Even though the United States has been at war my entire memorable life — then-president George Bush opted for invasion over negotiation in Afghanistan shortly after my fourth birthday — the thought of joining the military never seriously crossed my mind. As far as I know, none of my childhood friends considered enlistment, and no one in my high school graduating class chose to do so. For us, for some unspoken reason, the military was never an option. Perhaps this had something to do with our parents: my father never served, though many of his peers did, and if the government had selected him, he would have been sent to Vietnam. For him, if war was not in his face, it was at least in his peripheral vision.
Yet despite my separation from anything military, I am involved in a boundaryless war: The War On Terror. In middle school, I celebrated with students and teachers alike when American soldiers killed Osama Bin Laden. These days, I feel a gnawing dread every time President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un exchange puerile, nuclear-backed insults. And, as a student, I am appalled at the Senate’s bipartisan, mostly uncontested (89-8) vote for an increase in already exorbitant military spending. This $80 billion increase could pay for about 800 F-35 fighter jets, or make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all, with $33 billion to spare.
That is to say I have strong emotions and opinions about the military as a concept, but like most Americans my age, I have little-to-no connection to the realities of military life. Seventy-seven percent of Americans 50 and older have an immediate family member who has served in the military; only 33 percent of those under 30 can say the same. Perhaps this is a signal of progress — an indication that my generation is closer to peace than that of my parents. But, remember, the U.S. has been at war nearly my entire life. Could this disconnect instead be a symptom of war’s normalization? Has conflict become a perpetual, violently real presence for a patriotic class of Americans over there yet elusive to the rest of the world?
“The military draws many recruits from the same communities and the same families, isolating those in uniform from society and vice versa,” writes analyst Amy Schafer. “In essence, the self-selection dynamics have created a ‘warrior caste.’”
This so-called warrior caste, whether or not we think about it, pays dearly and invisibly as they prop up our comfortable lifestyles. These Americans are ignorable, and the war in Afghanistan is proof. This war has all but vanished from American consciousness. Now, Trump is courting conflict in Korea, Iran, Syria, Venezuela — did I miss any? — but has given no timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has also proposed food-stamp cuts likely to hit already suffering military families — he wants the intimidating weapons, but doesn’t want to take care of the people who use them.
The rhetoric of war may seem noble and glorious to power-drunk leaders like Trump, and his proposal to nuke ISIS may appeal to his horribly misguided supporters, but war itself is far more than macho mouthing off. Despite the American public’s privileged distance from military life, we cannot stand idly by as Trump steers us toward further conflict. Trump himself got out of the draft. But if it were reinstated, not all Americans would be so lucky.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Theo Wayt at [email protected] A version of this appeared in the Monday, Sept. 25 print edition.