The most dangerous thing about a joke is when it isn't funny anymore. That's the case with one I've been telling in my talks about Social Security.

In explaining benefits, I said, "If you are 65 years old, you will get 50 percent of your benefits, provided you served in the 82nd Airborne for four years."

People laughed, but they're no longer laughing that hard. The reason is that the Pentagon would like to recruit soldier-officers up to 42 years of age.

The Army isn't meeting its quota, so it must raise the age limit for second lieutenants and National Guard reserves.

As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "You go to war with the Army you have." The trouble is, because of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon can't wage a war with what it has.

To make things more difficult, the Defense Department has just released a report stating that the Iraq forces are not able to defend their country without U.S. assistance, which means the U.S. Army may be there for five or six years -- or even longer. Some solders will have been there for so long they'll be entitled to Social Security payments.

I've stopped telling my joke.

People who must send their sons and daughters to war ask the same question: "What went wrong?" But people who support the president and don't have to serve ask, "What went right?"

Big Talkmouth of TV fame (I can't use his name or I'll be breaking the law) said, "In spite of what the bleeding heart liberals say, nothing went wrong. We got into Iraq to unite Sunnis and the Shiites and the Kurds in one big happy family. It worked. But that's not what you read in the papers."

He continued, "The left-wing media are soft on the war."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because Bush thought of it first."

"Did Saddam Hussein really buy nuclear material from Niger to make weapons of mass destruction?" I inquired.

"We won't know until Karl Rove or Vice President Cheney leaks it to the press. This much we do know. Hussein would have had the bomb if he had thought of it first."

I said, "So we did the right thing by capturing him?"

"Of course. We wouldn't have known what a bad guy he really was. If it wasn't for Hussein, our mission in Iraq wouldn't have been accomplished."

I said, "Why is Hussein treated like a prisoner of war but other Iraqi prisoners hung by their thumbs and sexually tortured?"

"A brutal, sadistic, vicious head of state who has killed thousands of people is innocent until proven guilty."

"When is he being tried?"

"Very soon, even before Iraq has a constitution. The people want to show the world that they are a democracy, which is the reason we went into Iraq in the first place."

"I didn't know we were doing so many things right until you explained it to me."

"Many Americans don't. Every time something goes wrong, the White House has to explain why it's right."

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services