I am 22 years old. As of today, my country has been bombing, occupying and justifying the complete destruction and devastation of Afghanistan for exactly half of my life.
I remember October 7, 2001 very well. I was eleven years old, watching TV with my family—we didn’t know that there was going to be any announcement, but still had been using our television much more frequently than usual in the weeks following September 11th.
All of the sudden, there was an announcement that United States troops had started bombing Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and the other Al Qaeda outposts were alleged to be. All of the sudden, we were at war.
The next morning, I was in my sixth grade social studies class—a great class taught by a wonderful teacher named Ms. Steffes. Every Monday morning, we would share the news that we had learned that weekend. I knew what story I was going to share this morning, if no one got to it before me.
A kid named Jeremy’s hand shot up. He was clearly going to share the important news about Afghanistan first—so I put my hand down.
“Barry Bonds got his 500th home run!”
Was he joking? Didn’t he have anything else to say? Then again, what did I know? I was only eleven years old. Maybe it was a lot more extraordinary to have 500 home runs and a lot more mundane to bomb a third world country while looking for one specific terrorist.
I sheepishly raised my hand. Ms. Steffes called on me.
“Um. I think we started bombing Afghanistan.”
Eleven years later, we are still bombing Afghanistan. As I grew from a little girl into a young woman, my country’s modern military industrial complex that began as an understandable (though in my opinion, still reprehensible) knee-jerk reaction to the tragedies of 9/11 exploded into the devastating wars and militarized occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq. At first we were finding Osama bin Laden. Then we were liberating the women of Afghanistan. Then we were overthrowing Saddam Hussein and bringing democracy to the people of Iraq. We were targeting terrorists, not civilians—but more and more bombs mysteriously missed terrorist outposts, killing and hurting innocent Afghans and Iraqis. These were unfortunate casualties—but in most American conversations, these deaths of poor, nameless people of color in the Third World were never acknowledged.
Those who have been lucky enough not to be killed, paralyzed or lose loved ones face increasing health concerns due to the toxic pollution of warfare. In Iraq, there are more and more reported cases of cancer, particularly in areas like Basra and Fallujah known for being the most violently besieged areas. Babies are being born with previously unseen deformities—often affecting vital organs that will kill them in only a matter of time. Though Barack Obama claims that he has ended the war in Iraq, and has brought many of our troops home, for Iraqis the war continues to ravage their homes and communities.
Both Iraq and Afghanistan have been completely politically destabilized—making them extremely vulnerable to actual terrorist activity and internal violent clashes. Many have died, not from violence by a US soldier, but from violence catalyzed by the US military’s presence.
Even though the US military is glorified, and the soldiers who train to go overseas and fight these wars are seen as heroes, the military is often a traumatic experience in and of itself. In the military, one in every three female soldiers is sexually assaulted. It is far more likely—regardless of gender—to be raped in the military, than killed by enemy fire. Despite the prevalence of this problem, the military has barely addressed it—and often punishes victims far more severely than perpetrators.
Often when our soldiers come home, a lethal combination of misdiagnosed and untreated post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and normalized violence cause them to become violent killers and criminals, waging war on our communities. Many of them are denied the necessary healthcare and disability benefits that they need to even begin to heal their physical and psychological wounds. Many of them struggle to re-assimilate into civilian society, becoming depressed drunks and drug addicts. Many others commit suicide.
I’m 22 years old. As of today, my country has bombed, occupied and justified the complete destruction and devastation of Afghanistan for half of my life. Tomorrow, and every day after tomorrow, it will be for more than half of my life. It isn’t ending anytime soon—we’re still in Afghanistan, and now, instead of sending troops to fight terrorism, we are sending unpiloted drones to target and kill terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Once again, this kills far more innocent civilians than terrorists and only alienates the United States from the rest of the world. No one is safe—and it if we were attacked again, it would be perfectly understandable.
Generationally speaking, I am in the middle of my family. I have several little cousins who were born in the past eleven years. They haven’t lived in a world without the “War on Terror” or the militarized, violent, dehumanizing psyche that it perpetuates—both overseas, and at home in our communities when we talk about our place in the world as Americans.
I don’t want them to live in a world where 500 homeruns is newsworthy but aimlessly bombing a Third World country is so daily that it is mundane.