Afghanistan – How much do Gen Z students know about the war?

The voices of the country’s next generation tell us about what has been happening more recently overseas

President Biden acts on President Trump’s agreements to pull out of America’s ‘forever war.’ Photo courtesy of The Guardian

Every generation has hallmarks that define it. But what about Generation Z? What can be said of a generation that doesn’t remember a time before social media, and before many social reforms? This group was born between the years 1997 and 2012.

The oldest members of this generation are around 24 years old, keen to enter the workforce and make a lasting change, yet fully aware they are entering an economy devastated by a global pandemic and an ongoing job crisis.

Eight Gen Z students about a very important topic in today’s news, one which they may or may not be familiar with: what is the deal with Afghanistan? How does this generation consume newsworthy events with every ounce of information at their disposal? How are young adults responding to terrorist threats and the collapse of a nation?

The voices of the country’s next generation set to lead the United States tell us about what has been happening more recently overseas.

Savana Palomino is a 20-year-old student with a focus on the arts and dreams of being a veterinary technician. Palomino’s thoughts on Afghanistan were far and few between. She admitted to having little knowledge of the current events transpiring in the Middle East, saying rather sheepishly that she rarely engages with the news, as she doesn’t see much value in reading, watching, or listening to things she can’t change. 

“Honestly, political news just makes me upset. I feel like when bad things are happening… it makes me so mad to the point where I’m like, what am I supposed to do?”

When asked about how she consumes news, she confided she relies mostly on news article headings rather than diving into the article itself. She gathers current events through what people around her consume, such as her parents or close friends.

“I [never] intend to be anywhere near politics,” Savana went on. “My parents [read the news], but I don’t go out of my way. Because after a couple days of that, it’s always bad … and I have enough going on.”

She said that she’s heard something about what has been happening in Afghanistan, though nothing concrete, and nothing that scratches the surface of the issue.

Our next interviewee was similar regarding her sparse knowledge of Afghanistan, though she acknowledges a decent understanding of the Taliban, 9/11, and the events that followed.

Amanda Rose is a junior art student, who, when prompted on the subject, could recall the death of a U.S. soldier in a Taliban attack from around two years ago. She recalled the deep fear she felt when she read the headline splashed across news articles. She also reflected on the exposure Gen Z students have had to the War on Terror.

“I don’t remember [9/11] at all. I was only three months old. But the aftermath of how the world is… we don’t know a world without it,” Rose said.

Regarding more recent circumstances, perhaps this young generation has become somewhat desensitized to news following the longest war in recent memory. For this reason, she tunes out news stories surrounding situations like Afghanistan.

“I know [President] Biden pulled the troops out and the Taliban took over,” and concludes, “but that’s all I know.”

Christina Walch is a 20-year-old accounting major at Cleveland State University. Similar to Rose, she is only slightly aware of political news, but has a firm grasp on the events following 9/11. Walch remarked she had no powerful memories of discussing the Middle East in school, though she had some thoughts on the U.S.’s intervention over the last twenty years. 

“If we’re not needed, we should stay out of it. If we’re called upon, obviously we should help. I think the reason for [Afghans] retaliating was because we were there so long,” Walsh said.

Krish Malte is a 19-year-old who, before being asked, assumed he had little to no knowledge about the war. However, after further questioning, he realized he knew far more than he thought. He mused about Afghanistan, going into great detail about how the events following the takeover of the country have permeated into his everyday life. Krish then added that it was rare for someone else his age to pay attention to the news of the Taliban invasion.

“[In school], we mostly just talked about America and Europe. We were never really taught about other cultures. It also has to do with America and how we live in such an individualistic culture, so you work for yourself,” Malte said.

These thoughts are a common trend among the Gen Z students interviewed. While the students offered insight on how much they knew about the war in Afghanistan, most alleged that Americans, as a collective group, thought in their own self-interest, rarely considering the plights of other countries to be all that important.

Makayla Groskopf is a recent high school graduate, who chiefly gets her news on the ongoing war through social media- such as Facebook and Twitter. She confessed to knowing about the situation in Afghanistan and the effects the war has had on the nation’s citizens and the United States’ role in it.

Grroskopf stated that, “[she knows] after 9/11, [President Bush] sent troops to Afghanistan, and they were there for twenty years, until recently. At the end of August this year, we pulled them out because the Taliban took over. 13 U.S. Marines were killed in a bombing at the airport in Afghanistan… Now the Taliban are blocking the borders, so they won’t let anybody leave right now.”

Suzanne Ferguson, a junior majoring in biology among other pursuits, perceives the war through an educational perspective.

“We hear things growing up in, let’s say, early middle school to high school. We hear about how there are still troops in Afghanistan. I didn’t really hear things about Kabul specifically until early high school when we were told, ‘This is where the capitol is,’ but we didn’t hear specifics,” Ferguson noted. “We just knew there was a war going on, and this is the longest war in American history.”

At age 20, Ferguson divulged she used to keep up with the ongoing events more, but lately she has fallen out of the habit once the school semester began.

“I sort of read a few things about it and, to my surprise, recent articles have been announcing that the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan. At first, I’d been considering maybe there’d been another attack instead of the U.S. troop withdrawal which the president had announced a few months prior,” Ferguson said.

Kasey Barbe, another recent high school graduate, proclaimed that the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan was deeply unjustified. Coming from a military family background and mostly gathering the news through online sources and word of mouth, Barbe argues that American intervention risks more lives than it saves.

“We’re not fighting terrorists,” Kasey insisted. “We’re breaking down more civilians than soldiers.”

The last member of Gen Z we interviewed was 21-year-old CSU student Owen Collins. He holds several observations about foreign policy and engaging with the news, and went to great lengths to consider how much he truly knew about Afghanistan. Though he was confident in his views, he was aware there might be some gaps in his knowledge. He asserted that the conflict primarily started between Russia and Afghanistan, in which the U.S. sent some people over to assist with protection. He finished by saying that they couldn’t save everyone.

Many Americans are familiar with the events that occurred on September 11, 2001, and many have felt a sense of uneasiness or dread- or even something close to anger- when they hear the name Osama bin Laden, or when someone mentions the Taliban.

With each new president since former President George W. Bush’s declaration of the War on Terror, there has been definitive action regarding the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers. Obama began the process, with Trump and Biden following in his footsteps.

The Afghan government collapsed under the series of relentless attacks from the Taliban on Aug. 15. Days later, the Biden administration finally withdrew U.S. troops—the culmination of a seemingly never-ending War on Terror. This aligns with Biden’s plan to complete the U.S. troop withdrawal by September 11, 2021. Clearly, his goal had arrived much sooner than planned. Yet, despite these changes, the fight rages on, with Afghan refugees desperately fleeing the country in search of safety from Taliban rule.

With these developments in mind, we can examine the responses from these Gen Z students, analyzing the influences that determine just how much this generation knows about the world around them. 

Navigating the news is difficult, anyone can tell you. Politics divides us, foreign conflicts are messy, and the stories we hear are almost always unhelpfully negative. Yet despite these drawbacks, staying up-to-date with what’s going on can allow for a more balanced, enlightened perspective.

There is a trend of the younger generations being less interested in keeping up with the news than those who came before. Some might say Gen Z has become disillusioned with keeping up with current events and couldn’t care less about world politics.

From the interviews above, perhaps the news exists in more places than we think—disguised in Twitter posts and Instagram threads, YouTube channels and every discussion, in classrooms and between friends. Perhaps Gen Z knows more than they get credit for.