Imagine a baby born on September 11, 2001. He will never know a world in which friends and relatives can meet arriving visitors at their gate as they get off an airplane. He will never know a world in which the government is not spying on him, in secret and without a warrant, for his own safety. He will never know a world in which the United States is not at war with Afghanistan.
Actually, that last one is not quite true. The United States is not really at war “with” Afghanistan. We are at war “in” Afghanistan, as part of the ongoing global war on terror. What the objectives of this war are, how we expect to accomplish then, and under what circumstances we will be able to declare victory remain obscure. Like the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs, vagueness is an essential part of the battle plan. Despite all our progress as a species, abstract concepts remain difficult to defeat through sheer military force. A more cynical man might speculate that this is deliberate, a studied tactic to justify wars that never end, for the simple reason that they can never be definitively won or lost. But we mustn’t give in to cynicism. After all, that’s what the terrorists want.
Returning to our hypothetical infant, this month marks the time when he will be officially eligible to enlist in the army. Yes, the innocent babe with no memory of the horrors of September 11 can now go fight—and die!—in a faraway land for reasons that no doubt remain obscure to his adolescent mind.
Wars that span generations, that go on so long that no one can remember why they started in the first place, with the exception of some primitive European tussles unanimously regarded as stupid nowadays, were once the stuff of science fiction. George Orwell’s satirical “we have always been at war with Eastasia” was meant to mock the foolishness of nationalism and the use of national security to control the population. Today, like so many of his predictions, reality has caught up with the absurd hyperbole of fiction. “We have always been at war with Afghanistan” rings true because, for many Americans entering maturity, it literally is.
Its now seven years since the capture and execution of Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks and a major part of the justification for military intervention in Afghanistan in the first place. It’s 15 years since President Bush delivered a speech from beneath a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.” If it wasn’t already clear, it should now be obvious the mission, to the extent it even exists, will never be accomplished, not until the American people grow tired of sending their children off on dangerous foreign adventurism, and demand that Congress bring them home.
Peace is not something that happens by itself. There is too much money to be made and power to be gained by continuing war indefinitely. Only we, the people, have the power to bring our troops home and stop the killing abroad. We just have to muster the political will to do it.