I remember watching the first bombings from my room in the black-and-white sort of way teenagers view war. It was March 19th, 2003, and Peter Jennings had cut into programming to update us on the war, thinking this was going to happen every night. We were going to hear about the capture and cathartic justice of this set, finite enemy until that enemy did not exist anymore.
My brother had blown out the candles to his 18th birthday cake at home a few hours beforehand. I wouldn’t remember it, otherwise. It wasn’t an event like 9/11 was an era-defining cultural event. Or like Michael Jackson’s death was, oddly enough. You probably don’t remember the date that the Iraq War started, and I wouldn’t either unless it was my brother’s 18th birthday and we weren’t so tremendously inept.
All of a sudden, he was 18 and I was next. We were two children who had both accidentally ruined trash barrels by throwing still-lit matches into them on entirely separate occasions.
On paper, we were prime draft bait. In reality, I often wondered why I was even given opposable thumbs.
But I wasn’t drafted. The nightly reports of bombings -- cutting into sitcoms and football games to remind us how gruesome seven years of war can be -- did not take place. The enemy was not, in the end, easy to pinpoint, let alone bring to dramatic, public justice.
A couple of friends got shipped away voluntarily instead, and I went off to college to watch arthouse films that I only pretended to understand. The war faded away into the background, and we focused on Michael Jackson, mostly, as we waited for everyone to come home.
Then almost every young person I know voted for a man who said he’d pull all of our friends out of that country because the war -- in teenage, black-and-white terms -- wasn’t working anymore.
When he finally did it today, nobody said anything.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend from high school who had been deployed to Baghdad and Germany started chatting with me on Facebook. He was back in the United States, finally, figuring himself out. But he said it felt foreign. He’s in his early-20s, and when his time is up sometime in the next couple of years, he’s probably moving back to Germany. He tried to articulate this to me: He didn’t become an adult in the United States, so why stay here?
I didn’t understand.
Today's Soundtrack: Ben Folds Five - Missing the War
Morning Benders - Waiting for a War
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