In September of this year, the U.S. war in Afghanistan passed the 12-year mark. Let us put this fact into perspective.
For the majority of those of us preparing to graduate this May, the United States has been at war since we were 10 years old. Whether or not the war in Afghanistan is “America’s longest war” is debatable; the Vietnam War may take that dubious honor depending on when U.S. involvement in that “conflict” actually began.
Regardless, there is no doubt that over a decade of U.S. involvement in a foreign conflict has left its mark on our generation. While the conflict has certainly influenced different members of our generation in different ways, one of the overreaching results may be a certain level of complacency with war.
Although you might not know it by watching the evening news, there currently remain over 68,000 active duty military stationed in Afghanistan. Twice as many as when President Obama first took office. For those veterans who have returned, some after multiple tours of duty, many have found that the country they were sent to defend has largely passed them by. Others have been forgotten entirely, considering that one in eight homeless people are veterans. Recently, due to political infighting, the U.S. government even failed to meet its obligation of paying bereavement benefits to the families of U.S. troops killed in combat.
Throughout the past 12 years, the conflict in Afghanistan has often been pushed to the margins of public awareness as other conflicts began and ended. In 2003 the Bush administration invaded Iraq because of the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMD arsenal. In 2011 the Obama administration led a NATO mission in Libya to help rebels topple that country’s long-time dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. All the while, the CIA has been running a drone strike program in Yemen and Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan. Dictators have come and gone, terrorist leaders have risen and been killed and all along American troops have remained in Afghanistan.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the mission in Afghanistan was supported by a vast majority of Americans. Today, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll, Americans are almost evenly split as to whether or not the U.S.’s long war in Afghanistan has had any positive effect on U.S. national security. In 2008, 32 percent of Americans favored withdrawing all U.S. troops ASAP; today that percentage as more than doubled.
The implications of Americans’ complacency toward the war in Afghanistan are difficult to fathom. Whether or not we should set an exact date for the withdrawal of troops is an important question. However, the fact that the debate over answering this question has been highly subdued is indicative of this generation’s views toward both politics and war. It is my opinion that citizens should decide when to fight wars and that generals should decide how to fight them. But how can we decide when we should be fighting a war when we do not even seem to know that one is going on?
Orion Wilcox is a senior economics major from Bay St. Louis.