Coming of age in a time of war
By Saba Long
Ten years is a lifetime when you are coming of age. For me, it has been a decade spanning adolescent angst to the nervous excitement of newfound freedom with life on a college campus to presently building a career and attempting to create a life of fulfillment.
Next week — March 19 to be exact — marks 10 years since the start of the Iraq War.
The day the United States was attacked and the Twin Towers came down, I watched my classmates cover their mouths in shock as we watched the news channel continuously loop the planes crashing, forever scarring the New York City skyline. In the coming months I followed the stories — the “Mission Accomplished” speech, regime change, weapons of mass destruction — but felt removed from the war.
It wasn’t until my oldest brother — my favorite, the one who many a night I’d fall asleep on his chest — called to tell me he was going to be deployed.
Prior to that call, the war on Iraq had no immediate impact on my life. There weren’t riots in the streets, at least not in the South. No rationing of food and fuel. No concern for your safety as you walk to and from class, take the train or dine in a crowded restaurant with friends. This is, after all, America, a country established under the notion of manifest destiny.
That call forever reversed my apathetic approach to U.S. foreign policy; it stunned me into a debate with myself and others on America’s role in the development, freedom and policing of the world. A number of poignant moments over the past few years continue to resonate with me to this day.
In 2007, nearly five years into the Iraq War, I began researching documentary-making and story development for The Atlanta Way, a gentrification project loosely organized by friends from Georgia State and SCAD. I stumbled upon Taxi to the Dark Side — a full-length documentary and comprehensive look at wartime torture practiced by the United States military in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
The nuances of the war on terror have called into question the personal character and beliefs of our soldiers, Congress and ultimately the commander-in-chief. Early in his 2008 bid for president, U.S. Sen. John McCain said while speaking out against waterboarding: “This is really fundamentally about what kind of nation the United States of America is.”
It was an act of defiance against the stance of his primary opponents and garnered him respect from the left.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama categorically rejected the use of torture. But the legal waters to prevent torture remain at best murky.
Having grown up in a devout Christian household, it wasn’t until going away to college that I began to seriously challenge and question the teachings of my childhood. In the practice of the collegiate rite of passage, the writings of Kant, Plato and even Paul Ryan’s favorite Ayn Rand exposed me to differing thought processes.
One Easter weekend — how apropos — my father and I sat around the dinner table discussing Obama’s candidacy and background. The discussion transitioned to whether Americans should embrace a Muslim candidate for the Oval Office.
By this time, our ritualistic late Saturday nights in the kitchen had matured from the early days of simple daddy-daughter conversation to adults from two distinct generations debating issues long past midnight. This particular interchange provided a bittersweet coming-of-age moment in which I fully realized my perfect father was a man of prejudice.
He held firm to his conviction that our head of state must always remain a practicing Christian and under no circumstances would he vote for a candidate practicing any other religion — particularly a Muslim. It was a reeling moment for me as I reflected on the number of acquaintances and friends experiencing conflicts because of their display of religion in a post 9-11 America.
Hitting the fast forward button to a lunch I had last week with the former Ambassador to Venezuela, the conversation inevitably covered the death of Hugo Chávez. It reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in America, where our political leaders, while respected, are not supreme, sovereign beings; where our cities and states work to provide a path out of poverty rather than one-off handouts; and where the balance of power is both a political necessity and reality.
As we continue to transition out of Iraq, Afghanistan and a war mentality — take the time to evaluate your values and beliefs in this country and your community. While doing so, thank the soldier whose duty is to keep your family safe, the politician who votes to protect the readiness of our military and the family members who pray for the protection and return of their loved ones fighting for liberty and justice for all.