Citizen/Soldier definitely rings true 100% those who have served as members of the National Guard and Reserves.

    And I think it would be greatly worthwhile to have the debate over the historical connotations associated with “Warrior” over against “Soldier” and to reconsider our collective understanding and definition of those who have met the call to protect and serve. Rumsfeld and Cheney made the transition to Warrior a part of the transition from pre-9/11 to post-9/11. The top dogs in the Army also warrior as a rebranding of the new force transformation from old (heavy, slower, more tactical) to the new (light, agile, quick reaction, strategic) force. The Marines weren’t called Soldiers, they were Marines. And now the Army was trying to make themselves into a larger version of the marine corps, with a focus on the expeditionary and reactionary capabilities and elite personna that Marines have always enjoyed.

    All of this to say, that there is A LOT of history, thinking and background behind the Lt. Col’s usage of the term “Warrior”. He wasn’t being flippant or speaking in isolation. Thanks.

  • Lou

    SK, “Warriors? Really? That has got to be one of the most offensively un-American words one could use to refer to our troops”

    Dude, that is what the Army calls its members. Every manual or regulation written since 9/11 changed “Soldier” to “Warrior”. Even the Soldier’s Creed is now called the Warrior Ethos.
    It may be offensive to civilian types, but the reality is that this is what they are called and what they call themselves.

    However, I think your point about the Citizen/Soldier definitely rings true 100% those who have served as members of the National Guard and Reserves.

    And I think it would be greatly worthwhile to have the debate over the historical connotations associated with “Warrior” over against “Soldier” and to reconsider our collective understanding and definition of those who have met the call to protect and serve. Rumsfeld and Cheney made the transition to Warrior a part of the transition from pre-9/11 to post-9/11. The top dogs in the Army also warrior as a rebranding of the new force transformation from old (heavy, slower, more tactical) to the new (light, agile, quick reaction, strategic) force. The Marines weren’t called Soldiers, they were Marines. And now the Army was trying to make themselves into a larger version of the marine corps, with a focus on the expeditionary and reactionary capabilities and elite personna that Marines have always enjoyed.

    All of this to say, that there is A LOT of history, thinking and background behind the Lt. Col’s usage of the term “Warrior”. He wasn’t being flippant or speaking in isolation. Thanks.

  • Lou

    One more thing… the mainstream liberal media will never understand the honor and the call of the professional Soldier/Warrior. The best they can do in the worldview is to “pity” them.
    The rest of us can continue work hard to honor our veterans and understand what they have truly accomplished – in the face of the liberals.

  • Lou

    One more thing… the mainstream liberal media will never understand the honor and the call of the professional Soldier/Warrior. The best they can do in the worldview is to “pity” them.
    The rest of us can continue work hard to honor our veterans and understand what they have truly accomplished – in the face of the liberals.

  • Michael B.

    Unless one is just very ignorant or lacks the ability to empathize, how can one not pity most of the members of our military? Let’s just go through the reasons: Consider how stressful war must be on family life. Imagine a father who works long hours and only sees his family a few hours each week. That would strain relationships, but then imagine if the father is gone for months at a time. Also, consider the physical health problems. A military member who is wounded will often experience life-long health problems. And this is to say nothing of the psychological health problems, of which Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is only the beginning. Some people actually think that a guy who has being shot at and has had to kill others will be able to just magically start being an office worker or dad. Then, there is your career. The military forces enlisted men to leave after a certain number of years of service in most cases. Basically a form of forced layoffs. Then many former soldiers report trouble getting a job afterwards, and the government has had to offer incentives to hire former solders. There’s also the dreadful pay. You make more per-hour working as a cashier in a dollar store than a Private First Class. There’s also doubt about one’s cause. In movies, it’s always good vs. evil, but in real life, lines are not that simple. The soldiers are on the other side are often just as sincere, and one would probably be on the other side were it not for the accident of one’s place of birth. So how can one not pity their situation?

  • Michael B.

