What Not to Say to a Veteran

In the run-up to this Veterans Day, David Barno and Nora Bensahel have prepared the memo “How to Talk to a Veteran” at War on the Rocks. Under the heading Questions to Avoid, No. 4 is “I almost joined the military, but . . .”

This statement, with its infinite variations, annoys me even more than questions 1, 2 and 3, which arise from ghoulish curiosity. I’ve heard it countless times, although never in response to any querying from me. The speaker recounts his firm intention to become an elite warrior, only to be derailed by a minor physical indisposition.  This usually is followed by the assertion that any lesser form of service would have been unworthy of him. “I was going to become an Army Ranger, (Special Forces, Navy Seal, Marine Recon scout, fighter pilot, etc.),” they say, “but I had flat feet (a pollen allergy, a trick knee, bone spurs, a deviated septum, eczema, etc.). So I said, ‘screw it.’ I wasn’t going to be a desk jockey!”

To those guilty of this effrontery, what makes you think I care? Nobody asked you to justify yourselves.  More important, do you understand how insulting it is to say you’re too good to have served in a support capacity? That if you don’t come home with veins in your teeth, it’s not worth your while? Even if I believed your story, which I don’t, this would be offensive. Do you think you’re better than a supply clerk or a forklift operator? You’re not. Modern warfare is absolutely reliant on support personnel. Everyone does his or her part.

So, tough guy, don’t tell me about how you “almost joined the military, but .  . .” I don’t care.


About Louis Marano

Louis Marano, a Vietnam veteran, is an anthropologist and a former journalist. He served two deployments to Iraq as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Army. He lives in The Plains, Virginia.

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