I was 16 in 2003 when I watched the initial “shock and awe” campaign unfold on cable television. I listened to cable news anchors parroting the threat of weapons of mass destruction as a clear and present danger, a justification for raining down mass destruction on Iraq. I saw thousands of young people being sent over to fight this war. They were only a few years older than myself.
My feelings about the unfolding war were intensified by the approaching deadline of mandatory registration for the Selective Service. Would this war end up justifying a draft right as I came of age? I still have a copy of my enrollment card, printed in rapidly fading inkjet on cheap paper.
It wasn’t even the first Iraq war I remembered. I have fuzzy memories of Tom Brokaw’s voice saying “fox holes”. I remember seeing footage of tanks rolling across dunes and wondering what creates a Desert Storm. Oh, right — oil. It was 1991. I was four.
I’ve reached adulthood in a generation of millennials that grew up on war. I have friends and family who bravely served our country, fighting petty and largely unjustified wars. Those people are heroes. The people who started the wars are criminals. It’s a duality with which we’ve had to accept as we move on with life, perservering through a financial crisis, a global pandemic and more.
I know people who’s lives have been wrecked by untreated PTSD from their service. I know people who’ve made a good career out of their service yet harbor misgivings about the machine in which they are a cog. I know people who served and have returned to a civilian life, mostly unscathed. They are lucky.
Last night I watched Russia invade Ukraine. Instead of cable news anchors droning on about American might, I doom-scrolled through Twitter, TikTok and Reddit watching raw footage of the conflict unfold. I heard stories. I heard the voices of a peaceful people full of uncertainty and fear about what the dictator next door really might be able to accomplish. And I saw the early morning devastation as Ukrainians worst fears came true.
There are young people in Russia wondering if they will have to fight. There are young people in Ukraine wondering about their future — and wondering how to fight back.
I find the footage of anti-war protests in Russia to be heartening. Cameras panning the crowds show a young population speaking out, potentially at great personal cost, against the actions of their puffed up despot. A young population that understand this war is unjust and unprovoked.
I’m sorry if you read this far and hoped I might have any sort of conclusion. I don’t. I just feel so young to remember so much war.