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Virgin’s plan to “honour” Australian war veterans does a disservice to us all

Under a new campaign being led by News Corp Australia, Virgin Airlines will soon begin to acknowledge defence force veterans before take-off.

The plan will also offer priority boarding to servicemen and women, but won’t include any discounted fares. Of course it doesn’t.

That would defeat the program’s purpose as a publicity stunt using US-style jingoism to enhance their corporate brands.

The move is comparable to US Airlines, which announces and asks passengers to stand and applaud servicemen and women that board their aircrafts.

For Americans, saying “Thank You for Your Service” to military veterans is as natural as saying “pass me another root beer”, or “Make America Great Again!”.

(Just kidding – my girlfriend is American, I’m allowed to make jokes.)

Virgin’s token announcement came on the back of NewsCorp’s #ThanksForServing movement which aims to “acknowledge the service of veterans, past and present, and the sacrifice of their families”. The very word “veteran” is an Americanism! We say returned servicemen and women.

The move was backed by Scott Morrison, and Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo told Sky News:

“I think it’s tremendous that they [Virgin] come on board and they honour and salute the service of those men and women who have served our nation in uniform putting themselves in harm’s way.”

Is it really “tremendous”? Sure, on one level it’s nice that veterans are being recognised, but do our servicemen and women really want such shallow recognition?

I doubt it, and so does Australia’s veterans affairs minister, Darren Chester. On ABC’s Insiders he said:

“Australians, by nature, tend to keep their light under a bushel. Some would be happy to get on the plane without anyone knowing they are there.”

It sounds to me like a marketing ploy by a US-owned company embraced by an out of touch Prime Minister desperately looking for simple, cheap ways to expand veterans benefits.

Sure, discounts, a pin for your lapel and a $498 million Australian War Memorial are nice and all, but I’m sure the RSL or Veterans’ Affairs could use some funding for veteran services too. Maybe a couple bucks towards PTSD and suicide prevention wouldn’t go astray either.

In fact, the Australian Defence Association feels the same way, describing Virgin’s moves as “tokenistic”.

Speaking as someone with a great-uncle who served in reconnaissance in the Vietnam War and is now struggling to afford dedicated care on his military pension, a few claps on an airplane isn’t going to do him much good.

Of course, veterans are a wide umbrella and no one can talk for all of them – especially not me, a privileged twenty-something who has never served.

But I speak out of passion and the utmost respect for veterans, and an unwavering belief that their service doesn’t deserve to be reduced to such tokenism.

Writing for The Lowy Institute, 25-year veteran and research fellow Rodger Shanahan said:

“It seems to be all about branding and veterans are the brand du jour.”

“For every veteran that thinks it is a good idea, there are others who would find it trite and embarrassing. You could include me in that.”

“The next, bigger problem is the problem of putting defence personnel on an impossibly tall pedestal while ignoring those who provide service to the community more continually, and are exposed to more trauma on a much more regular basis than the average Australian Defence Force member.”

And that’s where Shanahan hits the nail on the head. Where does the buck stop? Why don’t we applaud police detectives who attend horrific crime scenes, or paramedics who encounter overdoses, domestic violence and car crashes on a nightly basis? Or midwives who comfort mothers whose babies are stillborn?

What about aged care and disability workers and volunteers, end of life counsellors (people whose job it is to counsel those with terminal illnesses), child pornography investigators and, gee, even stay-at-home mothers.

Suddenly it seems downright ridiculous to single out military personnel in such a garish way. Veterans of all shapes, sizes, level of ability and service are celebrated on ANZAC Day, one of our nation’s most beloved traditions – and these hollow gestures only denigrate such sacred days.

There are literally hundreds of jobs that people undertake on a daily basis involving superhuman feats of courage, empathy, patience and skill that take an extraordinary person to achieve. Such people are the invisible, rarely appreciated cogs that make the machine of society move smoothly. Where’s their round of applause?

This is a sentiment shared by Qantas, who refused to follow in Virgin’s footsteps. In a statement, the airline said:

“We’re conscious that we carry a lot of exceptional people every day, including veterans, police, paramedics, nurses, firefights and others.”

“We find it difficult to single out a particular group as part of the boarding process.”

Even – and you know you must be wrong when this is happening — Pauline Hanson disagreed with Virgin’s move.

“I think this is a marketing ploy by Virgin, good luck to them if they want to use it as a PR exercise,” the senator told the Seven Network.

I couldn’t agree more. There is a time and a place for such admiration and while boarding a plane isn’t bloody one of them.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Keith Miller, one of Australia’s greatest cricketers and a RAAF pilot during World War II. When asked about the pressure of playing cricket for Australia, Miller said:

“Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.”

That put things in perspective. In respect of Miller’s great legacy, I’ll attempt something along similar lines.

Respect isn’t applauding when you’re prompted to by an airline. Respect is shown by acknowledging, valuing and honouring all the sacrifices made by remarkable people — military or otherwise — in your day-to-day life.

VirginQantas

About the author

Contact me at jackndelaney@gmail.com.

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