People who know me well (and there aren't that many of them) have asked me why, when I am so at odds with the policies that led to the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, I insist on differentiating between the cause in which the service is enlisted and the service itself.
This article says far better than I, who have never served in any country's armed forces (and was grateful, growing up, to escape the conscription that killed men only two or three years older than me), why I feel respect is due to the men and women who stand up to serve their country in the military.
I remember being amazed in 1987 to meet some Viet Nam veterans in San Diego and hear at first hand the difficulties they had getting the benefits to which they were entitled. I disagreed with the Viet Nam war too, violently, but was shocked to find that a country could turn its back on the youth it had conscripted to fight its battles in its "backyard" (yeah, right).
The conscription now is largely economic. I have a brother-in-law who learned his trade in the army because it was the only place that would teach him a trade, but it crafted him in other ways too. I remember the amazement of his family when he came home after basic training and made his own bed unasked. I remember too, later, the nervous tic his eyes acquired (and retained) from too many attacks on the troop carriers he drove in Belfast. He joined the army because it offered him the best career opportunities. There are a lot of people today who are joining up for the same reasons. Economic opportunity does not abound for the youth of today's America, and so many of the least fortunate will choose to serve their country. Would that the congressman and senators would protect them as they protect their own sons and daughters.
So I hope, when those who have served return, that this adopted country of mine will find more than empty words to honor the service they have performed. "Thank you for your service" means less than nothing if it isn't accompanied by a place to live, a secure income, a decent standard of living and an honest appreciation of the time spent in harm's way.
Much as I regret President Obama's decision to send yet more troops to Afghanistan, he was at least honest about his intentions during his campaign. I hope that this further investment of America's young men and women will lead to a real improvement in the most corrupt country in the world (or is it the second most corrupt, I forget). Those who agree with his decisions must accept that they bring with them a cost: that of ensuring that the survivors, and the families of the fallen, are not left standing in the cold once this economic winter, manufactured by the bankers in their snug financial parkas, is over.
Hell, if bankers and politicians had to fight wars in person this world would be a far more peaceful place. It's too easy to condemn those in uniform to die by proxy for some policy with purely economic motives. At least, for the moment, this country appears to have a commander in chief who properly weighs the lives he risks. If I felt I had the right I would salute those who venture forth, knowing not whether they will ever return.