Until last year, I was an officer in the Canadian Forces. Yes, Captain Thompson had an awfully nice ring to it. I served for eight years before being medically released due to a knee injury and bam, I was a civilian overnight trying to make it in the writing biz. From guns to pens has been quite the leap.
I’ve been lucky to meet many people who are grateful and respectful of our military, occasionally reaching out to shake my hand or say thanks. But what has never ceased to shock me are the insensitive military-related questions and statements that I have been barraged with, which although are occasionally said with genuine curiosity, usually err on the side of rude. I wanted to share some of the most asinine ones in hopes of highlighting the fact that soldiers are real people, not G.I. Joe replicas.
So you joined the military because you like to kill people?
Upon hearing that I am a veteran, I’ve received a lot of dirty looks from my fellow Canadians. Many automatically assume that I was a gun-toting Rambo, eager to assuage my killer instinct, but nothing could be more ridiculous or repulsive. I can assure you that most of us join the military because we believe in something bigger; we believe in the hope for peace but reality and history are proof that conflict is human nature. I would love to live in a world in which a military isn’t necessary. Sadly, I’ve seen enough of the world to know that this day will never come.
I hate that my tax dollars pay your salary.
I often heard this while I served as part of the security force for the Olympics and I get it; money is tight for everyone and it’s always hard to pay for something when you can’t see the tangible product of that expense. But soldiers sacrifice much of their lives for the safety of others and let me tell you, when bad things happen, you’ll be glad that we’re here. The ice storm of 1998 and Winnipeg floods are proof that our military provides protection at home and abroad—no easy task.
Have you killed anyone or seen anyone be killed?
Would you ever want to rehash the most horrible moment in your life? Neither do we. And just because we are trained to kill does not mean that we can emotionally justify it, as none of us ever hope to pull that trigger. I have lost friends and family to both their emotional pain from war as much as I have to actual bullets. Taking a life isn’t an easy thing to ask of someone, so please, don’t ever assume that anyone was excited to do it.
So, residents of Canada, I’m not asking you to enrol in the military tomorrow. I’m not even asking you to like it. But no matter what you think of the Forces and the government that runs it, at the heart of any military are men and women with real lives who are just doing their jobs. For the most part, they’re well-meaning people who just want to make a difference. Corny? Maybe. But I didn’t join the military because I get off on weapons and gore, but rather I enrolled because I believed that in some way, I could help improve the lives of others. Soldiers died so you could have the right to protest, argue, laugh, and eat, and that sacrifice, at the very least, should earn some respect.
Captain (retired) Kelly Thompson is a writer and editor living in Vancouver.