ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: NEVER FORGET

By James M. Decker

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On June 25, 2012, Dan Crenshaw was a Navy SEAL, badly injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He ultimately lost one eye and part of the use of his “good” eye. On November 6, 2018, Crenshaw was elected to U.S. Congress in a Houston-area district.

Crenshaw has recently been in the news for more than just his electoral victory. Crenshaw wears an eye patch over his lost eye and “Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson made an ill-advised pre-election joke about Crenshaw’s appearance. After winning his election, Crenshaw appeared on SNL himself to accept Davidson’s apology and move past it by wise cracking with Davidson and about Davidson. At the end of Crenshaw’s appearance, he said something powerful: 

“But, seriously, there’s a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the left and right can still agree on some things but also this: Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country.”

Crenshaw encouraged Americans to connect with veterans, but in a different way than thanking them for their service:

“I would actually encourage you to say something else. Tell a veteran, ‘Never forget.’ When you say ‘never forget’ to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them. Not separated by some imaginary barrier between civilians and veterans, who will never forget the sacrifices made by veterans past and present.”

This year, our Veterans Day coincides with the 100th anniversary of the armistice of World War I. As this war fades farther from immediate history, it is worth specific admonition to never forget. It was perhaps the most bizarre, needless, awful war our world has ever seen. It cost 10 million military lives and almost 8 million civilian lives, and left over 20 million military combatants wounded for reasons that are still unclear and difficult to comprehend.

Antiquated, dying European monarchies were thrust by dubious alliances into a war that had no real clear end goals. Monarchs and aristocrats callously sent men into battles turned unbelievably hideous by new forms of industrial warfare. Some countries lost entire generations of men. The European landscape was permanently scarred. Some battlefields, formerly gorgeous forests and prairies, are too dangerous to visit even today, thanks to countless mines, chemical agents, and unexploded shells.

If we’re being honest, the European psyche has never really recovered from the complete destruction wrought by its “leaders” 100 years ago. 117,000 American lives were eventually lost in an effort to intervene and simply stop the slaughter. We did, without any permanent solutions, and it set the world on course for another brutal war two decades later. Moreover, decades of civil wars and instability in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, among other conflicts, can be attributed to the ill-conceived “settlement” of this miserable war.

War is an awful, terrible thing, sometimes needless and sometimes necessary. No matter the circumstances, every American war has been fought the likes of Dan Crenshaw, regular men and women who sacrificed career, family, and immeasurable pain out of duty on behalf of the rest of our society. As Congressman-elect Crenshaw said, we can forgive one another and remember the things that bring us together. As for the service of Dan Crenshaw and so many millions of others across this country: never forget.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.

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