Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to be Nice to a Military Spouse- American Disconnect from the War

People say dumb things. I say some really dumb things. I can't count, nor do I want to attempt to recall the number of times I have left a conversation feeling like a real moron for the things I said and or the way I said them.  It's human nature.  Everyone could offend everyone else because we are people and saying dumb and offensive things is something that almost everyone is good at.

So, I have composed this post in an attempt to help guide some people who have difficulty knowing how to interact with me and others in my situation. My husband is currently deployed. If my vernacular comes across as sassy or condescending, forgive me.  This topic is close to my heart and therefore tied to some strong emotions.

A lot of people ask me some pretty terrible questions or throw out some very ill-worded comments with regards to deployment.  Here are a few examples of things you ought not say to a military spouse.

"Where is he deployed? Isn't the war over?"
"What are his chances of coming back?"
"I know just how you feel- my husband leaves for business all the time."
"I don't support the war."
"Well HE volunteered. You knew what you were getting into."
"Has your husband ever shot a man?" or "How many guys has he killed?"

Firstly, I get it.  The military life is a very different culture than the civilian life. I'm currently reading a book called "Breach of Trust" by Andrew Bacevich. Essentially its about just that- the disconnect between the military and the American populace in general.  It is a very interesting read and you should probably read it.

" The approach this nation has taken to waging war since Vietnam (absolving the people from meaningful involvement), along with the way it organizes its army (relying on professionals), has altered the relationship between the military and society in ways that too few Americans seem willing to acknowledge. Since 9/11 that relationship has been heavy on symbolism and light on substance with assurances of admiration for soldiers displacing serious consideration of what they are sent to do or what consequences ensue. In all the ways that actually matter, that relationship has almost ceased to exist."  Andrew J. Bacevitch Breach of Trust

A bit of a long quote, but very good and hits the problem. 
Its hard to manage cross-cultural communication and many of those who have asked the above things are kind, good people trying to relate and understand something foreign.  Let me outline what I think in my mind when I get these questions though and offer some better alternatives for what would be a much better question.

"Where is he deployed? Isn't the war over?"
This question is annoying because it reflects how deeply detached America is from the war.  I want to roll my eyes and say "NO! The war is not over. America is still at war. Where do you think he is deployed! He is deployed to Afghanistan because THAT's where OUR country is fighting a war."  But I guess that's the problem- our country won't own this war. People are tired of war so the media stops showing coverage of the war and then the average American truly doesn't know anything about the war. That is sad. How different that is from WWII when everyone was involved in the war. Everyone helped in the war. Everyone knew we were fighting a war. Everyone had to sacrifice something and the war ended soon.  Perhaps it is because of the general ignorance regarding the war that causes this war to last so very, very long.
To the persons who ask this, thank you for being willing to admit that you don't know and expressing interest in the nation's status.  I think most people don't know. You aren't a minority. I encourage everyone to learn about the war, where the soldiers are, what their goals are, and find ways to actually support the troops. 

What are his chances of coming back?
Essentially you are asking is "Will he die there in the desert?" "Is he going to get shot?"  I mean, the sentiment is nice enough- you are expressing concern for my husband and hope that he will return. This is a terrible question though. This is rude. I wouldn't inquire about the likeliness of your husband having a fatal heart attack in the next three years.  There are some things that you just don't ask.  The situation varies for every soldier depending on their job and where they are stationed. Some wives really struggle getting sleep at night because yes, people are trying desperately to kill our husbands.  We try not to think about it. Please, do not remind me. 
I would be very kind to say instead, "I will keep him in my prayers," or "Tell him to stay safe." The nice part of the message remains and the rude, morbid part, is exempt. 
Besides, there is not a percentage. Generally speaking though, the soldiers are pretty safe and will come home alive. 

"I know just how you feel- my husband leaves for business all the time."
It is nice of you to relate. I am sorry that your husband leaves often for business. I understand that it can be difficult to have your spouse leave, but telling me that you know JUST how I feel, is inaccurate. No one knows JUST how I feel. Not you. Not my mother. Not my friend whose husband is also deployed. I am me, my marriage is my own and while it is considerate to relate, its a bit condescending to tell me that you know exactly how I feel just because you're husband went on a 3 day business trip this week.  I want to tell you that's hard- I really do. I don't like when my husband leaves for any amount of time. I miss him. I'm sure you miss your husband when he goes on trips but my husband has been gone for 6 months and it's hard to think of a nice reply when your loneliness is short term and mine feels like an eternity.
Instead say something like "I sure hate when my husband leaves for even a few days. My heart goes out to you." "I miss my husband a lot. I bet you have a lot of lonely days."

