It has been 22 years since I, with all of my classmates, were summoned into a middle school gymnasium. In a scene mirrored in some manner across the world we sat, confused, and everyone tense as I had ever seen. We were in a small Michigan town and our normally cheery school principal told us, without most of us really knowing what any of it meant, that two planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York.
It has been 22 years since I came home to my father openly weeping while watching the TV. It has been 22 years since I saw the replayed footage for weeks on end of 2,996 people dying.
It has been 22 years since my naïve concept of a “mostly peaceful” 21st Century was torn from my young mind, and realization that violence would need to be met with violence like in every century before took its place. The 20th Century’s lessons didn’t stick well, apparently. Humanity is a stubborn lot…
“Not another Vietnam.”
That is what we were promised. By four presidents, we were promised this would not be another meek and burnt out disaster. Yet two years ago, HKIA proved that whole thing a lie. It’s pretty clear now that we can’t figure out how to leave a fight, not when politicians who have their image to look after are involved. We probably should have wrapped up Afghanistan when we shot Bin Laden, but we didn’t. Instead we wasted time propping up a government that was literally getting rolled up as we left with a full decade more of training, money, and support. Now Afghanistan is back to its Taliban lead war torn mountainous self, with a bunch of US weapons. Our entrenchment was just another chapter.
In the 22 years we fought, we invaded, we killed, many died, more were injured. ISIS even managed to get by and blow the Abbey Gate, killing our 13 and hundreds of Afghans hoping for a spot in the evacuation.
We likely have worse than another Vietnam in some ways, truth be told. Vietnam today is increasingly capitalist and an emerging economy. Still socialist and with plenty of problems, it is nonetheless on a fairly positive trajectory as the world’s 15th most populous nation.
We will not see that in Afghanistan. We will likely not see that in the conflict zones of the Middle East or Africa. What did we stay so long for? We’d already hit back, hard…
Growing up at war
My teen formative years saw us take Afghanistan and Iraq… and then not stop fighting after “winning” them. In a timeframe longer than it took to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan we were still fighting very determined insurgencies.
I’m personally not of the mindset that crushing Saddam, for any reason, was a bad call. But the sketchy nature of the WMD alleged threat vs reality of aging soviet hardware probably being swapped between them and Libya wasn’t great. Neither was the haphazard and terrible way we tried to rebuild Iraq without Baathists, who were literally the whole governing infrastructure because that was a requirement.
I joined that war, one that was allegedly won, in 2007, 6 years and 8 days after it started. Shockingly for joining the infantry and being told, “Here’s the rotation,” I spent my entire contract in the ‘about to be rotated into combat’ part of the military. I would learn later this was an early symptom of today’s glaring problems.
Indecisive and risk averse politicians and military leaders continued to rot and stagnate a military that was continuously ‘kinda deployed’ to ‘sorta war’ where small angry groups would shoot or mortar or IED the coalition on less and less frequent occasion.
Back to Eastern Europe
Today we have a brutal ground war in Europe and a truly troubling amount apathy and disinterest from a world that could very shortly be dragged with no choice to that front. Especially here in the states.
We’ve spent decades pretending that this couldn’t or wouldn’t happen again and walked ourselves into a position of not caring because the political animals both nationally and internationally have so damaged the social trust. The years of the Global War on Terror saw the erosion of social trust like I never dreamed possible, within and without. The military has a historic human resources crisis that they are struggling to manage because GWOT troops are telling people about their real experiences. Going to war isn’t really high on the problem list it turns out. Its the mythical “support system” that doesn’t err on the side of the troops and consistently keeps their lives so hellish that suicide far outpaced combat deaths.
It would be one thing if life were tough but the organization had troops’ backs, as promised, but event, after event, after event proves they do not. Certain leaders do but if that isn’t the case the org will let them rot. They will, like any bureaucracy, protect themselves first. The evidence has became too much for people to keep ignoring.
That isn’t to say the military could not be, isn’t, or cannot be again, a good career path. But the reputation of service has suffered on multiple fronts. We have a government now seemingly solely interested in winning the next popularity contest and doing as little as possible in order to accomplish that for either Red Team or Blue Team. It seems that anything beneficial they actually manage is just a happy accident of them doing the bare minimum things they think their constituents want.
Despite my bleak few paragraphs above I think this post-9/11 world holds promise, so much promise.
Millennial humor is special breed of dark, as a different war and the information age told us that nobody has a quarter of the clue they were pretending to have. Not the government, not the businesses, not the churches, not anyone. The common refrain is that we have no mid-life crisis on deck since life has just been a rolling crisis.
And in a funny way, that is okay. Because if people who came cluelessly through before us did the best they could and made it, we can too. We’re just more aware of how fragile a lot of the world is. There are still some significant blind spots in that arena, especially when it comes to the first world thinking types who take too many things for granted that are precariously fragile.
We have weak men and women creating some hard times right now. But I feel that the next breed of the strong could be smarter and better than we’ve ever seen before. What we must avoid are the charlatans and the pseudo-strong personalities who promise us our brand of utopia for a cheap seat in power. We must restore trust in our institutions while removing blind faith. We must breed a practiced mentality in our nation and our allies who once again aspire to the nearly unconscious competence of both war and peace.
It’s not how I thought things would go, on nearly any step of the way, but it is far from all bad that we are here.
These are the lives we have.
The lives stolen from many this day 22 years ago, and then stolen in the days since cannot be replaced. They are gone and this is our world to build.
Let’s keep doing something with that. Let’s keep making it a place that those we miss would like to live with us in.
Never forget. Keep moving forward.