#NatSec #DefensePolicy #ForeignAffairs #VeteransIssues #CurrentEvents #CommonSense- A Millennial Perspective
Earlier this week former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker said, “America is oblivious to the war.” His accusation would have been a stinging reminder to a country that has been fighting an insurgency for 11 years now, had anyone been listening.
Two days after his interview with NPR, four American soldiers were killed by indirect fire on Bagram Air Base in eastern Afghanistan. If this is the first time that you have heard about these deaths, it is mainly because the Ambassador’s remarks were true.
What is most disappointing in the Ambassador’s comments is not merely the disinterest among our countrymen, but more specifically my generation (the millennials), who will soon inherit these problems as leaders in business, defense and congress. How will young men and women of my generation ever be able to respond to major public policy issues like energy, overpopulation, immigration, international trade, economics when they refuse to pay attention when their country is at war? How will they be sufficiently well versed to lead on critical issues in the future or educated enough to elect those who can, when they routinely turn the channel every time a military update overseas comes on?
When our father’s generation went off to Vietnam, the war was broadcast in nearly every living room across the country. Families huddled around their TVs at night to listen to the war correspondence and became familiar with places like Drang Valley, Saigon, and Dien Bien Phu. Even though these names were strange and mispronounced, they became as much of the American lexicon as the starting rosters for the Yankees or Celtics.
In a digital age where access to information is at our fingertips and the 24 hour news cycle means that we don’t have to wait to get home to hear the latest reports, one would think that we’re better informed of the current events of our day. However, while we are more “connected” than we were 40 years ago, it is directed more towards our Facebook statuses, instagram photos, and tweets than world problems. If we can’t get the Millennials to care about their fellow citizens risking their lives day in and day out, what can we get them to care about?
It is rare to hear about the topic of Iraq or Afghanistan in a daily conversation. It is not so much of a taboo subject as it is a forgotten one. It’s not even mentioned among my own friends, (many of which are Afghan vets themselves). The conventional wisdom may be because there is no shared sacrifice and unlike Vietnam that had mandatory conscription, Americans feel disconnected and indifferent. Therefore, many in this country feel no need to pay attention.
But pay they do and even the most apathetic citizen worries about the economy and finances. Would it make a difference if we received a tax statement with how much we paid individually to the war effort? If people could see the financial impact in their own wallets would that be enough for people to get engaged, ask about strategic objectives or demand troops come home?
Afghanistan is often referred to as the Long War, which is not conducive to the short-term memories and attention spans of many Americans. Perhaps we are so accustomed to having a military presence there (many of us millennials were in High School when troops first went into Afghanistan/ Iraq), that some of us almost forget that there are still US troops in harms way or that we have lost 6,654 Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reality is that even though less than 1% of Americans have ever served in Iraq or Afghanistan, every American has paid a price. And although the financial burden that we have paid collectively as a country is steep, it pales in comparison to the individual price thousands of millennial veterans have paid on the battlefield. There is simply no amount of money that can ever make up for that. The sooner people begin to realize what this country has given to the fight, the sooner the national dialogue on defense matters will truly begin to reflect the values and attitudes of the overall population. Until then, you can’t have a debate unless people are informed and engaged. It’s better late than never.