I wince when I hear this phrase today. It’s become a colloquial fixture in America along with the yellow ribbon. When Tony Orlando came out with his song (1973), there was a draft. When the song “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” was popular, it was World War I. The yellow ribbon on trees thing became popular during the Gulf War.
The heroes never returned. We can think of them and ponder their lives. But we cannot thank them. And if we could, what would it be that we would give thanks about?
As a volunteer, I’ve never felt deserving of thanks. First reason being, the ones deserving of thanks are not here. Second reason is that I did not serve to defend or please my fellow citizens. There seems to be an urge on their part to give thanks. I understand their urge, I think. It’s an expression of recognition and gravity, maybe.
In America, the narratives of war come from the combatants; the soldiers, the participating journalists. We do not read stories that emerge from the helpless, the weak, the unarmed participants in the modern industrial machine of death. But these days with information so accessible, some of those stories begin to emerge. Those stories from the other side of war need telling.
If we continue to hear the story of war only from the combatants, we will continue to perpetuate the myth and lure of combat, the sting and adventure of the campaign, the excitement of the bright defining moment of life in the face of death, the struggle, the victory. Stories from the other side, the innocents in the way, will teach us that the war machine is like an amazing lawnmower, driven by self-professed drivers of power, and like cuttings on the fresh mown lawn, the weak in the blades path have no voice.