One of the many minor but telling irritations of the present day is the extent to which American phrases and linguistic usage has infiltrated everyday English English. I say that despite having lived and worked in the United States (work sourced both in the USA and elsewhere) alongside American people. In fact, I am (despite the best efforts of parts of the Jewish Zionist lobby, including the crazed scribbler Louise Mensch) still a member of the New York Bar, at least on paper (I never practised there).
It was back in the early 1990s when I first heard someone (a West Indian woman) use the term “train station” to designate what everyone I knew until then had called a “railway station” or sometimes “rail station”. When I questioned the term, she replied that she had never heard such places called anything but “train stations”. My theory was that that was the influence of latter-day American films, particularly those shown on Sky. Maybe. Since then, “train station” has become ubiquitous, even on the BBC.
One might say, “what does it matter?” whether railway stations are called “railway stations” or “train stations”. However, language does matter. Whole treatises have been written on the power of transformative vocabulary. The American military machine and its political masters used to be expert at that (far more so than the British). “Operation Desert Shield” conveyed a message; “Operation Desert Storm” a different one, a changed one. Sometimes it became awkward if pushed too far, as in the phrases used in the Vietnam War: “bodycount”, “free fire zone”, “friendly fire” and many others became notorious; some are still in use today.
Such manipulative use of language is common elsewhere. The linked worlds of special operations and espionage have given us “plausible deniability” etc, and that is before we even look at the sleazy swamp of the political milieu. I do not want to go off-track too far and lose my point in the morass of “hard Brexit”, “soft Brexit”, “helping people back to work” (indeed the ghastly “world of work” itself) etc.
Words create a mental landscape, they shape a society as surely as the architecture of our cities and, to be rather topical, public statuary.
It matters whether the influx of millions of non-Europeans into Europe and other European-inhabited lands is described as a “desperate” “movement” of “refugees” or as a “flood” of “migrant-invaders”, indeed as a “migration-invasion” (my favourite) or simply as an “invasion”.
It matters if “social security” (in the British use of the term), meaning a “safety net” or system available to those who need it (and, importantly, into which most if not all of those using it have paid, one way or another) is then changed to “welfare”, a term which gives the impression of money or food thrown at (probably undeserving and probably useless) eaters, who are, again, “probably” taking money from “the taxpayer” (not even “the State”).
It matters if “free speech” is in many cases re-designated as “hate speech” and/or “hate crime”.
So we return to “thank you for your service”…one of the least meaningful phrases around. An American affectation, which seems to say, “this person served in ‘the military’ in some capacity and so we regard him –or her– as heroic.” It of course bears little relationship to reality. Most service personnel, even in a war, are not anywhere near the “front-line” or active fighting areas. Indeed, many American service personnel never even leave the shores of the USA. In Britain, that idea crept in during the Falklands campaign, when anyone who had been to the Falklands in uniform became, ipso facto, a “Falklands hero”, courtesy of the Sun “newspaper”.
No-one disputes that a modern military system requires large numbers of accountants, lawyers, dentists, administrative people, pension experts etc, as well as cooks, drivers and the more obviously martial occupations of fighter pilot, tank commander, infantry soldier and commando. They all “do their bit”, in the English phrase of yesteryear. However, it seems strained to say “thank you for your service” to people who spent their entire service researching legal cases in Washington D.C., or fixing the plumbing on an Air Force base in Texas.
One notices that some scribblers who are very adherent to the Atlanticist or “New World Order” viewpoint are among the worst offenders (people such as Louise Mensch). In fact, it could be said that “thank you for your service” goes beyond affectation and constitutes an attempt to further Americanize the mentality of the British.
So it is that I plead for people to avoid the use of “thank you for your service”, even when addressing those who should be in that sense respected.
5 thoughts on ““Thank You For Your Service!…Have A Nice Day!””
Two countries divided by a common language – I think that’s very true. There are also some home-grown problems, such as hipster/metrosexual language, which I find irritating. If I ever again hear a bearded, coiffured male say: “I’m stoked”, I think I will go to work with a baseball bat: appropriately enough.
On the other hand, I like provincial and idiosyncratic variations in language, so I think maybe the objection, or the irritation, is a response to the inorganic nature of Americanisation and movements like metrosexuals. I suppose it’s the case that as soon as you can define something as a ‘thing’, then it ceases to be natural and becomes just another affectation. The ultimate example of this was the mumblecore movement in film that existed briefly about 10 years ago and was meant to be about naturalistic, improvised acting, but seemed in most cases to be quite imitative and contrived.
On the armed forces, I tend towards Orwell’s view (which I think he developed out of his experiences as a propagandist during the Second World War) that Britain should have weak, citizen-based army. I dislike the modern tendency to worship (as in show over-respect towards) the forces and people in uniform, as I think it is based on a mystique that probably does not equate to reality. They are necessary and do deserve respect, but I would prefer to have a largely conscript infantry in which service is a minimum expectation of all physically capable men, not something that ‘heroes’ do: something along Swiss lines would be my preference. If all men had to do this as a youthful rite of passage, much of the fawning and mystique surrounding it would disappear and soldiers would also cease to be used as an instrument for liberal interventionists, as nobody would allow their sons to go to a war unless absolutely necessary.
There is something in what you say, though conscript armies are often poor armies. You cannot judge that by the Wehrmacht. As Hitler said, “the German people is a soldierly people [rather than a warlike one].” Most armies based on conscripts are not good and have to have a professional core.
The present worship of military service (for others) is reminiscent of ancient Rome, when the plebs displayed adulation of the victorious legions. It could also be compared to the similar adulation bestowed on sports stars etc.
I don’t think quality would specially matter, though it does depend on what you think armed forces are for. To me, their purpose is defence only, so their role is to defend the Home Islands and any overseas territories and dependencies. Conscript all men for 2 years, insist on reserve obligations until a mature age, and arm the population generally. That’s what the Swiss do. It’s enough. Plus we should retain nuclear weapons, and if anything expand these, and would need to think about the Navy and air force. Of course, I accept that even a conscript army would require a small professional core – i.e. special forces, experienced NCOs, special operations such as Marines and Paras, etc..
As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, I favour multilateral disarmament, but that increasingly seems a pipe-dream as unstable and reckless states acquire limited (so far) nuclear capability. North Korea may be off the scale of madness, but Israel is probably the other major danger, certainly to Europe (and is far more likely to have weapons that work). I do not favour Trident, though. Not sure that it has a role and it is hugely expensive too.
In the end, “what sort of army” (etc) comes down to what kind of state and society exists.