Should We Applaud Military Personnel At Sporting Events?

It happens at almost every football game. A member of the armed forces, often someone who has been in a combat zone, is introduced and the crowd responds with a rousing ovation. That’s a good thing, yes? Well of course it’s always appropriate to thank people who serve their country at great cost to themselves and their family.

But Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe casts such scenes in a different light. Junger, a journalist who has written extensively on war and those who fight, asks whether applauding those who serve in the military is related to a problem as serious as Post Stress Traumatic Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is experienced far, far less in Israel than in the United States even though Israel has been in almost constant conflict with its neighbors since its inception in 1948. Why does PTSD affect as few as 1% of Israeli soldiers? According to Dr. Arieh Shalev’s research it’s for two reasons. First, in Israel the fighting is nearby which means that everyone is in the “war zone.” Second, national military service is required for all Israelis upon turning 18.

Israelis who serve in the military and then return to civilian life are surrounded by people who “get it”. They live in community with people who understand the pressures and the trauma because they have lived near it and even served in similar roles. 

That’s far different than our country in which a relatively small percentage of the population serves in the armed forces. Military personnel return to families and communities who, try as they might, simply don’t “get it” because they’ve never experienced anything like the realities of war.

When we let military personnel board airplanes first or thank soldiers for their service or applaud their service at sporting events, we emphasize that they are doing something that most of us don’t do. We remind them that they are different. We are thankful for their sacrificial service (and rightly so) but most of us don’t understand what they’ve experienced and therefore can’t identify with their struggle.

Living in community with people who understand our struggles is absolutely essential to not only our mental and emotional health, but also our spiritual health. Being in community with people who understand what we are going through helps us process our lives in a Christian way. It’s not because they have answers to all our questions or can fix our problems. No, it’s just that we know that we aren’t alone. We aren’t weird or different. We lean on others who are traveling the same road.

God created us for community. Trying to process hardship on our own is spiritually traumatic. It leads to spiritual PTSD.

Is your life more like an American veteran or an Israeli veteran? Are you part of a community who knows what everyone is going through and supports each other? Or are you still trying to do life on your own?

At The Crossing small groups are one of the best places for real, authentic, supportive community. Maybe it’s time you thought about joining one? 

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