Australian war veterans are saying no thanks to a plan by Virgin Australia to recognize their service with priority boarding and special announcements onboard.
The New York Times reports vets are embarrassed and ashamed of the new recognition:
Critics, including many veterans, said the policy was at odds with Australia’s egalitarian national ethos. The notion of a veteran singling himself or herself out for special treatment, some critics said, was distinctly un-Australian. Others described it as something even worse: an Americanism.
“It’s a very American thing to do. We’re not quite as loud or noisy as that,” said Mike Carlton, the author of several books about Australia’s military history. “Australians are a little more subtle.”
“It’s just not in our nature to do stuff like that. Almost any veteran I can think of would be hideously embarrassed by being singled out like that,” Mr. Carlton added. “I’ve interviewed a lot of them for my books: World War II vets, vets from the Burma-Siam railway. They would hate the notoriety of being singled out like that.”
I’d call Mr. Carlton’s comments outright hyperbole. Seriously? Why would anyone be “hideously embarrassed” for being recognized for their willingness to lay down their life for their country? The American jab is unnecessary. But I still agree with his overall sentiment.
Allow me to draw you back to a story I wrote in 2011 on this very issue, when United started boarding uniformed members of the military in front of everyone else. My argument then (and still now) is that this was a bad idea.
Yet we should show that appreciation not by those awkward moments like parading military members onboard an aircraft before anyone else, but in volunteering time and money to veterans’ causes (like the Hero Miles Program), showing solidarity with military families in tangible ways like sharing meals, and voting for politicians who will not be so flippant in sending other people’s children to war.
The bottom line is that while soldiers hold a special place in American society and deserve special recognition for their willingness to put themselves on the line for others, so do policemen, firemen, and some doctors and missionaries. All are paid for their work and receive satisfaction from doing a job that helps and protects others. They do not need to be reminded of that every time they step onto an airplane and there are much better ways, as I outlined above, to show gratitude.
The incredible sacrifice our military personnel have made from the Revolutionary War to the ongoing War in Afghanistan is something we must constantly keep at the forefront of our minds. But as General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated in his 1945 Guildhall Address in London, “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”
And in case you were not aware, I did serve in the United States Air Force and therefore do not address this issue an as outsider.
More than embarrassment, think how even being called out for pre-boarding incidents might trigger PTSD among those who have harrowing memories of active combat.
Qantas Not Playing
Unlike Virgin Australia, Qantas has vocally distanced itself from government efforts to single out members of the military for special honor:
We’re conscious that we carry a lot of exceptional people every day, including veterans, police, paramedics, nurses, firefighters and others and so we find it difficult to single out a particular group as part of the boarding process.
I do think that is a fair point. Nor does that diminish the incredible sacrifice made by brave men and women in the armed forces.
Virgin Australia may be reconsidering its decision. The carrier has been “very mindful” of public reaction and will consult its military veteran employees.
What do you think about priority boarding for the military? As we approach the centennial of Armistice Day, should the military enjoy an extra special place of recognition on airplanes?
image: Virgin Australia