Opinion: The (Almost) Soldiers of the Third World War

It’s been some days since the last constitutional crisis … I think. To tell you the truth, it’s getting pretty hard to keep track of it all.

You must forgive me for my apathy. The truth is, I try to remain politically conscious. I read articles, watch news shows, and keep up with current events as much as I can, but in the end it’s rather hard to be coming of age at the same time your country’s falling from it.

The relentless assault of invectives and jargon, and near-daily declarations of crises large and small have warped my senses to a constant political migraine with the things I understand on the outer fringes, and the things I don’t, trapped behind the aura. That’s the only feasible justification I can muster as to why, when I first heard of this Iran crisis, I really didn’t think much of it. Perhaps this too, can be partially blamed on the times.

News doesn’t come in the calming tones of Walter Cronkite anymore, but rather in the annoying buzzes of an iPhone beep.

The alert had said something of a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, and, when phrased that way, it may be understandable why this didn’t shake me all that much. It seems we’re always bombing something or other down there, stuck on the faulty tightrope between war and peace, but as I, and the rest of my generation soon learned, this was major.

That drone strike in Iraq, had actually taken an Iranian casualty – and a colossal one at that. Per President Trump’s approval, U.S. forces had assassinated major general and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, and with that came the precarious jerk to the tightrope, which nearly launched all the acrobats over to the side of war. It sent shockwaves through the media, and dispelled both the aura of the political migraine, and the stereotype that teens know nothing of political affairs.

Sixteen-year-old Leonardo Carini, a drama major at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA), for example, recalled that tensions in the region have been mounting since the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last year. However, Soleimani’s death was an obvious trigger, and Leonardo recounted how the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. forces from Iraq as a result of it.

Elias Raff, a 17 year-old film major at FSSA, recalled the counter-threats the U.S. made as well, such as the controversial tweet from President Trump threatening to bomb Iranian cultural sites, should Iran attack Americans.

And of course, all could remember the night of the Iranian missile attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq, which seemed, for some, like a momentary declaration of war. It was a confusing and uneasy sequence of events for any time, but even more so in the day and age of opinion news.

“I saw people on the left saying Trump did this without any confirmation from the Senate, and people on the right saying that this needed to be done imminently,” said Elias, of the Escher-esque landscape that is the 21st century media.

Indeed, the news cycle has become more so the news labyrinth, zig-zagging into an oddly grotesque shape which swings one way, then sways the other, and leaves the average American somewhere in the middle of this carnage of truth.

And for the average teen, that meant resorting to social media to grasp a firmer understanding of what was going on.

Both Elias and Leonardo mentioned Twitter as one of their primary sources of information on the subject.

“It’s the trading of ideas and different takes on this. The fact that something happens and people can respond to it immediately, really helped me keep up with what was going on,” Leonardo said.

And then there was the issue of memes. Almost immediately after the attack on Soleimani became public, ‘World War III” started trending on Twitter, as did an onslaught of memes that made fun of a possible draft in the event that a war actually did break out, which sent
social media ablaze. It was the latter of these that nearly started a riot.

Adolescents and young adults, the prime demographic of social media users, would also compile the draftees of the third World War, should such a war and such a draft take place. The website of the Selective Service System crashed in the wake of this, due to “high traffic volumes,” led by part-misinformation, part-paranoia.

“I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction from a frightened populus,” said Mr. Sckalor, a history teacher at FSSA. Unlike some of his students and their peers, Mr. Sckalor did not put much weight at all on the trending memes, and did not include social media news in his media diet.

Still, he sympathizes with the more anxious younger demographic.

“People have the right to feel scared. I can remember being in college when 9/11 occurred, and I remember me and my friends talking about whether or not we would go to war, whether or not we would sign up, whether or not a draft would get instituted,” he said.

Mr. Sckalor’s recollections bear an eerie similarity to the conversations held between 17 and 18 year-olds today, who similarly feel a sense of uncertainty in the wake of their own coming-of-age.

It’s like that Billy Joel song, “Summer, Highland Falls,” that opens with, “They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known…” Perhaps the youth of today can find some solace in the fact that every generation, in one way or another, has felt the

Last year’s attack on the oil tankers that Leonardo mentioned, has been compared to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which triggered heightened U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. On that note, the very concept of fear about a draft was one that was popularized during the war in Vietnam. And in the Middle East, specifically, there is a storied history of unwanted U.S. involvement.

Iraq, Libya, Syria, there seems, to me at least, an obvious pattern … attempting to intervene doesn’t really lead to peace,” Leonardo said.

Those words are echoed by many of Leonardo’s fellow Americans, but unfortunately, it seems doubtful whether that will ever really change U.S. foreign policy. Whether a product of our responsibility as a superpower, or simply out of our own ego, U.S. interference in Middle
Eastern affairs seems to be an inevitable way of life.

It’s an endless series of rabbit holes that we seem to constantly fall in and out of, and though it may sometimes seem like we’ll be stuck in a surreal Wonderland for good, Alice does always find her way back home in the end.

Ultimately, it’s a sense of cautious hope that resonates predominantly with all. Elias believes that the events of the next few months will land somewhere in the median of the best and worst case scenarios.

“I think there’s gonna be slow dealings in the Middle East and Far East with strong foreign powers that we are afraid of, but I don’t think anything really to threaten democracy and society and western culture,” Elias said.

Leonardo seems to be even more optimistic.

“It’s been [a few] weeks now … and while it’s still being talked a lot about in Washington and the White House, I think the momentum for [a war] has been lost. I can see a peaceful resolution,” he added.

In the end, the tightrope stays static, still precariously stuck between war and peace. In the coming years, it will jerk and swing and almost tilt, as it has for the past half-century, but alas, a simple balance is all we can ever hope for, and all, it seems, we can ever get.

– Alec Inagamov ’20