World War I, which ended 100 years ago this Sunday, was supposed to be the last war. Instead, it was one of the worst. It took 17 million lives and seared untold others, while heralding the dawn of weapons of mass destruction, which maimed and tormented more poor souls than they killed.
By contrast, America is embroiled in its longest war — Afghanistan — but thanks to our all-volunteer Armed Services, making up less than 1 percent of the American population, it has touched a mere fraction of the populace.
That’s a good thing, of course. But it leads to a bizarre detachment between the military and many of the civilians it protects.
That awkward disconnect has never been more apparent than in “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson’s jaw-dropping, contemptible mocking of wounded Navy SEAL veteran Dan Crenshaw last weekend. He “joked” that Crenshaw — who wears a patch after losing an eye in Afghanistan during the third of his five deployments — looked like “a hit-man in a porno movie.” Davidson added, as part of his scripted “joke,” that “I’m sorry. I know he lost his eye in war — or whatever.” Just for emphasis, he threw in one more “whatever!”
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For his part, Crenshaw — a big winner Tuesday in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District race — was excessively forbearing, eschewing personal outrage in favor of making the point that “vets don’t deserve to see their wounds used as punchlines for bad jokes.”
One would think that would be rather obvious. Maybe not, in an age when ill-bred comics are sniffing the ground for the last remaining nuggets of shock value. And evidently not personally knowing anyone who’s gone to war for them, they simply have no clue how many service men and women are in hospitals and rehab units trying to put their lives and limbs back together.
Fort Worth’s Pete Geren has much more than a clue. As former secretary of both the Air Force and Army, he’s been to more than his share of funerals and has seen images in hospitals that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
“The sacrifice touches so many so broadly for so long,” he told us.
The comedian’s brushing off of Crenshaw’s permanent injury with a verbal shrug — “whatever!” — “is infuriating to me. It’s sickening to me,” the measured Geren says, in a moment wiping his eyes. It’s that personal for him.
It is, too, for Austin’s R. Kent Morrison, a Navy and Gulf War veteran, who says the “sheltered” Davidson is oblivious to not only the volunteer military’s injuries and deaths but its strained and broken marriages, holidays missed and more. While blaming older adults around the young comic — “Whoever approved that joke thought the laugh was worth the expense” — Morrison suggests a nationwide program encouraging people, especially the young, to “talk with a vet.”
One hour with veterans would go a long way toward making theirs a shared sacrifice.