We Are a Generation of War
August 12, 2015
Sean Langberg and Maggie O'Donnell / Friends Committee on National Legislation
Commentary: "When we were nine years-old, President Bush declared a "war on terror" and less than three weeks later the war in Afghanistan began. Today, 13 years later, we are young adults and the war rages on, vastly expanding in scope. We are a generation of war. . . . In the first decade since President Bush launched the 'war on terror,' the US spent $7.6 trillion on "defense" and 'homeland security.' Since 2001, the Pentagon's base budget has nearly doubled."
We Are a Generation of War
Sean Langberg and Maggie O'Donnell / Friends Committee on National Legislation
(September 25, 2014) -- When we were nine years-old, President Bush declared a "war on terror" and less than three weeks later the war in Afghanistan began. Today, 13 years later, we are young adults and the war rages on, vastly expanding in scope. We are a generation of war.
In the beginning of 2014, the US seemed to be scaling back the major military operations that constitute a large portion of the "war on terror;" the majority of soldiers were out of Iraq and a plan was in place to withdraw most troops from Afghanistan in late 2014.
But that all changed on September 11, 2014, exactly 13 years after al-Qaeda hijacked three airliners, when President Obama announced a new war in Iraq and Syria, without Congressional approval, against the Islamic State (IS).
The President's two- to three-year commitment to "degrade and ultimately destroy" IS now ensures that people our age -- the millennial generation -- will have lived in a war-time country for 15 consecutive years. So despite the fact that we're being told that IS is a terrorist group "the likes of which we haven't seen before," the newly-declared war seems not new, but instead startlingly normal, a fluid extension of our past.
Millennials have grown accustomed to the Bush-Obama cornerstone of American foreign policy: engagement in endless war. But despite its normalcy to us -- as a country, it's a deviation of historic proportions.
The fact that we are a generation of war has dramatic consequences for us, our peers, and our country.
The fact that we are a generation of war has dramatic consequences for us, our peers, and our country. Millennials are accustomed to the misguided paradigm that sees military-first responses as appropriate and, perhaps, essential. We have forgotten that war is supposed to be the very last resort and should only come after robust national and congressional debates.
This mentality begins with the phrase "war on terror" itself -- it's a borderless war against a vague type of political violence without a clear definition of victory, leaving the US feeling as though it constantly needs to be offensively engaged across the world in order to remain safe.
As a result, since 2001, the US has consistently prioritized military efforts over diplomatic action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and now Syria -- including the countries targeted by a lethal drone program (which the CIA could neither confirm nor deny even existed until last year). Different as this war may be, its consequences are the same as those before it – increased violence and long-term instability.
The militarization does not end at our borders. As we saw in Ferguson this summer, military-first solutions are increasingly seen by cities and states as the best way to control crowds and crush dissent.
Since 1997, the Department of Defense has transferred over $5.1 billion worth of equipment used in warzones -- from assault rifles to mine-resistant armored vehicles -- to up to 8,000 local and state law enforcement agencies. This permeation of military-grade material onto our streets gives the impression that war is here and it's here to stay. As millennials, we no longer have to imagine what it is like to come face-to-face with a military presence.
This militarization at home and abroad has tangible fiscal implications. In the first decade since President Bush launched the "war on terror", the US spent $7.6 trillion -- that's 11 zeros -- on "defense" and "homeland security." Since 2001, the Pentagon's base budget, which does not include Iraq and Afghanistan war spending, has nearly doubled.
Every year the Pentagon receives billions of dollars outside of its base budget through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. Over the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has spent over $1 trillion through OCO. Meanwhile, the Department of State and USAID -- the US's primary bodies of diplomatic engagement and development -- have experienced budget cuts.
While the President and Congress continue to request and appropriate more money for militarized programs, young people face practical fiscal constraints. Since the "war on terror" began, the cost of college has increased approximately 650% and total student debt now tops $1.08 trillion, leaving students riddled with monthly payments for years, if not decades.
In the long term, we may have to face cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other low-income programs that some members in Congress, despite their readiness to fully fund the Pentagon, are clamoring to slash in the name of "fiscal responsibility;" programs that past generations took for granted are in jeopardy for people our age.
