On June 24, 1948, the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, then under American and British control, to all traffic by land and sea. But the USSR could not block Allied airspace. In order to keep the city supplied with food, fuel and medicine – all hard to come by in a Germany that had barely started to rebuild from World War II – decided to organize an airlift. For 323 days, while making 189,000 flights, American planes kept a city of over 2 million people alive. It was one of our finest hours in a decade that contained many of them.

I thought of the Berlin Airlift as I scrolled through Twitter the other day, watching my generation’s very own Fall of Saigon. I don’t think it would be possible to do in 2021 – spend American time and money to help a city full of citizens who had very recently been the enemy?

I was 9 years old when America invaded Afghanistan; I was a month shy of 29 when America abandoned Afghanistan. I grew up with this war humming in the background of my world like a generator. Not long after the occupation started, my church – the Cathedral of St. Luke’s in Portland – started reading the names and ages of American military men and women who had died in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, the previous week. So I spent every Sunday of my childhood and young adulthood with a steady drumbeat of “We pray for Michael, 19, and Carlos, 21, and Matthew, 23 … .” We also prayed for the civilians lost in the wars, but we didn’t have statistics on their names and ages, and anyway, there would have been far too many to read aloud. As you can probably imagine, this colored my impression of war. I was against the war. Still am. Afghanistan is called the graveyard of empires for a reason. But god, could our withdrawal have been any more half-assed?

In fiscal year 2020, America spent $714 billion on our military, and yet we couldn’t get our interpreters and translators out of Afghanistan before the Taliban crashed over the whole country? All those expensive toys built by military contracts, lining the pockets of investors at the mere price of death, and we couldn’t even get a couple of cargo planes out of Kabul’s airport with the men and women who made possible our 20-year occupation (and 20 years of profits for those contractors)? Who will help American forces next time we invade a country – and there will be a next time – if they see this is how we treat people who helped us?

When the public executions start, I wonder whether they’ll go viral on TikTok or Twitter first. (Probably Facebook.)

I recently found a piece of art I made in the winter of 2001. It was in one of my dad’s memory bags, because he kept everything. It’s a poster, I think; a bunch of slogans written in my bubbly handwriting in red marker on a piece of old computer paper, the type with the holes punched around the edges. (I was not a very good artist.) The slogans are as follows: “USA all the way”; “end the war, stop the killing, get out of Afghanistan!”; “United We Stand”; “Bond Together”; “Anti-Terror Rules,” and “I <3 America.” If you notice that some of the slogans contradict each other, you’re quite right. I was a spongelike child: very good at soaking up what the grown-ups around me were saying, but without enough brain development to properly process them. But it is possible to hold two chafing thoughts together in your brain at once: You can love your country and be horrified, devastated and enraged at the choices it has made.

Young Maine Millennial made another poster as well. This one had six colors of marker instead of just one, and it said, “Our country has been hurt. On September 11, 2001. We shall always remember that day. Do you think all kids can do is watch and read helplessly? Well, think again! What we can do: you can sign a petition! You can donate money to the Red Cross! You can give support! And so much more! So think! Try one of the above.”

I suspect that YMM – being, as you might guess, an observant, empathetic and concerned child – was absorbing all the anger and sadness and anxiety from the adults around her. My parents were big believers in using art to express ourselves, so they probably encouraged me to write down my feelings, and would have encouraged me to think up a list of things that kids like me could do, instead of just sitting around feeling powerless. My prose has improved in the last 20 years; my bleeding-heart liberalism has not.

End the war, stop the killing, get out of Afghanistan. The war hasn’t ended. The killing will continue. But I guess we’ve gotten out of Afghanistan.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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