This year’s American high school graduates were, on average, seven years old on September 11, 2001. They were in second grade. Osama bin Laden was their real live boogie man. The dogs of war had never been on the leash, so to speak, during their elementary, middle and high school years. They grew up with American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, possibly waiting their turn to join the seemingly never-ending War on Terror. Each little mind had to wrap itself around color-coded alert levels, enhanced airport security, and the occasional lists of American dead on TV and in the newspapers. They had to juxtapose Americans going about business as usual against a new concept of “being at war.” In other words, America’s youth are children of a never-before-seen brand of war, a war that didn’t hurt anything much except their national pride.
In terms of length, their new kind of war has been longer than America’s involvement in World Wars I and II combined. Do they think, then, that they know as much about war as their grandparents do? Can they even imagine a war in which tens of millions died rather than a few thousand? Should they? Is there danger in having a whole new generation who, except for the tiny fraction who served, do not know about the horrors of war? Remember, it is the memory of twentieth-century wars that has kept us out of those kinds of wars for the past 65 years.
Many of us older people were somewhat taken aback by the pep rally atmosphere created by college kids celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden. There was even a sign at the White House pep rally that said: Obama 1, Osama 0. I had the distinct impression that the youth felt about the death of Osama bin Laden the same way they would have felt if Georgetown’s basketball team had won the National Championship. Game over, we won, cut down the net, carry Obama off on their shoulders. Were these kids having so much fun that they would like to do it again?
This kind of enthusiasm did provide the pep for and possibly even inspired the more serious discussions about actually ending the so-called war and bringing the troops home. I’m with them in that regard. If George W. Bush could put up a sign and declare mission accomplished when it really wasn’t true, Obama can at least declare an end, once and for all, to the misnamed War on Terror. There is no reason not to bring the troops home soon and correctly rename the operations to deal with terrorism. I, for one, am willing to let the CIA, Homeland Security, and the myriad other police-like organizations come up with a name for what they will be doing to deal with what’s left of forever-present pockets of terrorism.
As for those of us who either grew up during or in the shadow of the most horrible wars the world has ever known, we know to be diligent. We need to get back to the serious business of avoiding the horrendous specter of another World War, the last of which lasted only a few years but left the entire world in a state of shock for at least the 50 years that followed.
We in the U.S. didn’t lose 3,000 plus on 9/11 and 5,000 plus in its aftermath without suffering a great sense of shock and loss. But we in the world didn’t lose more than 50 million human lives in 20th-century wars without changing our behaviors— hopefully forever. The crimes against innocent civilians perpetrated by terrorists of the early 21st-century and the armies we sent to arrest or kill those terrorists should not divert us from the path we had chosen: away from increasing armament and wars of wholesale slaughter. The cheerful, enthusiastic, happy faces of America’s youth celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden is reason enough to make sure that they never learn what the face of all-out war really looks like, what it feels like to have the dogs of war snapping at everyone’s heels, not just the unfortunate few, what it takes to defeat an enormous, well-trained, thoroughly-armed, goose-stepping army, complete with back-up from a state-of-the art air force, navy, and national war machine rather than just one man with a rag-tag band of terrorists. We need to create in the new generation of Americans the desperate need for peace that the world knew before this most recent diversion.
Causes Yuma Michaels Supports
NDRC, Southern Poverty Law Center, Greenpeace