My Decade of War
Yep, I was that immature. I was in high school.
Like most people I was also terrified that we were going to war, that the people I loved might die, and that the country as we knew it would never be the same. But for the most part it was my 5-year plan of moving to New York and living the dream that I worried about when I first realized the impact of that day’s events.
I am one of the kids who came of age during the 9/11 era. I saw the world change from idealistic to cynical in the span of a few weeks, and I always blamed it on Bin Laden and Bush and all the patriotic t-shirts. It wasn’t until a decade later I found out my journey is called becoming an adult. It happens to everyone; 9/11 just sped up the process.
When we invaded Iraq, I watched the news with a friend and cried. I didn’t know why. It was so far from me. I didn’t know anyone going to Iraq, and I didn’t know any Iraqis. It was none of my concern, I tried to remind myself, but for some reason it still felt significant.
Now nearly a decade has passed. I know many people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even some who have lost close friends there. I have also met many Iraqis – mostly resettled refugees whose families the war displaced. I have met widows from the United States and widows from Afghanistan.
I still got to move to New York, but instead of living the dream exactly the way I’d planned, I grew up. Now I have an income, a household, and taxes that I hand over every payday.
The irony doesn’t elude me that, in helping to serve and advocate for displaced people, I also pay for their displacement with every hour I work. A fraction of every dollar in my taxes to the federal government has helped bomb an already destitute Afghanistan into rubble, displace millions of Iraqi civilians, and take the lives of valiant men and women down the street from me.
Since that day in high school, I’ve worked in an office overlooking Ground Zero and lived in an apartment overlooking the Pentagon. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on that Tuesday morning ten years ago, and have heard firsthand accounts from friends and co-workers who saw limbs fly while they fled on foot, covered in ash. Then I go to Refugee Services and meet people who saw the same thing only a few months later.
I mourn the atrocities I fund. I hate earning money for good only to finance sadness. I’m left wondering: Are we done yet? For God’s sake, can we call these wars quits?
Today I am still afraid, but for grown up reasons. I’m afraid we have created a world that hates us, and a people whom we have demeaned and shamed while pursuing “liberation.” I’m afraid our veterans will get as much care and compassion as those from Vietnam: very little. I’m afraid the war will never end, or that it will come greet us at our own doors. I’m afraid that we won’t stop until every man, woman and child is displaced, since that’s the direction we seem to be heading.
And at the same time, I’m still very immature and idealistic. There’s still a part of me that hopes we can, through our votes and voices, finally demand an end to this idiocy and madness. In that sense, even with 9/11 speeding along the process, I never thoroughly grew up.