In the midst of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the young American soldiers on the front lines of the battle for American freedom are often asked what it was like to be a child, or even a teenager, during the war.
And while there are no words to describe the pain, it’s one that resonates deeply with many of them, including Joshua S. Anderson, who now works at the Department of Veterans Affairs as a clinical psychologist.
The son of a veteran who was a Marine, Anderson, 26, came of age in the 1990s when there was a greater focus on national security.
“It was kind of a bubble for a lot of young people,” he says.
“I think we kind of forgot about the war, because we weren’t really involved in it.
And then when the war started, it was just a matter of when, not if, we’d go back to Iraq.”
The war was still going on, but many young people were just going through the motions, he says, adding, “I’m not sure what we wanted to do with ourselves.”
So he started studying.
And after spending a year studying, he decided to get a PhD in social work.
His dissertation, entitled “The Family in Iraq,” explored how American families experienced war.
“In my study, I did what I could to try and understand how the families felt during the conflict,” he explains.
“When I got into the research I realized that I was not just doing it to understand my own experience of war, but to understand the experiences of others,” he adds.
And it’s this experience that is often the most difficult to understand.
He decided to focus on the experiences and perspectives of veterans, which is a very different perspective than the ones that the military has had.
“That was something that really surprised me,” he admits.
“When I did my research, I realized I was actually looking at the experiences, the thoughts, the experiences that these soldiers had during the wars.”
He began to think about what it might mean to be American, in terms of our military history, and also in terms the role of family.
And what did he find?
“I really thought about how I was raising my children,” he remembers.
“How do I make sure that I’m not bringing them up to be this warrior or a soldier?
I really thought that that was what I was doing.”
The military’s family-centric narrative of the war was born in Iraq, when Anderson worked as a psychological aid worker for the United States military in 2004.
He had been working in the country as a mental health counselor and was assigned to a facility called the Camp Bucca, which housed hundreds of thousands of soldiers, who were stationed around the country.
Anderson says that during his research, he realized that many of the soldiers were experiencing stress as they fought for their country.
And he found that it wasn’t their motherfucker.
“I started to think, how do I tell these kids that their mother is dead and their father is gone?” he says.
“So I started to figure out how I could help them with this trauma and how to help them understand what it is like to not have a parent in their lives, and to understand that it’s not their mother, it is not their father.
So it’s their mother.
It’s not theirs.”
He discovered that he could help these young people understand that they weren’t alone.
“So that is the one thing I was really looking at was how do you help these soldiers feel, and how do they connect to their mothers, and their fathers?
And I just thought, ‘Wow, these kids need someone to connect with,'” he says with a laugh.
He began researching what it means to be “American.”
“What we have in this country is a narrative of America that was created by white people who were basically the first white settlers,” he explained.
“They created a society that had no real history of black people, or any other minority.
And so for me, the idea that there was this myth of the first American that really was created and this myth is what really inspired this book.”
The title of the book was “It’s Not Your Motherfucking Father: We Are the Generation That Got You Out of Afghanistan.”
It was inspired by the American soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, where the majority of those soldiers are black.
“The first American was not your daddy, and he was not a mother, he was a soldier,” he said.
“And I just realized, you know, how that feels to be out here, and not your mommy or your daddy.
I realized there’s a lot that you can learn from that experience, and it’s a great way to talk about the experience of being an American.”
The book is available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
It will be available at bookstores across the country on April 12.