Beyond "thank you": recommended modalities for meaningful civilian-military discourse
George Mason University, US
Nicholas Mercurio, Major, USAF is an active duty Public Affairs Officer assigned to Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Science in English from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Masters Degrees in Communication from George Mason University and Military Operational Art and Science from Air Command and Staff College. He was awarded the 2018 Lt Col William Schroeder Award for Excellence in Strategic Communication from George Mason University. His work has previously been published in War, Literature and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities and the Small Wars Journal.
While numerous studies explore veteran and current military member reintegration challenges from a psychological or sociological perspective, few have examined the impact of discourse on the ability to locate a post-service or post-deployment identity within larger society. To that end, this research investigates veterans’ and active duty military members’ interpretations of the ritualistic expression of “thank you for your service,” and other public acknowledgments and disclosures of their military service. This paper describes two studies each employing qualitative and quantitative methodologies for data analysis and verbatim transcriptions are interwoven throughout the corresponding results sections to support the qualitative findings. The multi-methodological application of focus group discussions (FGDs) and in-depth personal interviews revealed that “thank you for your service” was regarded by study populations as an injunctive norm that frequently elicited feelings of awkwardness, objectification, impostor syndrome, and even resentment. Further, study subjects expressed a general unwillingness to disclose their military service with anyone beyond their self-ascribed ingroup, demonstrating an underlying fear of being labeled as either a hero or victim. To explain their responses and their fears, this paper proposes the hyper-humility model, which describes the confluence of sense of duty, guilt, and/or shame from a perceived comparative lack of hardship or elevation to the standing of those perceived as more deserving, and acute manifestation of imposter syndrome. Lastly, this paper offers a path toward more meaningful civilian-military interaction, by broadening discourse to include more personalized, genuine dialogic exchanges.