What is the longest war America has ever fought? After splashy headlines in recent months, many would now answer the Afghanistan War. In a way, that answer is correct. But most people would probably date the start of the war to October 7, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom officially launched; or maybe September 26, 2001, when CIA teams entered Afghanistan to prepare for the invasion; or maybe September 11, 2001, when 19 terrorists launched the deadliest attack on American soil since the Civil War, murdering approximately 3,000 innocent people.
Some might instead date the start of the war to when Osama bin Laden announced a declaration of war against the United States in 1996. Others to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Still others might point to al Qaeda’s first attempted attack on Americans in 1992.
But that’s not quite right either. The war is not just against al Qaeda or the Taliban, it is against Islamic terrorism and the ideology that has been at war with America and the ideals we cherish for generations. Al Qaeda was born of an amalgamation of various independent terrorist groups. One of those groups that swore allegiance to bin Laden became known as al Qaeda in Iraq, before eventually renaming itself ISIS. The names change, but we remain at war with the underlining ideology.
The longest war in American history is not 16 years or even 24 years old, it is much older. We could set the start at 1983, when Hezbollah pioneered the tactic of suicide bombing with an attack on U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. We could set the start even earlier to attacks on America and our allies by the Abu Nidal Organization or other Palestinian terrorist groups. Setting a precise date for the start of the war is difficult, but it has been going for decades.
So why does an article written in support of what is derisively called perpetual war take pains to point out to people who think a 16 year war is too long that the war is actually more than twice as old? Because while peace requires acceptance by all sides involved, war does not. America was at war with Islamic Terrorism for decades before we finally decided to suit up and fight back. We were at war on September 10, 2001, while the 9/11 hijackers finished their preparations; we just were not doing all we could to stop them. Thousands of people paid with their lives for our unwillingness to accept reality.
Leaving Afghanistan now would not end America’s longest war, it would merely put us back on the defensive. After showing weakness, there is no reason to believe an enemy willing and eager to give their lives to hurt us would suddenly cease hostilities. The war would continue, but the front line would move back to the United States. The war will go on regardless of our actions, the only question is if we should kill terrorists over there or wait until they kill us here.
We should never choose war when real peace is an option. But withdrawing from the fight would not end the perpetual war and it would not bring peace, it would merely change its focus and allow Americans to once again ignore our enemy – until they return to our shores and launch another devastating attack that causes a new generation to declare “never again,” just like we did.