The “Greatest Generation” deserved and continues to deserve the highest honors our country can bestow on it. When the country was attacked, the men and women of 1941 thronged forward to meet the threat and defeat the Axis.
Since the close of WWII the country’s appreciation of its military has risen and fallen and risen yet again—an apparent bouncing ball of approval that often seems to be linked to the question: “What have you done for me lately?”
What the American military has accomplished lately is the defense of the country since 9/11 without a single attack on our soil coordinated by a jihadist far away. They have been trying. They have not failed—because of the Army, Navy, Air Force Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. Though the enemy is at least in the tens of thousands—and by some estimates, the hundreds of thousands—they have not been able to repeat their spectacularly deadly killing spree of seven years ago.
We certainly owe thanks to law enforcement and intelligence services, but the brunt of this successful defense of the country has been borne by the uniformed military. It is they that took the battle to the enemy in Afghanistan and then in Iraq and lesser-known operations around the globe. In countless missions—both known and unknown—they have found, closed with and destroyed countless terrorist cells. They are doing so even as you read this and will continue to do so as we all sleep soundly in our beds tonight.
They have done so at enormous cost, with more than 4,000 of their number fallen and more than 10,000 wounded. But rarely do you hear a complaint from the men and women in the military. They go about their job with a humility that matches their exceptional skill. Never in history has such a powerful military evoked so little attention from—and zero concern among—their civilian counterparts. This is an extraordinary thing: Most of America takes its military professionals for granted, but they do not fear, even for a moment, the sort of lust for power that has led to so many coups and civil wars the world around. Americans trust their military, even as they so often ignore it.
Many civilians do what they can to thank the troops through great organizations like the SemperFiFund.org, FisherHouse.org, and SoldiersAngels.com—the first two of which help wounded soldiers sailors and Marines and their families, the last of which provides support for deployed troops. There are many other such groups, each very important to the effort to demonstrate appreciation for the troops. Millions of Americans have helped these organizations, and millions more ought to. This is what civilians owe their defenders: Thanks and support, both expressed and tangible.
The political debates around the conduct of the war, and the agendas of the parties and their leading spokespeople have often obscured the fact that no matter which party is speaking, the troops are working. No matter how heated the domestic political debate becomes, it is nowhere near as hot as Iraq in the summer. No matter who wins the election, the American military will salute and follow orders and do so with the consummate professionalism that defines the greatest military power in history.
For this, and for the service the many veterans who have gone before them, all Americans ought to be thankful. The next time you see a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or coast guardsman, be sure to say, “Thank you for your service.” It is quite obviously the very least we can do.