We were high school students in Texas and Missouri, with lives that had not yet crossed, but we remember the day with similar sentiments. An overwhelming silence fell upon us, as “shock and awe” deeply shook our ever-shrinking global community. We remember watching images of the air strikes on television and being old enough to realize that nothing about this war seemed right. It was a moment of profound politicization that would not just shape us, but forever define our generation.
As young people we are inextricably tied to this war. Some of us are fighting on the front lines. All of us will bear the debt of this war well into our adulthood. We have developed our worldviews as our government has waged occupation and torture abroad. And together we will search to find meaning and progress as we begin to stumble our way out of Iraq. As young people, this is our war.
However, for many students at Harvard, even though a quarter of our lives have been under the shadow of an American engagement in Iraq, the war has faded to the back of our minds. We graduated from high school to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the world, while many of our peers were shipped straight to the Middle East. Five years on, many of us will soon graduate from Harvard, while our peers in war still have not and may never return home. Nearly 4,000 Americans have died in the war; almost half were under 23. Many of us were too young to fight when the war began. We must recognize what it means to spend our days in classrooms, not in combat. As a generation, we are accountable to each other, and whether we are students or soldiers, we will bear the burden of this war together. We must remember that this war continues.
We speak not only of our American peers, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their military service, but also of Iraqi peers who had far less choice concerning when and how American bombs and sectarian strife would wrench their lives, families, and futures apart. By some estimates, of the hundreds of thousands Iraqis killed in the conflict, a disproportionate number were youth. This is to say nothing of the millions more who have lost much hope for a stable, educated future as they were forced to flee into hasty exile.
Those who have already died have made the greatest and most tragic sacrifice. Yet, they are only the first of our generation to pay the horrible price of this war. Even if the next American president were to withdraw troops by the end of 2009, the conflict will be far from over. Our nation will have staggered several trillion dollars more into debt. Hundreds of thousands of veterans will grapple for the rest of their lives with critical mental health issues brought on by sustained exposure to violence. Millions of Iraqi lives will have been ripped apart, socially and financially. The authority of the United Nations and multilateral institutions to increase international peace, so painstakingly built up by the blood and hopes of our grandparents, will have been severely weakened.
We face a shattered world. The shambles are many, scattered, and exceedingly sharp. In this way, we have much cause for despair. But, we face this task together—and in this, there is much hope.
Our parents hand us a world driven mad by violence and fear. We inherit a legacy of consciously cultivated division and rage. We have been taught to fight each other, yet as youth, we have more cause than any group to be united. We share in the fact that as young people, we must inhabit this world the longest. As the most recent arrivals, we have the least stake in the old feuds and irrational strife of the past. Today—bound together by instantaneous global communication—we are conscious of this in a way no other generation of young people has ever been. Yet, everywhere we have been told to fear, rather than understand, each other. Iraqi and Iranian. Palestinian and Israeli. Black and white. Citizen and immigrant. Straight and queer. Rich and poor. American and “Islamic radical.” We must reject the division of these dichotomies.
Today, we take one such step. In the strife and violence of war, we discover unity and meaning. Young people across the world will be protesting in the streets, and we will stand together to demand that this war end immediately. We ask that you join your peers in Harvard Yard at 2:30pm to express your rejection of this war and hope for peace. Let us remember the hundreds of thousands who have died. And in this remembrance, let us not find fuel for vengeance, but rather the inspiration to work together to a build a world of greater peace. No greater monument to the sacrifice of our peers is possible than a world in which we shall not feel compelled to send our own children to kill others’ children for the sake of crude greed and old lies.
This is our war, and we must end it now.
Alyssa M. Aguilera ’08-09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Cabot House. Paul G. Nauert ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Dudley House. They are both members of the Harvard Anti-War Coalition.