Just days after Jackie Washington is thought to have drowned, ex-teammate Sean Deaton struck by SUV

Sean Deaton

Mic Smith

Fritz Hollings and Tony Bennett both served in combat against Nazi Germany in World War II.

They both believe America's continuing military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are tragic mistakes.

And they both, over the last week, have offered provocative opinions about 9/11's causes and effects.

Hollings, our state's junior U.S. senator for more than 36 years and our senior senator for a mere two years, wrote on Thursday's Commentary page:

"We are so blinded by our military that we recognized the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in every way but to ask 'why?' Time magazine published a special issue; there were day-long TV programs; but none discussed the reason Osama bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center. Newsweek got close in an article of twisted logic by Andrew Sullivan, who wrote: 'The bait was meant to entice the United States into ruinous, polarizing religious warfare against the Muslim world ...' "

Bennett's also an elder statesman of sorts, though from a different branch of show biz. But many radio listeners didn't find the gifted crooner's glorious voice soothing when they heard it in spoken form on Monday's "Howard Stern Show." Bennett lamented the U.S. operation in Iraq, called war "the lowest form of human behavior" and recalled that "the first time I saw a dead German, that's when I became a pacifist."

After Stern countered that "terrorists" started our war on terror, Bennett responded: "Who are the terrorists? Are we the terrorists or are they the terrorists? ... They flew the plane in, but we caused it."

The next day, Bennett issued this written statement: "There is simply no excuse for terrorism and the murder of the nearly 3,000 innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks on our country. I am sorry if my statements suggested anything other than an expression of love for my country, my hope for humanity and my desire for peace throughout the world."

In other words, as John Lennon put it long ago, all Bennett is saying is "give peace a chance."

Hmm. "Greatest Generation" U.S. Army veterans Hollings, 89, and Bennett, 85, don't fit the peacenik stereotype. Yet they're in a growing group of Americans -- young and old, veterans and non-veterans -- who regard our extended efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan as fools' errands.

That includes expanding ranks on the right who argue that open-ended martial adventures in distant realms violate conservative ideals -- and common sense.

During the Sept. 12 Republican presidential debate in Tampa, libertarian-minded Texas Congressman Ron Paul drew boos when he reminded the audience that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida "wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing ..."

Yet some other GOP White House aspirants are also expressing angst about unending -- and unsustainable? -- demands we have placed our armed forces. During that same debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said:

"I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan -- I don't think so at this particular point in time."

Perry hedged back from that bug-out brink later that week, triggering a "flip-flop" charge from co-front-runner Mitt Romney, the ex-Massachusetts governor who has done some hedging of his own on the practical limits of our world-cop reach.

Ex-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, however, came straight to the enough-already point during Thursday night's GOP debate in Orlando. Capping a heated exchange with still-hawkish ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Huntsman warned: "At the end of the day, folks, only Pakistan can save Pakistan. Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan."

But 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman and Republican Lindsey Graham (who's been our senior senator for nearly seven years) want America to stay in the nation-saving -- and building -- business. They wrote on Tuesday's Commentary page:

"Nearly 4,500 Americans, and far more Iraqis, have given their lives to achieve the real but tenuous stability that Iraq enjoys. Whether that stability will deepen or unravel has much to do with the choices our government makes in the coming weeks."

So how much longer must we remain in Iraq -- and Afghanistan -- to maintain "stability"?

How much more will that cost us in limbs, lives, dollars and ill international will?

Those questions are scary enough.

This one, though, is downright alarming:

What should we -- or Israel -- do about the rising risk of a nuclear-armed Iran?