Monday, September 12, 2011

A 9/11 essay for the paper that got lost in the ether......

What impact has 9/11 had on the current generation of college students, who were in elementary and middle school 10 years ago? On 9/16/2001 and then two weeks later, another Indiana newspaper published two essays I wrote about 9/11. The first one was somber but hopeful. The press (and I) jumped to name the generation who would be defined by 9/11. The headline for that essay was “In the future, we must become more willing citizens of the world.” I predicted that the 9/11 generation would be dubbed the world citizen generation. I wrote:

If we are to vanquish terrorism as President Bush promised [… ] or to solve this most heinous of crimes as promised by FBI Director Mueller, it will require us to develop ourselves as world citizens. The ways of other people will have to be understood beyond how to sell them products and to exploit their cheap labor. A foreign policy based on human rights or American interests must evolve into a third option … a policy of “world citizenship building” beginning at home and expanding abroad.

I hoped for a more bottom-up movement beginning with young people who would see a third path outside the partisan barricades built by their parents and grand-parents. I envisioned young people intensely and keenly interested in the rest of the world. A generation that would not fail to correctly place Canada, Somalia, Israel, or Tibet on a map and be able to name the political leaders of those countries as well. Don’t go test the first 20-something you find, you’ll be disappointed. When I reread that essay, I shake my head at the gauzy idealism.

Two weeks later another essay was published headlined, “2004: A War on US.” It was a dark, fictional piece, set three years in the future. I wrote it as a warning of what the terrorists were trying to accomplish . As I reread it, unfortunately, some of it rings true today.

I wrote about a new growth in government, the Department of Homeland Security (nailed the name), about incredibly intrusive security (Homeland Security forces checking IDs in church narthexes), a significant economic downturn (surely our enemies weren’t working with Enron), how our dilapidated infrastructure was giving us problems, and that democratic movements had begun in the Arab middle east, although anti-American in sentiment (protesting the presence of over 2 million American troops).
Evidence for the more hopeful future is scanty. College students don’t study abroad as much as they could, but, how much of that has to do with the economy? When the costs are right, they go, and go eagerly. Students talk about joining the Peace Corps after graduation, but I am skeptical whether that has to do with the poor economy, too. After a surge in military recruiting following 9/11, aren’t things pretty much back to normal--exchanging military service for an education? Students volunteering and engaging their communities is increasing, but would it happen if colleges weren’t making volunteering a graduation requirement? Does it matter?

The darker vision, unfortunately, is in more evidence: revelations of torture; secret spying on American communications; plans to data mine Americans’ library and video habits; Abu Ghraib; Guantanomo. Perhaps some of these “un-American” ways also fuel the Tea Party’s wrath? We’ve adjusted with little resistance to increased and invasive searches before flying, to increasing levels of electronic surveillance, to increasing instances where we must prove who we are to more authorities, and while we reviled at Abu Ghraib, we shrug at Guantanomo.

In the end, I think, the effects of 9/11 on the current generation of children who witnessed 9/11 is mixed. I think they may be more curious about the world (beyond tourism) than their parents, but they have accepted as normal a more skewed balance of security over freedom.

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