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A Recent Graduate Reflects on the End of America’s Longest War

AMAC Exclusive – by Eleanor Vaughn


When I was two years old, the world ended. In a horrifying, brutal act of terrorism that would be replayed on TV for years to come, the Twin Towers fell. Here in Virginia, where I’m from, the Pentagon burned. Above a field in Pennsylvania, a group of passengers stopped a fourth plane from reaching its target. Almost 3,000 people died, and thousands more were injured. The streets were full of chaos, and everyone was terrified.

I was watching Blue’s Clues.

I don’t remember any of the day itself; I was only two, and my mom didn’t want to watch the news with me around. But I grew up on the stories. My brothers remember their classmates, many with parents who worked in the Pentagon, pulled out of school early. My dad took hours to drive the twelve miles between our house and D.C. My mom always said it was one of the prettiest days of the year, clear blue skies with the promise of fall on the horizon. My teachers taught about it every year of elementary school, dedicating part of every September 11th anniversary to showing documentaries of the terror of that awful day.

The strangest part, though, was that we were still there, even though the world had clearly ended. We were nothing more than post-apocalyptic survivors, like the dirt-smudged heroes of the zombie movies that I remember from my childhood. We heard about cities a world away that had been shattered, where men and women weren’t just risking their lives but losing them, day after day in a war that had been raging almost our whole lives. Yet in the classrooms and suburbs of Northern Virginia, we still had to do homework. It wasn’t that our lives continued in the wake of tragedy; they had started in the wake of tragedy. We weren’t keeping calm and carrying on, we were just living in the only world we had ever known.

There was a sense of unreality about the whole thing. I knew it was happening, and more or less why it was happening, yet the war was a backdrop more than anything else. I cried at homecoming videos, but there didn’t seem to be much point in questioning the costs of the war. Who questions gravity? The war was a constant. It had started before my memories did, and there was no reason to assume it would end before I did.

And then it stopped.

My first reaction was disbelief. Not the giddy disbelief of joy, but the cold, cynical “yeah right” of a Cassandra who’s been right too many times to get any satisfaction out of it anymore. I didn’t doubt any particular part of the exit strategy (although events have shown that somebody should have), but rather the very concept of exiting. It was unthinkable, as if MLB had announced that baseball was ending. It was an American institution, and now it was going to be over? Yeah, right.

Now, American troops have actually left Afghanistan for the first time in my memory. In some ways, its end is as hard to understand as the war itself was. It’s the ringing in your ears of sudden silence after tremendous noise. Even with all the faults and failings of the last few months, it’s officially over. Unofficially, there’s so much work to do. There will always be threats and dangers to our country, as we were so harshly reminded twenty years ago. But an era has ended, and more importantly, a new era is beginning.

What does a country do when it’s not at war? I wouldn’t know. I have hopes, though. Some are practical. I hope we can stay out of conflicts for a while, spending our time, energy, and focus on our own country. I hope we can build needed bridges and roads. I hope we can create good jobs at home, not ship them overseas.

I’ve got more romantic hopes, too, things that are more important in the long run than any one policy decision, though they’re probably harder to achieve. I hope that we can learn from the last twenty years, and put those lessons to work keeping our lives and our families safe. That our neighborhoods and communities can flourish. That our country, having ended its war abroad, won’t tear itself apart at home. Discussion and dissent have made America what it is, and we wouldn’t be the same without them, but with our current level of internal strife we won’t be able to build much of anything. I hope for contentment and the drive to reach new heights together, not the spreading of discord and fear by some groups simply to control others. I hope we can create ourselves an exciting and worthy future, not just tear down our past.   

I don’t really know where we are headed or what we will be getting ourselves into. Nobody my age does. The world ended when I was so young, and now it’s ended again. The difference is, we’re not children anymore. My class graduated from college this year. We’re ready to begin something new. It’s the opportunity of our lifetimes, and more than anything, I hope we take full advantage of it. We’ve got a new world ahead of us, and it’s time to find out what we can make of it.

Eleanor Vaughn is a recent graduate of William & Mary and a current resident of Northern Virginia.


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Tire Dove IT
1 year ago

BS Premise of this story. In what war does a “combatant” army spend 18 months without a KIA related to enemy action? Hmmmjm? This wasn’t a war, it was an occupation of a hostile country.
57 years before Biden’s treachery brought about the Kabul Calamity, America initiated the begining of America’s “TRUE longest war”: LBJ’s self-titled “War On Poverty”, piously announced in the White House on January, 1964. An unmitigated disaster, It worked to decimate minority American families by deliberately removing “tatherhood” from the lexicon. It cost more money, and lost more American citizens to street violence and abortion than all the wars since the founding of this country.
“America’s longest war” is a lie perpetrated for the ignorant and those who use that term to describe our Afghanistan involvement are enablers of that lie.

