I’ve been in the workplace since I was sixteen, and to this day I am usually the youngest person at my job, be it restaurant or retail. When people find out my age or birth year, they’re often surprised — and there’s one question that I’ve been asked a surprising amount.
“Do you remember 9/11?”
I don’t. I was five months old when the Twin Towers fell. I don’t remember airports without TSA, or newspapers without mention of Iraq or Afghanistan. I’ve never known a world without a “War on Terror.”
As a child, I remember being told that the Middle East was a scary place. A bad place. I remember being taught that being Muslim is synonymous with being violent. I remember being told that the U.S. needed to intervene or things would have been far worse. I remember being told that we were heroes, that we were saving the mysterious, nonspecific Middle East.
Now, I know that none of this is true. Middle Eastern people don’t start wars any more than anyone else. Muslims — and people who look Middle Eastern — face violence and hate crimes at very high rates. About 100-150 anti-Muslim hate crimes were recorded by the FBI post 9/11, a rate five times higher than before 2001.
Do we blame individual people for the many, many crimes of the Catholic Church? For the Crusades, the Inquisition, the terrorization of native peoples, the assault and abuse of thousands of children? Why then, do we blame Muslim individuals, attack them for things done by others of their faith?
I’m a pacifist who grew up in a religious military home. I was taught a lot of contradictory things, like “all life is precious, but” — sometimes the death penalty is merited, and the U.S. military can do no wrong.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate people in the military. Far from it. I believe that the military industrial complex preys on poor folks, promises them travel and college and healthcare and so many wonderful things, so many things that they desperately need.
I lived on Navy bases. I flew in cargo planes. I went to family days on aircraft carriers. I went to Army-Navy games. My father spent a year in Afghanistan. I moved four times in my four years of high school. It’s true that being in the military means sacrifice. Even and especially for the spouses and children of military members who have to create new lives from scratch every couple of years.
Why would you want to believe that this thing you’ve idolized is wrong? Why would you want to believe that your parents have been complicit — if not active participants — in atrocities?
You wouldn’t. It’s a lot easier to believe that these wars are just and warranted than it is to believe that what you’ve been raised with, the people who are your community, the people you love, aren’t doing the right thing after all.
How many people would willingly enlist if they could go to college and have healthcare without it? How many people would join the military if they felt like they had another choice?
Education is expensive. But apparently, spending billions of dollars bombing civilians is not. In 2020, the proposed budget for the Department of Defense was $705.4 billion dollars. In contrast, the federal government spends just under $55 billion per year on K-12 education. How do we justify this, when, after twenty years, we just made things worse?
I know I’m not an expert on all of this. I don’t know the intricacies of conflict in the Middle East. All I can speak to is what I know. I don’t believe we helped anything by being in Afghanistan and Iraq. I know that blood has been shed and lives have been lost. I know that the United States keeps starting unnecessary wars it can’t afford. I know that we are taking advantage of people without other options, and we are sacrificing their lives for oil and pride. Above all, I know this needs to change.