Late one night when I was five years old, unable to sleep, I wandered out of my bedroom to find my mom watching TV in our living room. Despite her futile protests for me to go back to bed, I sat with her on the couch to see what she was watching. The grainy images from our TV were then quickly etched into my memory as I watched military planes taking off and missiles being launched. Turning to my mom, I asked what was happening, and as best as she could with a sad expression on her face, she said that “we” were going to war.

My mom and I were watching what I later found out to be the first images of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. I was five years old that night watching our nation deploy thousands of soldiers to that faraway country.

And I am now 21 — and yet again, I am watching as our country proceeds to deploy thousands of more soldiers, some younger than myself, to Afghanistan in order to continue a war that has been raging for nearly 16 years.

And that is why I question if “we” are still going to war? 

Because in that 16-year expanse, many Americans, myself included, never felt like the country was truly in a state of war. There was no period of rationing for fuel, no utilization of factories to build new tanks and military equipment. During this time, there was no draft to fill the ranks of our military, no push in our education and state departments to teach Arabic or Afghani Pashtun within our schools. And there were no new taxes meant explicitly to finance both the war and to comfort the pain caused to veterans and their families.

Essentially, unless you or your family member were enlisted within the military — life in America was completely normal. Because to us as Americans, war as seen through our TVs and smartphones is perfectly normal.

Since the Cold War, we have had our military engaged in a near constant state of warfare that seems to be increasing in magnitude across the globe. From Vietnam to Grenada, to Somalia and now Syria — our military being in combat is just a part of present reality. It is just the accepted standard that in some distant part of the world, U.S. soldiers are fighting and dying. The drone strikes that kill innocent civilians are normal. The deaths of special forces soldiers are normal. And now, the increase in troop deployments in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have become normal.

As detailed in Rachel Maddow’s excellent book “Drift,” a dramatic detachment occurred between the American public and the U.S. military in which the “country” stopped going to war, but the military still did.

This began during and especially after the war in Vietnam. Lack of public support for the war culminated in a detachment of the military from the general public. Congressional approvals for military operations became difficult to attain due to the lack of support for sending more Americans to Vietnam. Therefore, subverting the standard protocol for war became more common for the executive branch and the Pentagon. For example, the War Powers Act has allegedly been violated multiple times with no resulting legal action against the executive office. War has essentially become easier to conduct.

And throughout the entire process, the American public has been almost unaffected by the wars raged in different parts of the world. No rationing ever occurred, no new taxes were levied, no transformation occurred in our public education to train a new generation to deal with terrorism and foreign policy — instead, from our living rooms, we sat back and watched the planes and rockets fly.

Desensitized to the violence, our country has further divided into the normalization of the constant state of warfare, reaching a point in which it is almost satirical, with Fox News airing clips of bombs being dropped to the tune of patriotic country music. Why do we even ask how Roman citizens could watch gladiators slaughter each other in the arena?

Our lack of empathy and understanding toward both veterans and victims of war is displayed with our current foreign policy. Military options are always on the table, often preferred over other alternatives due to our true lack of understanding of actual consequences.

The true consequences of this normalization of warfare are barbaric and depressing. And the anguish is experienced not only by the thousands of veterans and families who lost a loved one in combat — but the innocent civilians caught in the hell that becomes their homes. As we watch the escalating conflicts going on a world away — thousands upon thousands of lives are lost and traumatized in ways that we as American civilians only get subtle glimpses of through our twitter feeds, televisions and the next Mel Gibson or Clint Eastwood movie.

We as a country are entering the 16th year in which our military will be engaged in combat in Afghanistan. Despite what my mom said on our couch that late night in 2001 — “we” never went to war, our military did. 

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