Thank You For Your Service

Americans, here’s Michele Bachmann’s message to you on Independence Day.

The task of “showing your thanks for our military men and women who protect” our freedoms brought to mind “Home,” a funny, heartbreaking, damning George Saunders story I read yesterday in The New Yorker‘s June fiction issue.  Excerpt:

“I’ve been away a long time,” I said.

“Welcome back,” the first kid said.

“Where were you?” the second one said.

“At the war,” I said, in the most insulting voice I could muster. “Maybe you’ve heard of it?”

“I have,” the first one said respectfully. “Thank you for your service.”

“Which one?” the second one said. “Aren’t there two?”

“Didn’t they just call one off?” the first one said.

“My cousin’s there,” the second said. “At one of them. At least I think he is. I know he was supposed to go. We were never that close.”

“Anyway, thanks,” the first one said, and put out his hand, and I shook it.

“I wasn’t for it,” the second one said. “But I know it wasn’t your deal.”

“Well,” I said. “It kind of was.”

“You weren’t for it or aren’t for it?” the first said to the second.

“Both,” the second one said. “Although is it still going?”

“Which one?” the first one said.

“Is the one you were at still going?” the second one asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Better or worse, do you think?” the first one said. “Like, in your view, are we winning? Oh, what am I doing? I don’t actually care, that’s what’s so funny about it!”

“Anyway,” the second one said, and held out his hand, and I shook it.

Read it all the way to the end.

This morning, on the local news, I learned about this:

Capt. Matthew Nielson, 27, of Jefferson died June 29, in Badrah, Iraq. He was killed by indirect fire attack while on duty in Iraq, Iowa National Guard officials said in a news release issued Sunday.

Nielson was UNI grad, like me. Like me, he worked in a grocery store as a high-school student. He died in the course of an unjust war that has nothing do with protecting our freedom. Had I been born a decade later, he could have been me. It makes me sick to think about. Would his life have been wasted like this if Americans did not so strenuously insist on lying to one another about what it is our military men and women really do? Who does it help to continue to so effusively thank Matthew Nielson’s luckier comrades for their service and our freedom? Our gratitude is a rain of grenades over the senior high. Bright-eyed American boys and girls stare smiling down the smoking barrel of our thanks, dying to please.