Mondays with Mike: Killing machines

August 22, 2016 • Posted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized by

Every year, Chicago hosts the Air and Water Show, a weekend of modern and vintage airplanes performing aerobatics, skydiving, all played out in front of a gazillion spectators along Chicago’s North Avenue Beach.

In truth, it’s a lot more air than water, though lots and lots of people watch it from their boats. A standing feature is either the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels or the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds. You probably know the deal—screaming fighter jets flying loops and formations.

It’s impressive. And if you’re not ready for it, terrifying. I was sitting at my home office desk last Thursday and heard this high-pitched whine getting closer and closer and I’m thinking, OK, something’s about to crash around here…. And then this window-rattling thunder. And then, light bulb, “Oh yeah, practice day for the air and water show.”

It honestly is awesome in a terrifying way. And even more terrifying for our neighbor, a veteran who was deployed in Afghanistan who wrestles mightily with post-traumatic stress disorder. We ran into him in the elevator Thursday evening.

The earlier thunder from the jets came up. We asked how he did with that. Not great, was the thrust of his answer. But beyond that, he was truly perplexed: “Those are killing machines,” he said. “People don’t connect them with the reality of war.”

His comment got me thinking about something else that’s been poking at some part of my brain. Awhile back I saw a big ad at a bus station for Jockey underwear. It’s part of a series showing real people. One is a female firefighter in Jockeys, for example. They’re effective.

Chris Van Etten, the former Marine featured in the Jockey ad.

Chris Van Etten, the former Marine featured in the Jockey ad.

In another, the one that sort of arrested me, it’s a double amputee in Jockeys. Not just any double amputee, but a former Marine who lost those legs in Afghanistan. Disabilities of one kind or another have been part of my life for a long time now. I’m not squeamish. I absolutely feel fortunate to live in a place and time where people with one disability or another are, as Beth wrote in her last post, part of the fabric of life, and not cloistered.

What’s eating at me is ambivalence. On one hand: Good for that Marine. He suffered, he survived. I can’t imagine what he experienced. He’s moving forward. He’s providing a great example to others. He probably makes some money off the ad. It’s his choice, so he’s not being exploited. And a disabled person is right out there, showing it can be done.

On the other: Am I sure he’s not getting exploited—just a little? (FYI, Kenneth Cole used another veteran amputee the year prior in a campaign for its men’s fragrance.)

More important—am I getting used to this? Am I getting inured to the idea of war being normal and that we somehow can put mangled soldiers back together again? So it’s not that bad?

Given my discomfort, that answer is no—I’m happy to realize I’m not getting used to it.

And I don’t want to.


Deborah Aronson On August 22, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Hi Mike! I too saw the Jockey ad with the amputees and I, for one, cheered them. As the parent of a child with a prosthetic leg, any time I see prosthetics in the main stream I cheer. I see what you are saying, about how this particular guy lost his leg (s), but the more people out there modeling strength, muscles, competence and who, by the way, have a prosthetic, the more people will be used to seeing people like him and the less time they will spend pitying those who are not exactly like them. I see it as similar to portrayal of gay characters. It used to be the main thrust of a book or movie, the person’s sexual orientation. Now it’s just a thing. … no big thing, in fact. Just my 2 cents!

Mike On August 22, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Deb! How are you?

I’m all for the normalizing of prosthetics–paralympics–the whole deal. The more people get used to it, the better. (Trust me, I’ve received plenty of looks pushing Gus in his wheelchair with Beth and her guide dog following:)

I just don’t want to get used to the particular way this guy lost his limbs–and I think there is a distinction to be made so as not to forget what war is about.

Deborah Aronson On August 22, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Yup. Totally hear you there!!

Benita Black On August 25, 2016 at 4:13 pm

I too find the air show revolting in its disconnect from war. This is whose idea of legitimate entertainment? The first time I was exposed to this “show” was the summer after 9/11/01. I was new to Chicago, from NY (specifically less than a mile from ground zero), and was terrified and a little traumatized by the sounds of that show. I cannot believe it still continues in such a sophisticated city.

Mike On August 26, 2016 at 12:52 pm

That would’ve been a really bad time to get surprised by it.

Anne Hunt On August 26, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Food for thought…. Mostly, I just don’t take notice…
Thanks for raising my awareness.

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