This winter break had a strong start filled with lots of fun and laughs, but as the weeks progressed, the initial burst of excitement waned into a general monotony. As the final week drew closer I had all but resigned myself to yet another mundane string of days when the news broke about the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. I didn’t actually see the news report right away; I actually first saw the never-ending chain of WWIII memes that took over Reddit, Instagram, and most other platforms. After confirming what was going on with a quick Google search, I had my ear pressed to the pulse of the story in a way I’ve never really done before.
For those of you who have somehow completely avoided this story, allow me, someone who has really only dabbled in world affairs this one time, to give a general summary of what happened. On Jan. 3, Major General Soleimani and other officials were leaving Baghdad International Airport when they were hit by a drone strike under the order of President Trump. This was because of the general’s previous involvement in events that have resulted in the deaths of Americans, such as the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad only days earlier.
Soleimani is additionally alleged to have been plotting attacks on a number of other U.S. embassies as well. Following this was a series of escalating events, such as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif calling the incident an “act of international terrorism” and President Hassan Rouhani threatening to take revenge. A few days later two U.S. bases in Iraq were bombed by Iranian forces, though no American casualties were reported. Following the bombings, both sides have released statements that generally imply that neither want war, but both are ready to defend themselves.
Regardless, there was a definite period of time where a vast number of people thought that an all out conflict with Iran was inevitable and that it had the potential to spark a third world war. A surprisingly similar thing happened a few years ago regarding North Korea but did not garner the same level of fear.
Some people may try to downplay how scared people were during that week, but it’s hard to discount when the selective service website crashed due to server strain as people flocked to check their eligibility for conscription. Even though the draft ended in 1973 and the US has used an all-volunteer army in all subsequent conflicts, a lot of young people still panicked as it is still legally required for young men to register for selective service following their 18th birthday. I think it’s easy to forget that for the vast majority of Gen Zers living in America (those born from 1995-2010), war is a foreign concept in many ways. Gen Z hasn’t placed the wars that the U.S. has taken part in since 2003 at the forefront of our cultural consciousness and shared pride as other generations have.
We know war exists, obviously, since we hear about them in modern media, we read about them in school, and we make jokes about invading Russia in winter, but the idea of actually going to war is something I don’t think many people consider. Now there are Gen Zers who are born into war-torn countries and people who go straight from high school to the armed forces in America, but I am not one of these people, and I cannot speak for their opinions. All I have to work with are my own opinions and those who would share theirs with me. With that all said, the prospect of war horrifies me, if even solely out of self-preservation.
The first week of January spawned a plethora of WWIII memes that mirror my sentiments, meaning that I am not alone in my fears. Many of them based on the ideas of getting drafted, draft-dodging, or equating war to a video game. All of these themes paint the image of a generation woefully unprepared for conflict and not afraid to display that fear.
With the rise in technology, we see the horror of war from a young age, but most importantly we can see the effects of the other side. I think the memes that best encapsulated this sentiment were the ones that suggested wearing armbands so people would know who not to kill — a meme posted by Americans and Iranians alike. I think in this unity there is a sense of relief, that people aren’t as easily brainwashed by war as they once were, and in this at least, I can take comfort.