As most of us are aware, the Taliban have now successfully taken over the entirety of Afghanistan, minus a few contested territories. After 20 years of continuous conflict and the loss of 2,448 American service members as of April 2021, former President George W. Bush’s War on Terror has reached a shocking conclusion in what seemed like only a matter of a few months. However, why are so many members of the Generation-Z and millennial cohorts unaware of all the details, especially of a conflict that has persisted for their entire lives, and is there anything that can be done in terms of recovery for those affected or educating ourselves?
To properly address the gravity of the situation, it’s important to first understand the conflict’s origins.
In the early 90s, the Taliban originated in Afghanistan after the Soviets’ withdrawal from the Middle East. With financial support from Saudi Arabia, the Taliban sought out and enforced a very specific and restrictive version of Sharia Law — the legal system of Islam based off the Quran — throughout Afghanistan.
At that time, however, the Taliban weren’t seen in the same light. They built their legacy by squashing government corruption in Afghanistan, an issue created and exacerbated by constant United States and European military interventions. Consequently, these extremists managed to portray a savior façade in the eyes of those left helpless.
As the Taliban’s violence and audacity sharply increased in the mid-to-late 90s, they didn’t face genuine resistance until the U.S.’ intervention in 2001. Nonetheless, 20 years later, here we are, with countless innocent lives lost, seemingly back to square one.
If you were already aware of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, good for you — you are moderately up-to-date on current events. However, the fact is that many people — possibly including yourself — are uninformed of the specifics and complexities of the U.S.’ involvement, influence and loss over the past couple of decades. This is because of one blatantly obvious reason: We have become desensitized as a generation.
If you were born in 2001 or later, the U.S. has been at war for 100% of your life. We are so used to hearing about American life being lost abroad that we barely react when we hear the news of 13 U.S. soldiers losing their lives in Kabul — along with 60 Afghan refugees — or that more than four times the number of combat deaths post-9/11 are representative of veteran suicides.
These facts may receive a repost or small conversation, but there are always bigger things to talk about, such as Kylie Jenner’s second pregnancy or Drake’s new album. This war isn’t new, and it isn’t fresh. The issue is not the fact that this information can be disheartening or even disturbing; instead, we find it mundane because we’re so used to it.
That’s why it’s an interesting experience to be Gen-Z in America. Our entire lives have been occupied by the white noise of war. Programs such as the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps have become so normalized because of our accustomed nature to continuous combat. We have become so acquainted with war that we even allow it to dictate our educational systems and our nation’s understanding of itself. We’ve dug ourselves into an undeniably deep hole when it comes to international conflict.
And the glorification of such a militaristic cultural ideal presents its own issues. Not only do we become desensitized to the conflicts themselves, but we also develop a defense for those already riddled with the urge to ostracize other religions and ethnicities. When postulating bias as a necessity, in this case portraying America’s belligerent prowess as a frontage that must be maintained, we fall down a never-ending cycle. We feed the public illustrious images of our military’s victories, ask for more tax money, grow our military branches, meddle with other nations, and repeat — and Americans who already hold dissonance in their hearts are able to utilize renewed xenophobia as ammunition.
However, there may be some hope left. If we break away from our usual mindless scrolling on Twitter or Instagram and decide to try, at the very least, to have a lasting impact on something that has long impacted us, there are small ways to pitch in. Gen-Z has managed to reshape the political climate and the way in which foreign policy is approached. Now, even university students can attempt to influence this country’s international outreach.
The U.S. has managed to evacuate 65,000 Afghan refugees, 24,000 of which have been relocated in the U.S. There are organizations that donate supplies and finances to refugees across the country. One of the most prominent of these affiliates is the Welcome to America Project based in Phoenix, Ariz. They are currently accepting monetary donations, as well as gift cards and gently used clothing and toiletries. Other organizations with similar goals are Human Rights First and the International Refugee Assistance Project.
If monetary-based donations aren’t really an option — as many college students may attest — you can reach out to the California Department of Social Services Refugee Programs Bureau. Take five minutes out of your day and contact these organizations. It will definitely be more fulfilling than reposting something from CNN.