Staff Editorial

Millennials: A generation shaped by tragedy

America is the best country in the world. That’s what they tell us in school, right? America is the big brother of the world, the protector, the watchful eye and strong arm keeping evil at bay.

But what happens when the protector is hurt?

On Sept. 11, 2001, those images of America did not seem so simple anymore ––we were wounded. Two planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, marking the first attack on American soil since the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

For a majority of the population, it was the first time they did not feel safe in their country. This was a new feeling. Never before had they been scared to go to work or to send their children to school for fear of terrorist attacks.

Now, 13 years later, the generation that grew up in the new America is coming of age, the one with a heightened fear of terrorism. If you are 20 years old, you were only seven when the towers were struck. Many college students today were too young to even remember where they were or what they were doing when the towers collapsed. We are the first group of people who have grown up in post-9/11 America.

Flickr//Beverly & Pack A family member of a victim killed during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon holds yellow roses and an American flag in remembrance of his loved one.
Flickr//Beverly & Pack
A family member of a victim killed during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon holds yellow roses and an American flag in remembrance of his loved one.

Though life in the U.S. –– and the world for that matter –– was completely changed after the attack, one of the most dramatic consequences of 9/11 was the Iraq War, or even broader, the War on Terror.

“Big events like 9/11 don’t so much shape a generation as reveal a generation,” author and historian Neil Howe said in a Huffington Post article from 2011. “Generations are shaped by their place in history, and it’s an orientation that starts in childhood. Prior to 9/11, Millennials were already well on their way to becoming an entirely different generation than the ones that came before.”

Each generation is characterized by conflicts, and the reactions to those events define that generation. For our parents, it was the Vietnam War. For our grandparents, it was World War II. For us, it’s 9/11 and the Iraq War that resulted from the attacks.

As millennials come of age, statisticians are starting to compile a profile of our generation. By looking at the profile, it is clear that we were impacted by 9/11 and the subsequent events.

For example, millennials are not supportive of the more assertive security techniques the government used following 9/11, and they are not supportive of the U.S. remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Pew Research Center.

Just as much as crises themselves shaped a generation, people are defined by how they react to these events.

Vietnam-era young people — mostly Baby Boomers — reacted to the Vietnam War by protesting and holding demonstrations. While this method is still used at times, millennials have turned to the Internet as a means of both communication and activism.

For example, Pew reported — and election statistics agreed — that millennials are more likely to align themselves with the Democratic Party. Two-thirds of young people who voted in the last election voted for Barack Obama. If you look at Obama’s Facebook page, it has around 30 million more likes than that of his 2012 opponent Mitt Romney.

Though Facebook likes do not ensure a presidential victory, millennials are not just showing their political support online.

They don’t make up the majority of voters in the U.S., but more young people are voting today than the young people of previous generations, according to Pew. Obama’s election is indicative of this because the 2008 election was the first election in which a substantial amount of millennials were of voting age.

Obama’s election is also indicative of millennial’s overarching views on foreign policy. In the 2008 election, when Obama ran against John McCain, Obama stressed diplomacy and more non-violent techniques in foreign policy.Though people don’t vote on foreign policy alone, research shows that millennials agree with a less militant approach to foreign policy. The Pew found that millennials have abandoned the idea that military strength is the best way to ensure peace. In fact, around 66 percent of millennials say that an aggressive, militant approach to stopping terrorism leads to hatred and, in turn, more terrorism.

9/11 and its effects have presented millennials with the challenge of living in a country that is still entangled in a foreign war they do not support. How, then, can millennials react to this challenge in a way that allows their views to be heard while also improving the country for all people?

The PHOENIX Editorial Board believes that millennials should continue the trend they started of being politically active as well as active online. As the first generation to raised with computer technology, we must use it to our advantage. With advances such as social media and instant news, we have access to intimate knowledge of international conflicts. We can see the effects of violence across the globe. Now that we are coming of age, our cohort can start to enact real change to create a better country and a better world.


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