There's been a lot of chatter over the past few years about the disconnect between civilians and the military community. I do believe that there is a huge disconnect, but I also believe it's not entirely a bad thing. One day I hope to flush out my thoughts on this subject here. For now, I'd like to discuss the entitlement culture. Or rather, I'd like to pose a question. Has the pendulum swung from military families being humbled and grateful for the strong sense of support they receive from the general public, to them feeling entitled?
I recently read a letter to the editor by Theodore Perkins which began with this:
I have recently become aware of something that I find both disturbing and annoying: Many who serve as the current crop of U.S. military are not the brave, honest, upstanding citizens who we have come to admire and respect. I don’t mean that this applies to ALL military; God knows that such a generalization would be offensive and insulting to those that do serve their country with pride, and who actually are forthright and upstanding citizens. I should explain ...I would encourage you to read the entire piece. For starters, I think we can stipulate, as does the author, that isolated pockets of bad behavior should not rub off on an entire community. It's never a good idea to paint with a broad brush. However, after I chewed on this letter for a while, I began to recall a few examples which made me wonder if the pendulum is creeping a bit.
In recent conversations with local business people, service providers, and neighbors, it has come to our attention that a growing percentage of the current crop of service people (and their spouses/significant others; more about them in a few) are in many ways no better than the gang members and criminals who the services try to weed out. For that, the blame falls squarely on us, the John Q and Joan Q Public of this country. It seems that the surge of pride and patriotism of the last few years has created a nasty side effect - a demonstrative attitude of Entitlement and Superiority on the part of our trusted military and their families.
Last year, I had a conversation with a military spouse who thought it was a good idea to boycott a local business because they withdrew a military discount which they had offered for several years. My position was that the business never had to offer the discount in the first place and that the economy is very bad and businesses and families are necessarily cutting back. I thought it a bad idea, and unfair, to cause a stir.
Fast forward a few months where I was attending a Military Appreciation event and heard a speaker tell a group of military spouses that if a store doesn't offer a discount, we should go in and demand it because we "deserve" it. Although I admired the speaker and enjoyed the rest of the speech, I cringed at that statement. There's a difference between inquiring and demanding.
More recently was the Sears Heroes at Home incident. So many of us were embarrassed by the behavior of those who lost sight of the fact that this was a gracious gift on behalf of Sears.
Without question, military service is a unique occupation. World events orchestrated by very bad actors always place us at the mercy of those bad actors. And politicians. When a decision is made to go to war, the effects of that decision will be overwhelmingly shouldered by military families. Yes, service members volunteer, but that doesn't make the load any less heavy to bear. And while I feel America should be grateful that we have men and women who willingly place their lives on the line to protect their country, there's a very distinct line between accepting appreciation and expecting entitlements.
Mr. Perkins ends with this:
Now, I do have to clarify this somewhat. Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that all military personnel an their families are like this; far from it! And I have heard stories of older military (both active and retired) giving a much needed “dressing-down” to the disrespectful youth. But I have seen this bad behavior too often lately to wonder where it went wrong; when did respect and thankfulness for a job well done become an excuse for “gimmee, gimmee gimmee”?I'm sorry that Mr. Perkins and those in his community have been subjected to inappropriate demands and behavior by those in our community. In no way do I believe that the majority of military families expect special treatment, but unfortunately perceptions are formed by the snapshots each of us are exposed to. And when more of those snapshots are of bad behavior than good, it's easy to see how resentment can build, fairly or otherwise. So while I pulled out a few snapshots of my own when writing this post, that's because I've only recently begun to see these types of examples. For those concerned with the military/civilian divide, this should be a distressing development.
I just needed to get this off of my chest. With a few exceptions, I still have the highest respect for our military personnel; to quote Winston Churchill: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”
I'm not convinced the overall tide is changing. Perhaps the bad apples simply leave a larger footprint than the good ones. For every example I've cited above, I can cite dozens of conversations with milspouses who have been appalled at such behavior. But if indeed the pendulum has swung in the direction of entitlement -- or even if it is swinging -- we will never build bridges between our communities.