For younger Americans, of course, the percentage of their lives that the country has been at war is much denser. The United States has been at war for about 36 percent of the life of someone born on Jan. 1, 1905, a percentage that includes both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve made a version of the graphic below over and over again, and the densities of war as a presence in Americans’ lives has kept growing larger.
On Wednesday, President Biden will announce that he is withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that triggered U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan. Other presidents have hinted at ending the war in the past; as always, the devil is in the details. But if Biden is able to follow through, Americans born in 2022 may be the first in two decades who do not begin life in a United States actively engaged in a conflict in Afghanistan.
What’s staggering about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is how many of those currently serving there were children when 9/11 occurred. Data on those killed in the country since 2001, compiled by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, show that about half of the Americans killed in Afghanistan since the conflict began were under the age of 18 when the terrorist attacks happened. On average, those killed in Afghanistan in the past five years were about 12 years old on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Using the data from icasualties.org, we created a visualization of the lives of those Americans killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Bars shown in purple indicate fatalities of men and women who are estimated to have turned 18 or older in the year 2001. (Since these numbers are based on age at death, there’s some uncertainty about this measure.) Bars in orange are those who were likely younger than that.
The bars are also colored relative to 2001 itself. Lighter-colored bars show the deceased American’s life prior to 2001. Darker-colored bars show their lives after, until their deaths. (You can mouse over or click the bars to learn about those killed.)
About 200 of those killed in Afghanistan lived more of their lives after 9/11 than before. On average, that group was 9 years old when the terrorist attacks happened.
The war in Afghanistan has been the longest in American history. Now, it seems, it might finally end.