Would young adults today enlist in the United States Army to fight in an invasion of Iran? If not, would they support opposition to such a war if it happened? Surely, this is a question many students, specifically seniors, were asking themselves the week of Jan. 5. Just how would a new war impact students, and how might students impact a potential war.
In a statement from the United States Department of Defense website from Jan. 2, “At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
This initiated a short, but intense scare about a potential war between Iran and the United States over the last days of winter break. In retaliation, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency, Iran struck two American bases in Iraq with “heavy ballistic missile attacks” on Jan. 8. They explained that the attacks were “in retaliation for the US assassination of IRGC Qods Force Commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.” For a few hours, the threat of armed conflict, an invasion of Iran, loomed over the American and Iranian populations. Junior Autumn Vetter voiced her concerns: “The threat of war with Iran honestly scares me a lot. If the threat does cause World War III and nuclear bombs come into the war, everyone is basically dead.”
Both sides of the conflict disagree over the amount of damage caused by the missiles and misinformation about the attack is abundant. However, according to teleSUR on Jan. 17, the United States Army confirmed that 11 American service people were injured in the missile attack.
Eventually, both the United States and Iran moved toward less dangerous relations. According to The New York Times, President of the United States Donald Trump said, "The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it." Iran seemed to share this sentiment and fears of war have since calmed.
However, for a few days, war seemed imminent. The main centers of teenagers on the Internet; Instagram, TikTok, and Reddit, quickly became centers of anti-war sentiment. Interestingly, however, this sentiment was spread via memes joking about fighting in a potential invasion and hypothetical draft-dodging.
By Jan. 8, the first day back from winter break, conversations about the threat of war could be heard across the school. Students who never showed interest in politics or global affairs readily expressed their opinions on the matter.
If the United States went to war with Iran, young people, including high school students would and must form the core of a new anti-war movement.
No American under 18, born and raised in the United States, has ever lived in a country that has not been at war. From Afghanistan to Iraq and in Syria, their country has been at war for the entirety of their lives. The most memorable global news event from many a student’s childhood was the rise and fall of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, better known as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the reemergence of the Taliban. From Paris to somewhere closer to home, San Bernardino, California, Islamic terrorist attacks made headlines throughout the 2010s. These events shaped our generation.
With hindsight, it becomes clear that these terrorist organizations were indirectly created by American foreign policy in the Middle East. As far back as the Cold War, the United States inadvertently armed what would become the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to fight a Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in Operation Cyclone. According to The Washington Post, on January 7, 2019, newly declassified CIA and State Department documents showed that “in 1980, President Carter’s CIA spent close to $100 million shipping weapons to the Afghan resistance.” An article from The Independent, on Dec. 6, 1993, even referred to Osama bin Laden, founder of Al-Qaeda and a planner of the 9/11 attacks, as an “anti-Soviet warrior.”
ISIS is part of a ripple effect of chaos caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which left many trained, armed men unemployed and despising Western power. The American-led intervention in the Syrian Civil War only worsened the situation, as funding and arming anti-government rebels in Syria created a power vacuum which helped lead to the rise of ISIS and other jihadist groups. Though there is much debate on the facts, according to Wired in Dec. 12, 2017, hard evidence traces ISIS’s weapons supplies back to the US, however, ISIS did produce many of its own arms.
Many students are familiar with the consequences of American intervention in the Middle East. Like no generation before, the Internet is a core component of youth culture. Widely available descriptions of human rights violations and alleged war crimes committed by the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq are at students’ fingertips and can be shared with just one swipe.
Young people have access to the Taguba Report from 2004, which outlines vivid descriptions of physical and sexual abuses committed on imprisoned Iraqis by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison. The International Committee of the Red Cross and journalists at numerous locations in Iraq have documented cases of torture and inhuman treatment outside Abu Ghraib. These wartime scandals and other reports and images of the horrors of war are partially responsible for the anti-war sentiment among youth today. Many young people believe that the United States destroyed those countries. Why would any of them support the United States doing the same in Iran?
When asked about the recent events in Iraq, Ewan Gillespie, a freshman, said, “I believe the throwing around of threats and power is unhealthy in a world full of valuable lives. Another freshman, Scarlett Hacker, said, “I feel like this war could break out in horrible ways. Many people would have to flee their country, causing even more issues and arguments.” Many fear that intervention in the war by China or Russia, on Iran’s behalf, could seriously escalate the conflict.
Some may argue that young people today are apathetic and complacent. They may argue that young people are plugged into their electronics, detached and disinterested in the world around them. If so, what was the activism that erupted from the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018? What were the September 2019 climate strikes across the globe? Both of these are popular political movements led by high school students recently, and there are many more examples. Is that complacency? Is it disinterest? It is clearly the opposite. As a matter of fact, this generation of youth is possibly the most politically active since the 1960s.
Again, it is absolutely imperative that young people stand against acts of aggression by American imperialists across the world, from the green countrysides of Venezuela, to the mountains of Bolivia, and in the busy streets of Iran. Students are and will be the face of the next anti-war movement.