Operation Enduring Freedom began less than one month after a series of terrifying attacks on American soil that left thousands of non-combatants dead. In an address to the joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush pledged to bring justice to America’s enemies in “a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.” On October 7, 2001, the U.S. War in Afghanistan began.

True to his word, the war outlasted Bush and his eight-year presidency. It persisted through most of the tenure of his successor, President Barack Obama, who suspended combat operations for a year while ordering bombs and drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Syria. The war got hot again in 2016. It got even hotter a year later, when President Donald J. Trump dropped America’s largest non-nuclear bomb in eastern Afghanistan. In August 2017, Trump delivered a speech to his nation and the world. The war must continue.

What do Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump have in common? The answer is not obvious. After all, the men have wildly different backgrounds, paths to elected office, personalities, and politics. One thing Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump share is a belief in the necessity of continual military operations in the Middle East. They hold this belief despite previous protestations for peace, damage to national reputation, blowback, declining approval ratings, a ballooning national debt, and the impropriety of helping to erect an edifice of death and destruction in foreign countries for years on end.

October 7th, 2017 was the sixteenth anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. War in Afghanistan. But how long is sixteen years? How should we think of it?

It is tempting to think in terms of own’s one life. For example, since the U.S. War in Afghanistan began, I started a family. Since the U.S. War in Afghanistan began, I learned a foreign language. Since the U.S. War in Afghanistan began, I moved from one American city to a different American city, to a different American city, to a Canadian city, to a Chinese city, and to a Canadian city once more.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, thousands of Americans; hundreds of British citizens; scores of Canadians, French, Germans, Italians, Poles, Danes, Australians; dozens of Spaniards, Georgians, Dutch, Romanians; several Turkish, Czechs, New Zealanders, Norwegians, Estonians, Hungarians, Swedes, Latvians, Slovaks; Finns, Jordanians, Portuguese, Koreans, Albanians, Belgians, Lithuanians, Montenegrins; and over one hundred thousand Afghans lost their lives. In the years to come, there will be more like them. Death is the price of enduring freedom.

How can America be free? In 2017, in 2009, in 2001, in perpetuity, war is the answer.