    Unless one is just very ignorant or lacks the ability to empathize, how can one not pity most of the members of our military? Let’s just go through the reasons: Consider how stressful war must be on family life. Imagine a father who works long hours and only sees his family a few hours each week. That would strain relationships, but then imagine if the father is gone for months at a time. Also, consider the physical health problems. A military member who is wounded will often experience life-long health problems. And this is to say nothing of the psychological health problems, of which Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is only the beginning. Some people actually think that a guy who has being shot at and has had to kill others will be able to just magically start being an office worker or dad. Then, there is your career. The military forces enlisted men to leave after a certain number of years of service in most cases. Basically a form of forced layoffs. Then many former soldiers report trouble getting a job afterwards, and the government has had to offer incentives to hire former solders. There’s also the dreadful pay. You make more per-hour working as a cashier in a dollar store than a Private First Class. There’s also doubt about one’s cause. In movies, it’s always good vs. evil, but in real life, lines are not that simple. The soldiers are on the other side are often just as sincere, and one would probably be on the other side were it not for the accident of one’s place of birth. So how can one not pity their situation?

  • Michael B.

    @Lou@3

    “The rest of us can continue work hard to honor our veterans and understand what they have truly accomplished – in the face of the liberals.”

    That is, we’ll honor them unless they’re a gay soldier. In which case if they tell the wrong person, they should be discharged.

  • Michael B.

    @Lou@3

    “The rest of us can continue work hard to honor our veterans and understand what they have truly accomplished – in the face of the liberals.”

    That is, we’ll honor them unless they’re a gay soldier. In which case if they tell the wrong person, they should be discharged.

  • SKPeterson

    Lou,

    You actually bolstered my argument. This increase in pity upon the modern soldier has coincided almost exactly with the transition from soldier to “warrior.” I know the Col. wasn’t being flippant; what I’m saying is that redefining the terms of how we refer to our military servicemen is complemented by a concomitant redefinition of our emotional response to those servicemen. And not in the direction the Army desires.

    You key also on another related development – the usurpation by the Army of the function and role of the USMC. The Marines are what we have always had as our “warriors.” But, we called them what they are: Marines. A small, compact, light and ready to fight force. Perhaps the important word in that description is ‘small’. Marines gained their respect from the general public by being a small outfit. Now, as you say, the Army is transforming itself post-9/11. The Marines never had anyone pity them. The Few. The Proud. The Marines. Americans rightly buy into that. But, when the citizen-soldier Army decides to ape the Corps, people rightly begin to pity the poor guys in the Army. I never pity the Navy or Air Force. The Navy because they’re viewed much as the Marines, and the Air Force because they generally don’t have to march everywhere. I do pity the poor Coasties, though. They get no respect and justly deserve far more.

    Part of my misgivings as well are the increasing militarization of our domestic police forces. Automatic weapons, tanks, body armor, and camouflage are now “necessary” police equipment, the rule rather than the very rare exception. Soon, these too, will be redefined as “warriors.” But, no, no pity for them; I had far more respect for the officers of the law I knew as a child. Kind, friendly, only lightly armed, one of them could usually control a crowd, make an arrest, and respond to an emergency, without pulling his gun, resorting to a tazer or even a night stick, and never had to call in a 4-car backup for a routine traffic stop.

  • SKPeterson

    Lou,

    You actually bolstered my argument. This increase in pity upon the modern soldier has coincided almost exactly with the transition from soldier to “warrior.” I know the Col. wasn’t being flippant; what I’m saying is that redefining the terms of how we refer to our military servicemen is complemented by a concomitant redefinition of our emotional response to those servicemen. And not in the direction the Army desires.

    You key also on another related development – the usurpation by the Army of the function and role of the USMC. The Marines are what we have always had as our “warriors.” But, we called them what they are: Marines. A small, compact, light and ready to fight force. Perhaps the important word in that description is ‘small’. Marines gained their respect from the general public by being a small outfit. Now, as you say, the Army is transforming itself post-9/11. The Marines never had anyone pity them. The Few. The Proud. The Marines. Americans rightly buy into that. But, when the citizen-soldier Army decides to ape the Corps, people rightly begin to pity the poor guys in the Army. I never pity the Navy or Air Force. The Navy because they’re viewed much as the Marines, and the Air Force because they generally don’t have to march everywhere. I do pity the poor Coasties, though. They get no respect and justly deserve far more.

