War on Terror: What is It, How It Started and Why We Need It

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Even before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States’ relationship with the Middle East has been tumultuous. However, September 11 was a turning point and “War on Terror” began and will keep going indefinitely. The terrorist group Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade center by hijacking passenger planes and impacting the building’s top floors, killing thousands of people. It was a painful and expensive affair, costing about $3 trillion in damages. Al Qaeda stated that they were motivated to do this because the U.S. had troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, had placed sanctions against Iraq and supported Israel. Whatever their motives, their attack was the impetus to go to the Middle East, to Afghanistan, to remove their leader and base of operations. Fifteen years later, the war still rages on. The U.S. is now focusing strategic war tactics, like using drones and cyber attacks, but also has boots on the ground, despite President Obama’s attempts to bring soldiers home. One question remains: has the “War on Terror” been worth it? Despite all of the thousand of lives we have lost to the war, their lives have not been lost in vain.

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The personal stories of the men who have fought during this war are incredibly important, without them the war is just numbers. Numbers can tell you how many people have been killed, how many weapons have been used and land occupied, but they lack the depth. Numbers cannot account for the real experiences and effects the war has had on people. Sebastian Junger’s book War and parallel documentary Restrepo are unembellished accounts of what it was like to be deep in the belly of Afghanistan. Stationed in one of the most active sites, the Korengal Valley, Junger and his brothers fought the toughest battle, mentally and physically. The company’s phrase “Damn the Valley” tells us all we need to know: “A couple of months into the deployment Hunter came up with the phrase “Damn the Valley,” which quickly became a kind of unofficial slogan for the company. It seemed to be shorthand not for the men’s feelings about the war--those were way too complicated to be summed up in three words--but for their understanding of what it was doing to them: killing their friends and making them jolt awake of the night...Damn the Valley: you’d see it written on hooch walls and in latrines as far away as the air base at Jalalabad...” (Junger, 38). Junger explains that beneath this phrase are complex emotions, all the hurt that war had caused them, but these emotions are repressed and created into this aggressive motto. This aggression is directed at the war so that it can be dealt with, but when the soldiers come home it can become a problem. One of the other driving forces of the book and the documentary is the death of Restrepo. He was known as this exuberant and vivacious person. One week before deployment Restrepo is on smiling camera, “lovin’ life” and chants “we’re goin’ to war” a few times before the frame goes black. His death shook the company to the core, their brightest light had been snuffed out by the Taliban. After living in dirt and fear for a month or a year, how can you ever return to life you once knew? Mental and physical ailments make it difficult for thousands of soldiers to return home or enjoy life again. The “War on Terror” has been detrimental for thousands of young men and women, their lives were valid and their pain does not seem fair. However, a government’s responsibility is to provide security to their people. There are limited ways to protect people, soldiers have been the only means to fight for hundreds of years and countless wars. You can’t justify a life lost to war other than the principles and people you are fighting for.

What values are worth safeguarding? The United States has long fought for the free market and capitalistic society, allowing anyone to prosper and express their individuality. However, this war is one of the few that does not revolve around economic and political policy. The war is fighting against religious extremism, in part. Muslim extremist groups are a threat to our safety because they are so adamant against American and European culture, driven by the phrase “death to the West”. Boko Haram, ISIL, Al Qaeda and the Taliban take their religious texts so seriously that everything that the West does, eating pork, having credit cards, drinking, and giving women basic freedoms is offensive and should be annihilated. However, it is not only religious purity that they after, but power and domination. It is human nature to be competitive, and these groups are no exception. ISIS has been taking Syria and parts of other Middle Eastern countries. If the U.S. were to ignore this problem, ISIS and extremist groups would take advantage of disadvantaged people in the Middle East to create a massive army, plan more terrorist attacks and have almost unlimited amounts of oil. They would continue to fight against all the principles of freedom we aim to protect.

Prevention is a lot less expensive, monetarily and in lives, than solving a problem after it has become of immediate concern. There is a reason we occupy Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries, and it is not all in lust for oil as many claim. It is to prevent a group of people, who pose a serious threat to the world’s safety, from destroying what the United States has worked so hard to preserve. The people we have lost and resources we have used have not been in vain, while the numbers seem overwhelming, people in the United States can live relatively without fear. For these reasons, the “War on Terror” has been effective as it can be and it has not been in vain.

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