"I don't support the war."
This conversation goes like this; it comes up that my husband is gone and I explain that he is deployed. Then the other person says "Oh, I do NOT support the war."
Well, okay. Guess neither. The war means my husband is far away from me in a country where they don't really want him.  You don't have to support the war, but when you say it like that I take it personally.  I DO support my husband. I support him and admire him and respect him and I would really appreciate that you do the same.  Neither he nor I are warmongers that love when people die and families are torn apart.  I know a lot of military families and I can safely speak for them all when I say that we would ALL prefer times of peace to times of war. It comes to another thing people have said when I mention something like seperation pay or a 10% military discount at Lowes. "Oh, well that's just not worth it to me."
Do you honestly think that saving 3 dollars at Lowes is worth having my husband deployed to Afghanistan?  That is absurd.   
I'm glad you don't support the war- that would be weird. Please don't let that translate into not supporting the individual soldiers and families though. 
Again, good transition into the next comment that I've heard. 

"Well, HE volunteered. You knew what you were getting into."
Also, though I can't phrase it the way I have heard it, people join the army for various reasons, not just out of desperation because they couldn't find a job.
Yes, military service in America is not obligatory. You volunteer. You sign up. Everyone has different motives for signing up. Certainly there are those who join because they don't know where else to go. Maybe they need job security. Maybe they couldn't get into college.  Yes, there are people like that. Maybe somewhere there are people who join because they want to shoot other people- I have yet to meet any of these people and I'm immensely grateful that they do not compose the entirely of the army.  
LOTS of those people who join are smart, talented, people with real promise in any career they want to pursue. They choose the military because they love America and because they want to have an America for their children and future generations.  So, please PLEASE don't tell me or insinuate that my husband joined because he had no other options. He was valedictorian of over 600 students. His second choice was to attend Johns Hopkins Medical University and become a surgeon.  MOST of the members of our military did NOT join out of desperation or as a last possible option in life.  
We knew what we were getting into. Indeed. Also, so did every pregnant woman who intentionally because pregnant. That is not to say that her pregnancy will be easy or that she has no right to complain when she is in labor.  Some trials come in life unexpected. Some are more predictable. Yes, we knew that deployment was extremely likely with my husband being active duty and I try not to have pity parties or complain about it.  I think that it's okay to be sad sometimes though and not bottle up feelings of loneliness. 
You are right. He did volunteer. We did know what we were getting into but that doesn't mean it isn't hard. 

"Has your husband ever shot a man?" or "How many guys has he killed?"
It should be astonishingly clear that this is an inappropriate question. There is not good way to phrase this. When someone says "Has your husband ever shot a man?" I want to say , "No, only women and children."   Which is, of course, not true, just an  stupid reply to a stupid question.
Real life war is not Call of Duty. We don't have kill counts. Everyone in the army has different jobs and they don't all shoot people. Yes, in war people die. Yes, soldiers are trained to kill. This is not what defines them and this is not what they talk about. 
I don't know if disconnect from the war or disconnect from reality is to blame for this kind of stupid question. Video games and movies may glorify violence but we are not talking about pixels on a screen.  We are talking about human lives. Have some decency for humanity and don't talk about or ask this to anyone.

Again, I know its hard to say the right things all the time. Here are some suggestions of nice things to say
"How are you?"
"How is your husband?"
"Are you counting days?"
"I sure appreciate your sacrifice."

I don't expect perfect conversations but try to think before you speak and I will do the same. Any home-baked good are always appreciated. And I know this may be crazy, but try to learn about the war, the military life, and write to a soldier. You can just say "Thanks." It literally couldn't be easier. You can message them on FB. If you want physical addresses, I can give you plenty. :)  

And let's be honest- some days of deployment are really hard and no matter what you say to me, I won't like it because I'm lonely and tired and emotional, but I do truly appreciate when people express concern for my husband, appreciation for the sacrifice that my family is making, and love for America.

God bless America!

1 comment: