“There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”
We Americans are blessed. The winds of war rarely reach our shores. Separated by two massive oceans from most world conflicts, we are able to sleep easily at night–knowing that smart bombs will not disintegrate our families overnight and that our children can get up in the morning and go to school without armed escorts.
September 11 was an exception to this rule of safety. The war came home. I remember sitting in my eighth-grade classroom, watching my teacher break down in tears as she told us of the terrorist attack. I had never seen her cry before.
In art class, I watched the Twin Towers collapse again and again on the various news networks. I heard the horrifying screams of the onlookers. One of my classmates remarked on the terrorists who committed the attack, “They’ll just say they did it ‘for Allah.’ ”
Already the flames of mankind’s worst emotion–hatred–were being built up, even in my middle school classrooms. The next day a girl exclaimed, “We’ll bomb them back!” And so we did. The B-52s and Tomahawk cruise missiles and Apache attack helicopters entered Afghanistan and destroyed the Taliban government, which was left after twenty years of foreign occupation and civil war that claimed more than a million Afghan lives.
During the war millions of Afghans fled into Pakistan, my parents’ home country. No one stopped to question the wisdom of replying to horrific violence with more horrific violence. No American newscasters mentioned the words “peaceful resolution.” The cycle of violence simply continued, leaving thousands of shattered bodies across the battlefields of the twenty-first century.
Our military machine turned next to Iraq. But this time the world reacted differently. On February 15, 2003, more than 10 million people demonstrated worldwide with a single message: No War. Strict conservative Muslim women wearing their hijabs marched alongside feminist activists wearing as little as possible. The world was united, and the largest mass movement in history was born.
The movement ultimately failed to stop the war against the descendants of Mesopotamia, but it did something much more important: It sparked an idea that maybe, just maybe, the world was beginning to say no to war altogether–to say no to the very concept of the leaders of Group A and the leaders of Group B suggesting to their subjects that they engage in the process of murdering each other with all manner of destructive weapons.
The peace movement has changed my consciousness. I believe that my generation must come face to face with the question of war. It is as Robert McNamara states in the documentary Fog of War: “I think the human race needs to think about killing. How much evil must we do in order to do good?”
My generation must look at the standardized and systematic process of killing known as war and say, “No more.” We cannot tolerate that our nation, the United States of America, accounts for one-third of all military expenditures worldwide. We cannot tolerate spending more than $250 billion–the cost of our invasion and occupation of Iraq thus far–on war when the same amount of money, according to the National Priorities Project, could have inoculated every child on earth against the most lethal of common diseases for at least the next eighty years.
We cannot tolerate a government regime that willfully ignores President Eisenhower’s warning of the “unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex,” which has created a permanent industry of war in the United States. We cannot tolerate the behavior of sending our nation’s poorest citizens–caught up by the “economic draft”–to other poor nations to kill its citizens so that our multinational corporations can seize those nations’ resources for geopolitical power.
We cannot tolerate allowing our policies to breed hatred across the world, laying the seeds for a thousand more like the Al Qaeda organization–people who have nothing to live for but everything to die for. We cannot tolerate war. Dr. King said it best: “It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is the choice between nonviolence and nonexistence.”
I dream one day our children will look into our history books and see the evils of our wars: Indian removal, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the other great atrocities of human militarism. But I dream they will turn the pages and look to my generation, who ended the horror and chose nonviolence over nonexistence. They will be awed by my generation, the Generation of Peace. It is up to us to create such a future.
Zaid Jilani is a senior at Kennesaw Mountain High School in Kennesaw, Georgia and a finalist in the 2006 Nation Student Writing Contest.