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Support our troops? Not with an empty gesture.

The Gratitude Campaign encourages Americans to honor US soldiers with a hand gesture of thanks. With all due respect, I won't be taking part. Here's why.

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But war is nobody’s glory game.

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It’s closer in grotesqueness to mining coal. It’s a painful, and questionably necessary evil, that destroys landscapes, cities, and whole societies. And it erases, in the blink of an eye, countless lives of brave and innocent young men and women, while it guts their families. It alters world history, but seldom in a constructive way.

Despite war’s torturous rigors and fatal risks, our children dream of becoming soldiers and pilots because we invent war heroes for them to emulate: G.I. Joe, or the flashy fighter pilot Maverick, played by actor Tom Cruise in the film “Top Gun.”

Contrary to the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, when returning military men were vilified and spat upon, we now goad our children to celebrate uniformed heroes in Fourth of July parades and stirring ceremonies at sites of war memorials.

We seem to be overcompensating for the shameful way we shunned them in 1973. And we may be going too far, crossing the line that separates honoring our dead from glorifying the war.

Love our soldiers, hate the war

How, then, do we teach our children to love our soldiers, but hate the war?

It’s not easy. Youngsters cannot synchronize the apparent contradiction.

So let’s make it simple. Let’s redirect our children’s gratitude to the first responders we often take for granted: police officers and firemen.

They risk their lives every day for their fellow citizens.

But we don’t break into applause when we bump into them at airports; nobody sends them care packages, wears red shirts in their honor, or puts their hands over their hearts.

Nonetheless, we appreciate their sacrifices, and we personally thank the ones we know. We bemoan the conditions in which they must work, and the difficult jobs they must do.

Meanwhile, let’s work to support soldiers in more substantial ways than blowing them air kisses.

Two marines, close friends of my family, are already aware of my gratitude. The “support” they really want, is a good job when they return home, tuition for college, financial credit for a home or business opportunity, and superior veterans’ health care.

And when next I see them, I will not be placing my hand on my heart. Not out of any disrespect for them, but more out of concern for the next generation.

David McGrath is an English professor at Edison State College in Ft. Myers, Fla., and author of “Siege at Ojibwa” A version of this article previously appeared at Duluth News Tribune and The SouthtownStar.