By Philip Bump
May 25, 2015
The Washington Post

Somewhere in the ever-flowing river of flotsam that is Twitter, a simple data point offered by a college commencement speaker jumped out at me before being borne away on the tide of immediacy. This bit of data:

The speaker was ABC journalist Martha Raddatz, and the point is the key one in the intro: The graduates have spent half their lives with America at war.

It’s a startling idea, but an incorrect one. The percentage is almost certainly much higher than that.

Using somewhat subjective definitions of “at war” — Korea counts but Kosovo doesn’t in our analysis, for example — we endeavored to figure out how much of each person’s life has been spent with America at war. We used whole years for both the age and the war, so the brief Gulf War is given a full year, and World War II includes 1941. These are estimates.

But the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan in (late) 2001 means that anyone born in the past 13 years has never known an America that isn’t at war. Anyone born after 1984 has likely seen America at war for at least half of his or her life. And that’s a lot of Americans.

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