Obama's new war is about more than bombing and arming Iraq and Syria. It's about where our country is and what we want our priorities to be in the future. Young people have a stark choice: accept the emerging status quo of militarized law enforcement and military-first engagement with the world that lacks Congressional authority and drains our financial resources, or, demand evidence-based, nonviolent practices at home and abroad that will improve our country's reputation, cost less, and bring about lasting peace. Choosing the latter option won't be easy; it will take time, energy, and lots of us -- young people -- taking a stand for policies that build, support, and restore.
In our first month at FCNL, we have transitioned from concerned college students to lobbyists advocating for change. Through lobby visits, we are working for the repeal of authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF), a congressional vote on military intervention in Iraq and Syria, and, ultimately, peaceful alternatives. We encourage you to do the same and invite you to the Quaker Public Policy Institute, a two-day event that brings Quaker and non-Quaker advocates together to lobby members of Congress. This year we are focusing on the conclusion of US negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program -- a potential landmark moment in US history. Join us on November 20-21 as we support diplomacy and a peaceful future for Iran and the region.
We Are A Generation of War: Part II
Sean Langberg / Friends Committee on atonal Legislation
(July 24, 2015) -- In September, when I started my yearlong fellowship with FCNL, I wrote about the moment when my life changed forever. On September 11, 2001, the US experienced immense tragedy and chose to become a new version of itself. President Bush and Congress, with the backing of the public, chose to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. His successor, while drawing down the full-scale wars, chose to launch multiple bombing campaigns, ratchet up military aid, and continue the drone war.
As my FCNL supervisor recently wrote, this is war now and my generation will live with the national and global reality that our leaders, with the public's consent, created. We chose to enter a new era of militarism and violence and young people will have to live with the consequences for the rest of our lives.
The costs of the War on Terror are relatively well-known. Our country chose to launch two full-scale wars and a drone campaign that killed 210,000 civilians, 48,800 soldiers and police, 7,000 contractors, and created 7.6 million refugees and internally displaced people, and 970,000 Veterans Administration claims. Those are millions of lives that were either cut short or ruined because of our country's choices.
On top of the mangled bodies and broken families is the global norm of militarism and violence that our country chose to re-create in the past 15 years. The norm of the bipolar world during the Cold War was one of proxy conflict. The US fought and funded its way through the century until the 1990's when it pivoted toward its new role as the largest remaining military juggernaut.
After the events on 9/11, the country began a new global fight, this time against what it calls terrorism. Our country's actions showed other countries that relying on military force to crush terrorist groups, rebellions, and all other kinds of resistance is acceptable.
It is permissible to incur collateral damage, "torture folks," and violate fundamental rights as long as you're on our side. We'll give you weapons, cash, and training as long as you'll do our bidding.
Our country's promotion of violence is not new and it's not surprising, for my generation lives in a country born out of and bred on violence. From the original war to slavery to Hiroshima to Jim Crow to Vietnam to Iraq to Iraq again to Gaza and to Mike Brown, here we are, in 2015, living with this legacy. Violence is what the US does, from the streets of Baghdad to the streets of Baltimore, 40 miles from where I sit.
Militarism isn't just a foreign policy issue. It affects everyone everywhere. It's the $1.7 trillion that was spent on bombs, bullets, and tanks rather than schools, infrastructure, health research, alternative fuels, ending homelessness, and alleviating poverty.
It's the thousands of young lives thrown away in vain and the soldiers turning guns on their own heads and the young people shot and choked to death in their streets and the cops roaming the hallways of our schools and the millions of people languishing in the world's biggest prison system and the men raping and assaulting women on college campuses; militarism is a culture of violence that has colonized every aspect of my generation.
It does not have to be this way. We chose to become this and we can choose to become something else. During my year as an FCNL Young Fellow, I have talked to thousands of FCNL supporters who support a new norm.
The military-industrial, prison-industrial, and election-industrial complexes created and sustained by our elected leaders are daunting, gigantic enterprises. Our institutions have proven that they will not dramatically reform from within. They will bomb, spy, acquit, and deal to be self-serving.
The only ways to change our culture and norm of violence is to close the political space that allows our leaders to perpetuate its existence and open new space to create a better alternative. Domestic and foreign policy change must happen hand in hand. Our country cannot continue to gun down young people here and expect a norm of peace abroad; the dissonance is unconquerable.
As this summer's movements around gay marriage and racist flag removal have shown, making it politically impossible for a leader to take a certain position is an effective way to make change.
We, young and old, arm in arm, must recognize the country's wrought history and violent present and make it unacceptable for our leaders to let militarism reign. It starts with treating each other gently and then demanding a future about which we can be proud.
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