September 10, 2011: A New York family hugs and remembers the terrorist attack from a decade ago.
September 11, 2001 was Hilary Tang’s first day of junior high. When she heard in homeroom that the New York World Trade Center buildings were attacked, feelings of terror and confusion she had never before experienced surfaced. Suddenly she and her classmates were locked in tight hugs.
Hilary’s reaction represents the unfiltered reaction of a generation of Americans. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened they were young students; 10 years on, they have all grown up. Through experiencing terror and confusion they have learned how to have a more open, more global mentality. They are the 9/11 generation.
Compared with their parent’s generation, they have a distinct mark of the times. According to the Center for American Progress, this generation has already become America’s guiding force. Its numbers are even greater than the baby boomers. They are also the most ethnically pluralistic generation in U.S. history; 61 percent Caucasian, 19 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African American and 5 percent Asian.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks left a deep, indelible mark on the popular American psyche. According the 9/11 generation, this token of extreme terrorism left a deep impression on their native land; it also greatly shaped their world view and their values. For many people, it changed their lives in an instant. A 9/11 generation member, New Media reporter Adam Quinn, said: “Every American generation experiences a major historical event that impresses them; for our parents, it was World War II and the Cold War, for us it is 9/11.”
When 9/11 happened, Peter, whose family lived in New York, was preparing for his college exams. He loved literature and dreamed of becoming an author. This dream was shattered with the loud crashes of the twin towers falling. Peter lost his father in this unprecedented act of terrorism, and at the age of 18, in the pivotal years of one’s life, Peter chose the sword over the pen. Along with 10 million other young American people, Peter rushed towards the Afghan war theater. 10 years on, Peter has accumulated a lot of scars. As he talks about the decision that year he is even-tempered. He reflects, “At the time we were all shocked by the image [of the towers falling]…but we very quickly realized that we needed to do something to protect our family. In 10 years I have lost a lot, but I have never regretted it.”
Ginatt Lahkman is a second-generation Indian-American. 10 years ago she was just about to graduate college; it was the shock of 9/11 that prompted her to become interested in terrorism. Now Ginatt works at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She is the director of their Religion and Society department. She says, “In order to avoid 9/11 happening again, we have to have a hand at the root of terrorism, prevent extremism and realize the common dream of all religions, which is to respectfully and peacefully coexist with one another.”
The past 10 years have also had a tremendous impact on the cultural activities of the American youth. The “Progressive Thought” website’s cultural pod cast editor Alicia said, “After 9/11, the American people, especially the young people, experienced an unprecedented surge in patriotism.” According to the statistics gathered by UCLA, in the past 10 years, their campus has seen a sharp rise in the number of students getting involved in volunteer work. According to another 2005 study, an impressive 83 percent of new freshmen had served as volunteers in high school. Also, as for the political arena, voters ages 18-29 reached their largest constituency in history during the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
When looking at what were the most significant things they learned from 9/11, Ginatt, Alicia and others of the 9/11 generation all selected “adaptation,” “communication” and “leniency” as the top three lessons.
In order to ensure that another 9/11 would never occur, the U.S. decided on a list of security measures more rigorous than those of the past. For example, before boarding a plane, passengers must submit to a body search; some must even undergo an electronic scan. Many Americans are already used to such precautions. They value their freedom but at the same time understand that there is a price to safety. This year, 28-year old Harlan Jacobsen said, “From the moment 9/11 happened, we had to face this fact: America will never achieve a complete victory in the war on terror. Accepting this and adapting to this truth is something we all must come to face in our lives.”
In the past 10 years, the 9/11 generation has not chosen to become evasive or isolated. On the contrary, they have become more open and tolerant. They are more willing to interact and exchange with other societies and cultures. 26-year-old Nick thinks, from one point of view, 9/11 actually worked as a catalyst to push a generation of young Americans to become more global. Nick said, “Just as this event brought America closer to the outside world, we also learned to see ourselves as a player on that [global] stage.”
As the figures show, after 9/11 occurred the numbers of American students heading to non-European destinations to study abroad rose dramatically. Many young Americans also developed a deep interest in Islam and Islamic tradition. The American Globalized Education Institute’s statistics show that, from 2002 to 2006, students heading to Islamic countries to pursue studies increased by 127 percent. According to the figures from another educational institute, since 9/11 the percentage of students studying Arabic, Persian, Urdu and other languages frequently used in Muslim societies has been steadily increasing.
Although the 9/11 generation and their parents both love their country, the vast majority of the 9/11 generation rejects the idea of over-relying on military measures to combat terrorism. Instead they have a tendency to prefer multilateral cooperation to address global issues. Furthermore, according to a public opinion survey, over 70 percent of American youth opposes stationing troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
9/11 had a tremendous impact on the worldview and values of a generation of Americans — this effect continues to deepen and become more pervasive in U.S. society. This generation represents America’s future. According to the Center for American Progress’s forecast, the 9/11 generation will account for one third of voters in the 2016 presidential election. In another 10 years, the 9/11 generation will have become America’s backbone; they will be the dominant, guiding force in society. When asked how they will explain this symbolic historical event to the next generation, many of the 9/11 generation have said that they want the next generation to understand this part of American history, but at the same time they want to impart only a minimal amount of the impression that they originally felt. The 9/11 generation also wants to decrease the number of troops stationed in the Middle East and improve relations with Muslim countries.