Half Life

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I turned 40 this year, an event that didn’t have any tangible significance to me outside of a few things I won’t share here. That significance changed when I saw the recent news of the U.S. leaving Afghanistan after 20 years. It’s almost half my life, spent living in a country on a war footing, hearing news of soldiers dying, seeing footage of violence in a nation half a world away.

I don’t want to get into the business of the intellectual vultures, trying to sway opinions and lay blame during an ongoing crisis. Such things ought to be beneath people, but cynicism and age tell me that this is going to be otherwise. There are many who demanded the U.S. leave Afghanistan right after we invaded; there are many who demand the U.S. stay for allegedly humanitarian reasons. To these people, nothing will ever be enough.

Half of my life has been affected by a reality that, two decades ago, my country resorted to invasion to set right the horrible wrongs of September 11. One half of my existence has been under a shadow of violence, offered allegedly on my behalf, dignified by nothing more than the slogans of whoever was in power. Yes, people have protested such violence, but only through tired slogans and meaningless media.

None of the blamethrowing is going to answer the question: what could humanity have done differently?

Yes, it is a human problem. Through a series of historical accidents and unlucky events, everyone inherits a world that rewards violence in certain circumstances. Powerful countries get to destroy weaker ones. Groups of people disposed to violence can come in and fill a power vacuum. The shadow of violence exists and persists, even when it might be too small to notice. And it’s true for any group of people where power is unequal in relation to each other.

As it turns out, I’ve been living under one shadow my whole life, along with everyone else.

I feel like I owe something to the people who died during this whole messy, bloody affair. They deserved better than what they got. People who are in danger right now deserve better than they’re getting. No matter what happens next, all the pain and suffering could have been prevented. These people are not bloody ink for underscoring a personal agenda. They exist and have just as much a right to exist under the same sun as I do. I wish I could do more than just acknowledge that their troubles are not meaningless.

Half of my life has been spent living with a war in Afghanistan. Did it have to be that way? I don’t think it did.