Serving the Nation and Everyday Microaggressions

On the way to lunch today I heard part of an NPR report where the broadcaster gave thanks to those who “were brave enough to serve.” This struck me and deserves some comments since he chose to not simply say “who served.” This comment was obviously made on Veterans Day but this comment is repeated in some way or another daily.

(And before going forward, the vast majority of content on NPR is realy great!)

My comments are not about those who elect to or not to join the army, navy, or so so. After all, teachers, parents, doctors, professors, daycare workers, judges, and postal workers, for example, all serve the nation. I am making this post now, in part, to emphasize my commitment to writing, thinking, and sharing those thoughts. I will not allow Trumpism to halt my critiques. I will continue being the blogger (and professor and student of life) that I have always been.

There are multiple and complex messages embodied in “were brave enough to serve.”

We’ll given them a pass on the exclusive use of the past tense.  

The rhetoric of “brave enough” embodies far too many notions of masculinity and delegitimizes the fear–before, after, and during service–we know soldiers have faced. What does it even mean to be brave? And brave enough? Where is this scale of bravery?

Additionally, this ignores those who were not allowed to serve because of their sex, gender, and/or sexuality. Why wasn’t their “bravery” good enough? 

It ignores the people with various medical conditions who might have wanted to serve.

It implies that those who did not make it out alive were somehow not quite brave enough.

Most importantly, it ignores the real, legitimate fear people and families have when it comes to war.

All of the explanations above relate to how and why this comment on NPR is a perfect example of a microaggression. It’s not directly discriminatory. It’s easy to “not see” how it’s hurtful or offensive, especially if you live in various demographics deemed “the majority,” but it’s harmful.

It reinforces harmful ideas about gender and reminds minorities that society has not fully welcomed them. 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda


Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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6 replies

  1. I rather feel the same for years regarding the use of “hero” in our current lexicon. It seems to be used so frequently that I feel its meaning has long since been diluted in true importance. When I was growing up a hero was someone who went the proverbial above-and-beyond self to save others. A soldier charging a machine gun nest to save his buddies. A bystander rushing to the aid of a car accident to pull victims from the wreckage just before the car caught fire. It wasn’t someone simply doing their job as a matter of routine. A policeman or fireman is trained to do what’s expected of them.. and what’s expected of them is not to give up their life but rather use their training and experience and tools to save lives. To me, what makes them heroes is when they push the envelope of personal safety in extreme situations to save others. I hate sounding seemingly insensitive about it all, but I am for recognizing those people who were heroes in the traditional sense. Now, I certainly understand why the use of “hero” has taken a more generic meaning as it does seem to elevate the importance to one who makes the ultimate sacrifice. Veterans Day we recognize our “fallen heroes” for having died in defense of our freedoms. Just them simply dying in combat deserves hero status? They most certainly deserve our eternal respect and we honor their sacrifice and their memory… but is loosing your life alone a heroic act? It’s all entirely semantics, I know. I call them all heroes as much as anyone else. But in the back of my mind I feel the term is used way too often and thus diminishes those who are the true heroes in having directly saved a life or lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lots of great points! For sure “hero” has lots some of its power, just as say “war” has. It sounds like you might think about words a great deal. You might like my “hidden power of words” series 🙂


    • Wow, Doug. You hit the nail on the head. I was a firefighter before, during, and after 9/11. I came to HATE the “H” word! My personal view on the matter was that I simply did my job. The job didn’t make me a hero. Just like everyone else, I went to work and went home. Granted, my job was a little outside of the mainstream, I guess. Did I know some heroes? Sure I did. I also knew some who perhaps should have found another line of work. But I knew a whole lot of firefighters like me who just wanted to do our jobs to the best of our ability.

      People who didn’t know us at all would say things like “You guys are all heroes.” First of all, we were the same before 9/11 that we were after, and no one ever said that to me before 9/11. Second of all, we could have been terrible people for all they knew! It isn’t their fault, since that is what the media sort of tells them to say. But it made me very, very uncomfortable and still does. I wasn’t a hero. I was a fireman.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Reminds me of how “awkward” it is when people “blindly” tell vets “thank you for your service” as a kind of post-9/11-civil-religion. If they really wanted to “thank them for their service,” they should actually behave differently!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You are right, Doc. I can’t seem to find a post I made on just this subject, a couple years ago. But the post 9/11-civil-religion you suggest goes back to our collective guilt for how “we” treated Vietnam vets returning from the war. It was appalling. Even today there’s a bit of a subliminal recognition for WW2 vets as being “hero”.. where Nam vets get the “thank you for your service” thing. I am still uncomfortable when someone acknowledges me for my service when they have no idea what or how my service was. Funny thing is, when someone near my own age says that to me I ask if they are a vet. If they are not, male or female, I naturally presume they were one of those pot smoking, guitar-twanging, painted up, Haight-Ashbury, fucking anti-war hippies, hurling obscenities and feces, and then I think, “Save it, pal. You weren’t there when we needed it.”
    While I am an “era” vet (served at the time but never went there) the animosity still runs deep for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And the vets of Vietnam continue to suffer and suffer more so because of society’s rejection of them. It really is sad. People are all “we support the troops” until it comes to truly helping them readjust back to regular society. People are also really generally unusable to understand people and experiences unlike theirs, especially if any kind of war, trauma, and/
      or psychological difference is involved.


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