All Our Lives: US Teenagers, Iraq and Afghanistan

My name is Ann, I am 14 years old, and for as long as I can remember my country has been at war. I was born in October of 1997; we entered Afghanistan in October of 2001. I was a few weeks away from turning four, and my memories of that time are few and hazy. For all intents and purposes, I have lived my life in this fight. In fact, I cannot remember a time when there were not stories about increasing troop casualties, cannot imagine a political debate where “What to do in Iraq and Afghanistan” wasn’t at least mentioned.

Never before in history

At the same time, though, my childhood was, scarily, pretty disattached from the wars. While there have, of course, been many kids who’ve grown up during wars (my mother, for example, lost an older brother in Vietnam when she was just five), I believe that the experience of my generation is unique. Never before in history have we had this kind of a war: a long, drawn-out conflict where the casualties gradually accumulate and there are no battles, just guerilla warfare and drone strikes. Never before has America been in a war where, instead of pulling together and doing everything possible to support our troops, we lowered taxes on the rich and ignored the war in most of our political discussions. This time around, we do not have drives for old clothes, and there are no “decisive battles” or even a clear definition of “victory.”

Damage is done

To my generation, therefore, America’s wars have become a sort of fuzzy reality, taking up the kind of background space that is normally reserved for things like the European debt crisis and the Mexican drug cartels- something big, something important, but also complicated and a little hard to understand; something that is wildly controversial yet requires a real depth of understanding to have an informed opinion on. Since “having an informed opinion” means doing some research, most of my teenage peers don’t know that much, and since there is little coverage in the mainstream media (compare that to the Vietnam protests or rah-rah patriotism WWII videos; regardless of your opinion of those points of view, at least you knew that something was going on). We have little opportunity to learn more, and frankly, this terrifies me. Yes, we have pulled out from Iraq, and the end is in sight in Afghanistan, but the damage has already been done.

Imagine a world without war?

I have lain awake at night, sometimes, trying to conceive of what my world would be like without war in it. Honestly, I can’t picture it. I would imagine that it would be wonderful — that I would no longer have to wonder if every camoflauged officer I see in the airport will make it back home, that there will no longer be the heartrending pictures of mothers and fathers crying over caskets draped with American flags, that I will no longer feel that horrible pull at my heart when I see the children rush into a returning soldier’s arms and wonder how many other little girls and boys have had their childhoods blown up in one roadside bomb.

But while I can imagine, I can’t know what it would be like, because that is not how I’ve grown up. Instead, I have heard of video games like COD and Black Ops, where my classmates glory in their “kill streaks” and “juggernaut suits.” I have, for as far back as memory goes, commemorated 9/11 with my parents looking sad, and horrible YouTube videos of things that only happen in movies: planes crashing, people falling down like feathers from 90th-story windows, an entire city blanketed in ash. I know to wear slip-ons to the airport, because you have to take them off when you go through security (“Wait- you mean you didn’t always have to? But then what did you do? You mean you just went through the scanners with them on?”).

I know that we are maybe losing this thing called the War on Terror, except nobody really knows what it is. I also know about IEDs, and rocket-propelled grenades, and drone strikes. I know about the Taliban, and Bin Laden, and Al Quada — names that in any other context could be toy brands, car manufacturers, friends. I know too much, and yet not enough, because while I can tell you the names of all of our weapons, I’m not really sure how we got into this conflict in the first place. I can tell you about casualty numbers, and truck bombings, and what flower you wear on Veteran’s Day, but I can’t say how to get out without causing even more damage. And while I know that I don’t know, most of my peers don’t either.

What will we be like?

Mostly, though, I worry about how my generation will act when we grow up. Having seen the images of explosions and legless men and women, having watched the mushroom cloud of a truck bombing and learned all about grenades, will my peers know that this is not okay? Since nobody in politics seems to think this is important, since lowering taxes on the wealthy, denying women the right to control their own bodies, and forcing LGBT people back into second-class citizenship is more of a priority right now, will my generation think that war is no big deal? Since only 1% of our country is actually fighting, since most Americans don’t know any active servicemembers, will we simply write off their contributions and sacrifices? Will our experiences affect how we feel about Iran or Syria? One day, will it change our votes?  I have no idea the answers to these questions, but they are what keep me up at night.

I am the next generation, and I am afraid for our future.


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Randy Robertson
Randy Robertson6 years ago

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! x1000

grace h.
Grace Hysell6 years ago

thanks for all you have done and are doing GOD BLESS

Patricia H.
Patricia H.6 years ago

noted, thanks for sharing

Winn Adams
Winn Adams6 years ago


Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Georgia A.
Georgia a6 years ago

I love this country. I really do. I also lost five friends in Viet Nam, including the boy I grew up with who lived next door. He died the morning his only son was being born. Sad for a son to remember his birthday was also the day the father he never knew died. I have one son whom I love dearly. I told him from the time he was a teen if the draft was ever put back into practice and he was called up that I would cut his trigger finger off while he slept. He always laughed at me, thinking I was kidding. I don't know if I was serious or not. Thankfully it never happened and he's too old now to be considered should a draft be re-enacted. I am so sick of wars and it would seem in all the centuries in which they have taken place, mankind would learn they have really never solved anything. All they have done is deprive many a parent of their children. When are we going to learn to sit down and really talk to each other, rather than all this killing?

Connie W.
Connie Wargo6 years ago

thanks for posting

David Youmans
David Youmans6 years ago

I understand where you're coming from Ann. I'm 52 years old, and grew up during the Vietnam war. I was fifteen years old when we pulled out, and had for several years been worried about having to go over there and fight or die in a useless war. I'm sorry that you are forced to experience the tragedy of war and wonder if humankind will ever mature beyond the need to use violence to try to get their way. I don't remember who said it, but one very wise man once stated that "violence is the last resort of a competent man." I grew up watching men carried out of the jungles of Vietnam with arms and legs missing on the nightly news. I have learned that the people at the top don't really seem to care if the children of other die in their foolish wars, and that to many people in our government serve the military industrial complex.

All I can say is don't give up hope and realize that there are many of use older people that feel as you do, and would like to see peace in the world.

We really don't mind if all the companies that make military weapons have to close down...

Ajla C.
Past Member 6 years ago


Lisa D.
Lisa D6 years ago

Well Said!!
If a 14 yr old did in fact write this, i think she should be looking towards a future in politics!