    Part of my misgivings as well are the increasing militarization of our domestic police forces. Automatic weapons, tanks, body armor, and camouflage are now “necessary” police equipment, the rule rather than the very rare exception. Soon, these too, will be redefined as “warriors.” But, no, no pity for them; I had far more respect for the officers of the law I knew as a child. Kind, friendly, only lightly armed, one of them could usually control a crowd, make an arrest, and respond to an emergency, without pulling his gun, resorting to a tazer or even a night stick, and never had to call in a 4-car backup for a routine traffic stop.

  • kerner

    A few random thoughts.

    I believe that the concept of a volunteer military has generally been for the best, but it has contributed to the development of a quasi-military class. Military people think of themselves as different from the rest of us…we’re civilians; we wouldn’t understand. And there is something to that. Maybe we wouldn’t understand completely. On the other hand, I think we civilians are capable of understanding things like duty and honor (ethics) and self sacrafice. But our civilian institutions don’t teach these like they used to.

    I think civilians “pity” the military because they have lost their ability to understand why anyone would do something difficult or dangerous or painful for something greater than themselves. Gee, Michael B. I guess if you don’t understand why someone would put the strains on their other relationships and personal mental health to do what military people do, I guess you would pity them. Except they choose to do those things. Which is not to say that the military ethos completely counteracts the other character of the military that we often forget. It is one huge government bureaucracy, and it carries that baggage with it.

    Of all the incarnations of the modern military I have observed in my family, I think the reserve/national guard system is the most positive. This system preserves the citizen/soldier ethos that SK wants to see. Full time military people in peace-time, even those who are just between deployments, are people trained for violence with too much time on their hands. For a lot of military people, at least in my anecdotal experience, they are better off using their down time going to school or pursuing a civilian vocation. It keeps them focused on who they are and what they fight for. Maybe that’s not true for everybody, but I think it’s true for the people I know.

  • kerner

    A few random thoughts.

    I believe that the concept of a volunteer military has generally been for the best, but it has contributed to the development of a quasi-military class. Military people think of themselves as different from the rest of us…we’re civilians; we wouldn’t understand. And there is something to that. Maybe we wouldn’t understand completely. On the other hand, I think we civilians are capable of understanding things like duty and honor (ethics) and self sacrafice. But our civilian institutions don’t teach these like they used to.

    I think civilians “pity” the military because they have lost their ability to understand why anyone would do something difficult or dangerous or painful for something greater than themselves. Gee, Michael B. I guess if you don’t understand why someone would put the strains on their other relationships and personal mental health to do what military people do, I guess you would pity them. Except they choose to do those things. Which is not to say that the military ethos completely counteracts the other character of the military that we often forget. It is one huge government bureaucracy, and it carries that baggage with it.

    Of all the incarnations of the modern military I have observed in my family, I think the reserve/national guard system is the most positive. This system preserves the citizen/soldier ethos that SK wants to see. Full time military people in peace-time, even those who are just between deployments, are people trained for violence with too much time on their hands. For a lot of military people, at least in my anecdotal experience, they are better off using their down time going to school or pursuing a civilian vocation. It keeps them focused on who they are and what they fight for. Maybe that’s not true for everybody, but I think it’s true for the people I know.

  • DonS

    It probably depends upon where you live, but here in conservative Orange County, I see genuine appreciation, not pity, for our military personnel and the sacrifices they willingly undertake on our behalf. Most of our local city councils and many of our local churches have adopted Marine units from adjacent Camp Pendleton, and there are regular acts of appreciation and care for the Marines and their families.

    I’m guessing the expressions of pity are in bluer areas where there is a different paradigm in play — the U.S. is an imperial force for evil and even exploits its young people by somehow victimizing them and forcing them to join the military, because they would never do such a thing if they had not somehow been manipulated … whatever.

  • DonS

    It probably depends upon where you live, but here in conservative Orange County, I see genuine appreciation, not pity, for our military personnel and the sacrifices they willingly undertake on our behalf. Most of our local city councils and many of our local churches have adopted Marine units from adjacent Camp Pendleton, and there are regular acts of appreciation and care for the Marines and their families.

    I’m guessing the expressions of pity are in bluer areas where there is a different paradigm in play — the U.S. is an imperial force for evil and even exploits its young people by somehow victimizing them and forcing them to join the military, because they would never do such a thing if they had not somehow been manipulated … whatever.

  • Michael B.

    Why do pity and respect have to be mutually exclusive?

  • Michael B.

    Why do pity and respect have to be mutually exclusive?


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