I lived through the attacks of September 11, 2001, but I don’t remember them. I was just four-years-old at the time, and I was living life to the soundtracks on my HitClips—the audio player I wore around my neck to play Britney Spears at every given opportunity.
On this twentieth anniversary, I’m contemplating the fact that my country has been at war for the past two decades, nearly my entire life.
In the years that followed, I learned about 9/11 and the so-called “War on Terror” on television, spending school mornings watching news anchors talk about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on the portable 5” TV my parents kept on the kitchen counter. I still remember how they rolled their eyes and scoffed at news of “progress” on the ground. These moments are some of my earliest memories.
On this twentieth anniversary, I’m contemplating the fact that my country has been at war for the past two decades, nearly my entire life. Many in my generation may not remember the beginnings of these wars, but it is our responsibility to help end them.
When I was growing up, I thought this constant state of war was normal. Newscasters and politicians alike exaggerated the threat of terrorism, sowing public fear to defend and promote ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even the Disney Channel ran a program during commercial breaks for child actors to reflect on 9/11 and talk about the importance of unity and patriotism.
The message was clear: it was unpatriotic to question what our government was doing in response to 9/11, in the name of national security. As a result, I had a very narrow view of the sweeping U.S. counterterrorism wars stretching across the globe—how unusual, even unprecedented they were—and the destruction they were causing both at home and abroad.
The message was clear: it was unpatriotic to question what our government was doing in response to 9/11, in the name of national security.
I didn’t start to critically examine or understand the true breadth of the War on Terror until college, where I took a deeper look into the history of our permanent war economy. I learned that since World War II, the U.S. military budget has steadily ballooned at the expense of other more deserving and underfunded government agencies. Lawmakers have used the War on Terror to justify this distorted federal budget, prioritizing war over the pressing needs of the American people. Military spending does nothing to address security needs like clean water, healthy food, healthcare, and housing—the lack of which is literally killing tens of thousands of people a year.
I also began to understand that the global impact of the United States’ post-9/11 wars was far more expansive than the ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a member of the 9/11 generation, I felt like I had been duped my entire life. For the first time, I was learning about the money interests behind war, and the true costs of war itself. To me, ending endless war became the heart of the solution to many of the most pressing U.S. domestic policy issues—from a budget perspective, at the very least.
By my senior year of college, the United States was conducting “counterterrorism activities” in at least 85 different countries. These activities included on-the-ground combat, air and drone strikes, train and assist programs for foreign forces, and more. Many of these activities were secretive and rarely received coverage in the U.S. media.
Endless U.S. counterterrorism wars will continue until lawmakers are forced to stop them through sheer public pressure, and my peers and I are critical to this effort.
Now, U.S. troops have left Afghanistan and it’s the first time in my life since I can remember that the United States hasn’t been engaged in an active U.S. ground war, but the War on Terror rages on in the form of these activities.
This is why my generation has a responsibility to work to end these wars and prevent new ones. A critical piece of this advocacy is urging Congress to repeal the laws that were passed to enable this global war paradigm; laws that remain active, despite being perverted by the executive branch to justify military operations never approved by Congress. They are the legal basis for some of the most dangerous and counterproductive aspects of the global War on Terror.
Endless U.S. counterterrorism wars will continue until lawmakers are forced to stop them through sheer public pressure, and my peers and I are critical to this effort. After all, we will likely live with the human, environmental, geopolitical, and economic consequences of these endless wars for the rest of our lives.