1 year ago

This may seem harsh to some people but true .
In memory of the victims of 9/11 joe Biden and the democrat congress gave Afghanistan the leading country for harboring and creating terrorist’s 8 billion dollars worth of American Weapons

1 year ago

Very well written. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

1 year ago

I feel it’s a matter of time before we will experience something of that same magnitude as a result of the inept leadership in Washington! That includes the President, Congress, Judges of the Supreme Court, and prosecutors everywhere who will not prosecute for crimes!!!!

1 year ago

It’s good to see that our young people can still have a positive hope for the future, even amid all the difficulties our country is experiencing. 9/11 was an absolute tragedy. I was driving to work at a federal agency, my two year old granddaughter in the backseat on our way to daycare when I was called and told to go back home. I got home just in time to turn on the television and see the second plane fly into the second tower. It was surreal, hard to believe. There have been several other tragedies in my lifetime, among them the high mortality rate of the war in Vietnam, the doomed flight of the Columbia space shuttle, the shooting of President Reagan and various other conflicts and wars around the world, not the least of which was the twenty-year war in Afghanistan and the middle-east. I’m so glad to see that Eleanor has hope and I pray for her generation, and all Americans, and their ability to sustain our heritage, rather than become complacent and let our differences tear us apart.

1 year ago

Well written, Eleanor. Sadly, it doesn’t matter though. America has already lost the Cultural War, the war for our very soul. And we didn’t even put up a fight. So from hear on out, we’re just marching like lemmings to the cliffs. Good luck to the civilization that comes after us. Maybe they won’t hate themselves.

Mark L
1 year ago

9/11 was the most horrific crime committed against OUR GREAT Country! The part that gets me the most is these animals carried out a mission to Americans that day that would make History in a terrible way. I remember being at work when I heard and watched the attacks unfold right before my eyes, televised of course,and I’m blessed that I wasn’t near or at any of the places attacked!
It was completely quiet in our cafeteria at work everything stood still as the entire building of employees watched these horrific attacks. First plane hit Tower 1 then 2 we were all hoping it was a bad dream but unfortunately it was totally real!
It puzzles me as to why the Government allowed this to happen on OUR own soil and now others have a elected a supposed leader of the most powerful Country in the World who obviously has neurological problems. He should be made to step down and many arrests should take place! Obama,Clinton,Schiff,Nadler and of course nutty Nancy Pelosi should be charged with TREASON and be punished. I’m a supporter of the punishment should fit the crime! Unless these jerks are in office the chaos will continue.
The people of the United States better stand up and fight for OUR Rights otherwise we will see the biggest screw up any government can do which is become Communist just the thought makes me sad and pissed off! I can’t understand why so many people are in to this way of life not to mention the number of Military personnel America lost because of this attack. Once again DemocRATS have left many of OUR people high and dry in Afghanistan. This is totally unacceptable and if need be have OUR Military overthrow D.C. and take OUR Country back! I could go on because there is so much to tell, like how many elected Officials are pedophiles,digest that for a while!

1 year ago
Reply to  Mark L

What is really sad is that all of our intelligence agencies had the puzzle pieces to avert this disaster (9/11) but chose not to share the information because of pride and ignorance. Of course after the disaster, the truth was found out during the investigative inquiries that were held. There were lower rank personnel in these agencies that brought this information to the attention of higher authorities but were ignored.

Bill on the Hill
1 year ago
Reply to  Max

All true Max, those ( 2 ) three letter agencies at that time had a institutional distrust to each other as the avoidable attacks on those twin towers & the Pentagon clearly illustrated, not forgetting flight 93 in Shankesville, PA which was planned for the WH I believe, however the brave souls on that flight prevented it from ever happening…
Eleanor Vaughn has done a credible job in writing down her thoughts being as young as she is. It is the Eleanor’s of this world that will be our future leaders, all the way to becoming President…

DD Guillory
1 year ago

Relevant article from the perspective of one who was 2 when the twin towers and the Pentagon were ravaged by terrorists. She bravely states the need for Americans to pull together, to seek ways to build our country.

1 year ago
Reply to  DD Guillory


Mark L
1 year ago
Reply to  DD Guillory

We had a leader that did put the U.S. back on firm ground to recovery President Trump,DemocRATS figured out how to cheat while President Trump played by the rules.

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