A Lost Generation

By Garrison Ham

“You are all a lost generation.” – Gertrude Stein
The world changed for many of us on 9/11. Millennials growing up in the 90’s witnessed their world become noticeably darker. At the same time, it was a defining moment for a generation. This was our Pearl Harbor moment.
The 22nd anniversary just came and went. I took time to reflect.

I remember hearing that people in a faraway land hated us for our freedom, which is why they attacked innocent civilians. Both of my grandfathers served in World War II. I can even trace the wartime service of my ancestors back to the American Revolution. For me, there was no option, but to fight.
When I was 17 years old, I joined the Army. At the time, corporate media was reporting extensively on soldiers dying from IED attacks in Iraq so I wanted to be a medic. It was the perfect mix of fighting the bad guys while helping my countrymen.
In 2006, I went on my first patrol in Afghanistan. It was clear that Afghans did not care about my freedom. They cared about clean water and medicine.
A few years later in Iraq, I listened to military contractors brag unironically in front of an oil refinery about all the money they made fighting the same war where I was neck-deep. They enticed me by showing me I could make so much more once I got out of the military. Just like them.
When I left the military in 2011, military contractors were promising tax-free salaries north of $150k for an experienced medic, but I declined because I thought wars should be fought for the flag and not for a bank account. I used my GI Bill to get a degree in Middle Eastern History instead. Something didn’t sit right with a narrative around us being hated for our freedom, so I wanted to learn more.
More than 20 years after 9/11 I realized that the attack wasn’t a standalone event, but one in a series of consequences that grew from a country that lost its way. It wasn’t just an attack but the offspring of unrestrained war hawks coming home to roost. And instead of reevaluating our course, Americans doubled down on the profligacy and imperialism that brought us here to begin with.
Since the towers fell, I got to watch Saigon fall twice. First when the Iraqi Army ran from ISIS followed by the Biden Administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Our twenty-year war destabilized an entire region only to replace the Taliban with an American-armed Taliban.
While the millennials that bore the war’s burden are continually detoured from the American dream, central planners in Washington and the defense contractors that lobby them flung themselves into a new war with Russia while begging for another with China.

While looking back on 9/11, I realized a few things. In America’s longest war, less than 1% of Americans served and even fewer held their leaders accountable while there was no shortage of people waving a flag they would never defend. The War on Terror has eroded our civil liberties to a point of nonexistence, which tells me that maybe the people who really hated our freedom were those in the political class. Finally, the only winner after two decades of aimless quagmire was the military-industrial complex and they’re getting ready to win again at our expense.