Teenagers and young adults are creating memes to deal with the stress of global conflicts.
Mitchell Schwartz (Zack ’20, Michael ’22), former Communications Director at the State Department, grew distressed when his son approached him and asked if the United States had started another world war. Iranian General Qasem Soleimani had just been assassinated by American forces, and memes regarding a new world conflict inundated social media platforms, prompting uncertainty among individuals.
Schwartz said that he felt the posts showed that the public, particularly young people, were extremely concerned about an armed conflict between Iran and the United States.
“I didn’t get the feeling that [Generation Z] took it lightly,” Schwartz said. “I think you guys were kind of scared by it, but I didn’t think it was worthy of being that worried about [a war].”
Upper school history teacher Dror Yaron said he felt that the memes were an irresponsible way for people to spread disinformation across their social media platforms.
“People are looking for buzzes all the time and World War III is a big buzz,” said Yaron. “Not only is it irresponsible, I think it is immature. We are not just yet gravitating towards WWIII.”
World War 3 memes reflect this generation’s lack of political understanding.
Ash Wright ’22 said she agrees that there is a lack of understanding regarding foreign policy.
The [memes] are very funny, but I didn’t know if [they were] serious for a really long time,” said Wright. “I was a little bit concerned.”
Schwartz said that this apparent lack of accurate understanding the memes highlights a disconnect between American citizens and the country’s foreign policy. He said that he thinks this is because only a small percentage of the population has served in the military.
“I do know that [most of] my generation hasn’t felt [the impact of] the wars because it is a volunteer army now, there is no conscription,” Schwartz said. “I think that makes it easy for the [United States] to get involved into conflict. It is a little removed, but it’s also a little removed because [most of us know] very few veterans. So none of us have felt it.”
Students and faculty share their thoughts on the possibility of a war and the choice of the United States to assassinate Soleimani.
Schwartz said the larger question is not whether we are going to war, but why the United States chose to assassinate Soleimani now.
“There’s not going to be a war,” Schwartz said. “But, that doesn’t mean there won’t be violence and bloodshed. [The] question, and one that really only the President can answer, is why. We don’t have the intelligence, and unfortunately, so far he has given conflicting answers as to why [his administration] did it.”
Yaron said that he can speculate that the United States made the decision assassinate the military leader because of increasing acts of aggression from the Iranians within the last year. Examples of these actions include attacks on the United States embassy in Baghdad and a military base that killed an American contractor, as well as the hijacking of a British ship in the Persian Gulf.
“The Trump administration claims, and it’s not verified entirely, that [Soleimani] was a ticking time bomb ready to escalate and to attack other American targets, to reattach the American embassy,” Yaron said. “I can tell you from my perspective there is no doubt Soleimani did intend, in fact, to escalate. They attacked him because the provocation of hitting an American embassy so forcefully and the level of escalation carried out by Iran in the last half a year has been increasingly aggressive that the United States finally acted.”
Additionally, Yaron said he believes that the assassination was in part domestic political consumption, a way to deflect attention from the ongoing impeachment trial.
“I am not a cynic, I think that was part of the [calculation], but I don’t think that was the major reason,” Yaron said. “The impeachment was a benefit that Trump could garner. It could only be a short term benefit, and even then I am not sure it was much of a benefit.”
Schwartz said he disagrees that the impeachment had any effect on the decision to assassinate Soleimani.
“I don’t think [impeachment played a part],” Schwartz said. “So many things are going to happen in the next year and in the next few months while the impeachment happens. I don’t know that every single action can be attributed to that. But, again, we don’t know what [Trump’s] thinking is.”
Schwartz said he thinks that the decision was made either to encourage a regime change in Iran, or to assert dominance in the region.
“I could speculate, which is that [Trump] wanted to send a message to the [Iranian government],” Schwartz said. “I don’t know if he’s trying to effect regime change, or [if] they just trying to say we don’t care what you do in Iran but stop messing around in the rest of the Middle East, or if he just wants to hit them every now and then to let them know that we can. I think for President Trump, this was a way to send a strong message and I think he thinks that it’s going to be on the cheap, that there will not be much retaliation. Schwartz said that if the President’s end goal is to create a regime change, these actions would have been incredibly risky because Iranians could join together to oppose the United States instead.
“Critics of Trump’s move say if we just let things alone and continue with sanctions without the killing, the [current Iranian] regime would have fallen on its own.” Schwartz said. “[They say] don’t give the [Iranians] a reason to unify which they definitely could have. That’s what critics say—that a regime will come down on its own, that its not going to be helped by American intervention.”
Yaron said that he felt the attack was successful in the short-term.
“On the short term, [the assassination] was a big success and was tactically brilliant, Yaron said. “Strategically, we can’t judge anything strategic until the next year.”