What the President Should Say to the Troops


W.J. Astore

For George W. Bush, American troops were the greatest force for human freedom in the world.  For Barack Obama, the troops represented the world’s finest fighting force, not just in this moment, but in all of human history.  What is the reason for such hyperbolic, I’d even say unhinged, praise for our troops?  Well, presidents obviously think it is both politically popular with the heartland and personally expedient in making them seem thankful for the troops’ service.

But here’s the problem: We don’t need hyperbolic statements that our military is the “finest fighting force” ever or that our troops are the world’s liberators and bringers of freedom.  Such words are immoderate and boastful.  They’re also false, or at least unprovable.  They’re intended to win favor both with the troops and with the people back home, i.e. they’re politically calculated.  And in that sense they’re ill-advised and even dishonest; they’re basically nothing more than flattery.

If I were president, I’d say something like this: “I commend our troops for their dedication, their service, their commitment, their sacrifice.  They represent many of the best attributes of our country.  I’m proud to be their commander in chief.”

Our troops and most everyone else would be more than satisfied with that statement.  Our troops don’t need to hear they’re the best warriors in all of history.  At the same time, they don’t need to hear they’re the bringers of freedom (“a global force for good,” to use the U.S. Navy’s slogan, recently dropped as demotivating to sailors and Marines).  Let’s pause for a moment and compare those two statements.  The toughest warriors and the finest liberators?  Life-takers and widow-makers as well as freedom-bringers and world liberators?  You think there just might be some tension in that equation?

We need honesty, not immodesty, from America’s presidents.  Give me a president who is able to thank the troops without gushing over them.  Even more, give me a president who thanks the troops by not wasting their efforts in lost causes such as Afghanistan and Iraq.  Give me a president who thanks the troops by downsizing our empire while fully funding benefits and health care for wounded veterans.

That’s the kind of thanks our troops really need – not empty flattery.

4 thoughts on “What the President Should Say to the Troops

  1. “Give me a president who is able to thank the troops without gushing over them” (from article above).

    I think we need a president who reduces the size and scope of the military and has nothing to say to the “troops,” but who speaks honestly to all citizens (including the troops as citizen-soldiers).

  2. It took me a while, but I eventually learned to conceal my true feelings and instead say a simple “Thanks” when people express gratitude for my service following nine-eleven. This never happened in prior years when I was off base, and I mean never, but not long after that attack it more or less suddenly became something people routinely just up and say to service members here in America (after a lot of Oval Office and Congressional coaching on media spots). It took me some time to conceal my disgust for the underlying political cynicism that cultures this sentiment, and my disappointment for the naiveté of those who succumb to it.

    But these people — and I do not refer to the %&*#!$& politicians — convey sincere gratitude and respect, and it doesn’t do to confuse them with my opinion on the matter. They have to eventually figure things out for themselves, anyway. Or not. A president who sets a different standard than the recent two established could do a lot to effect a different national tone, but corporate dictatorship would be hugely displeased and punish this intransigent back-talk quite harshly. Doing the right thing of/by/for the people in contemporary America is an all or nothing, win or be vanquished enterprise.

    • Tis always captivating to come across an example of one who is perceptive to what are essentially good qualities in others, & then displays graciousness in the face of disappointment.

      And, it has taken me also “some time to conceal my disgust for the underlying political cynicism that cultures this sentiment”.

      Would be miraculous for one who would “set a different standard” to get in office; then yes, a fight for sure.

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