AT the close of the Iraq War, Tony Blair visited troops on active service and declared that the supposed triumph in the Middle East was a momentous part of our generation’s history. “When people look back on this time, and look back on this conflict, I honestly believe that they will see this as one of the finer moments of our century” he said with confidence. Riding high on the wave of a euphoric sense of victory, the Prime Minister believed that he had proved doubters of the Iraq War wrong: his deliberately obstinate stance in the face of record protesters in the months preceding the war had apparently paid off. But not all victories should be measured by the physical change.
A decade after the conflict began, we are still living with its legacy, and feel the force of threat even more every day. A younger generation are now becoming part of the electorate; a generation for whom the Iraq War was their first engagement with pressing and current world issues. For those in their late teens and early 20s, this is their first memory of war.
Far from the prescribed school curriculum of World War II and the great British and Allied victories of the twentieth century, here was a confusing and confounding picture of modern warfare. Two of my clearest childhood memories revolve around the ‘war on terror’: the attacks of 9/11, and the opening bombardment on Baghdad some ten years ago. The former event I did not fully appreciate at the time, but remember my mother frantically trying to find a channel with children’s shows to distract our attention whilst she watched upstairs. The later seemed a rite of passage: I watched the images aged just ten, with my parents alongside.
The picture was bewildering. How were we the good guys if we were launching such a massive barrage of destruction on this weaker nation? As a child in primary school, it was too much to comprehend.
Intervening years of destruction, violence and chaos followed, and I found myself questioning Blair’s resounding sentiment of success. Did we feel any safer in this modern world? Alongside dwindling support for the Iraq War grew increasing resentment and discontent. I came to the belief that this had been an exercise in vanity and massaging the egos of world superpowers.
As a country, we have never felt less safe as a result of British action abroad. A recent YouGov poll, carried out to coincide with the ten year anniversary of the Iraq invasion, reveals that a majority (56 per cent) of the public share this believe that the war has increased the risk of a terrorist attack on the UK, while less than a tenth of participants (7 per cent) believed it had decreased the risk of attack. It is a similar story in the US, where almost half (48 per cent) of people believe the conflict has not contributed to the long term security of the country.
In his ‘Discouraging Citizenship?’ paper, Stephen Cushion identified that “the 10–14 year old age group were the most anti-war (62 per cent opposing it), followed by the 19–22 group (47 per cent).” back in 2003. The massive 62 per cent against war are now feeling the impact of an oblivious government in which they had no say.
When an estimated two million people marched on Westminster in 2003, placards of the mass anti-war demonstration read “Not in My Name”. The current distrust of young adults is easy to explain. This war we knew little about was waged in our name, and now we are the generation that have to deal with the consequences in a supposedly more threatening world.
Disengagement with politics does not stem from youth apathy as many assume, it sprouts from this cultural moment of war, a major milestone in public consciousness and disillusionment with the political monopoly. As the first people to grow up absorbing information from the TV, internet websites and social media, our fears and feelings, our misconceptions and misunderstandings of war are reinforced through every medium. For all the supposed benefits, we still feel less and less safe.
In his inauguration speech for his second term of office at the White House, Barack Obama announced that “a decade of war is now ending.” Withdrawing troops is not the end of the war however. While Western democracies may believe they have won a battle, the war on terror continues for those who are forced to live in the aftermath. Even if you are too young to remember the demonstrations in London, or the initial invasion, the cynicism is likely to have seeped in from reports of terrorist threats, 7/7 and elder siblings. Far from the glory of Tony Blair’s victory speech, this war will perhaps now be remembered as the finest example of the century’s incompetence and its legacy now overshadows the young.