How War Targets the Young

tags: foreign policy, military history, war

Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University’s Costs of War Project. She is an activist and social worker interested in the health impacts of war. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of the new book War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One day in October 2001, shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, I stood at the front of a private high school classroom. As a new social studies teacher, I had been tasked with describing violence against women in that country. I showed the students an article from the front page of the New York Times featuring Afghan women casting off their burqas as they bathed in a stream near Kabul.

The implication of the piece was that the U.S. would liberate -- had already, in fact, begun to liberate -- such women. I soon realized, though, that my students weren’t really paying attention. They hadn’t, in fact, been fully capable of focusing for the previous three weeks, ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. They squirmed in their seats, watched the clock, or stared out the window at California’s rolling hills as if something bad was about to happen.

One student finally raised her hand and said, in evident confusion, “I don’t know why, but I’m scared.” And we had our first meaningful conversation since that fateful September day. One after another, my students confessed that they didn’t know what the response to those attacks -- already dubbed by the Bush administration a “Global War on Terror” -- would mean for all of us or what Washington's goals of “liberation” in distant lands would mean for their futures, no less those of the women in the photo.  As last week’s explosive report in the Washington Post on the lies our top military and political leaders have offered us ever since about “progress” in the Afghan War made all too clear, none of us could really have had a clue, nor did we even know what questions to ask then.

Eighteen years later, the war on terror has spread to some 80 countries around the world, a nightmare far worse than anything those children or I could have imagined on that long-ago day. As a military spouse and a therapist-in-training, specializing in the effects of war on health, I’ve lived in several cities with a high concentration of veterans and military families, as well as refugee and migrant families from countries across five continents, many deeply affected by those still spreading armed conflicts (or even older ones in Central America that the U.S. had been involved in launching in the previous century).

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