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Iowa Youth Respond to 9/11

posted on September 11, 2006

One time zone and five years away from Ground Zero, Iowans still find themselves affected by the events of 9/11. Indeed, the aftermath of the terrorist attack is reshaping the nation, and Iowa. Just as the Depression of the 30s and World War II defined a generation, the Cold War defined the next generation. Will a population of Americans now be known as the 9/11 generation?

Days after 9/11, Iowa teens shared their thoughts with Iowa Public Television.

Brammer: I’ve been to New York several times in my life, about ten times or so. The skyline is what I remember most vividly about it. I can’t imagine that it’s not going to be the same as it’s always been.

Lepley: When I first found out about this, I was – I’ve never felt more angry about anything in my life before. It really made me realize how much I care for this country and how much it’s done for me.

Sehic: I’m really scared because I’ve already been in a war when I was in Bosnia and I don’t want to repeat that again. I’m just, like, really scared and I don’t feel all that safe.

Mundt: Then their responses ranged from genuine fear to perplexed sadness, to anger and pride. Impressionable teenagers when the planes hit the world trade center, today they are young adults. With the vigor of youth, they have accepted the event and are adjusting to a post 9/11 world. But their views shaped by 9/11 are surprisingly eclectic.

Sehic: I think September 11 definitely was our Great Depression. I think it's definitely going to stay with us. I mean, it has shaped a lot. It’s created fear for us but, then again, it’s created hope. It’s made us stronger and I think we are going to be the generation that changes it.

Lepley: I don't think I realized that I had that kind of capacity for patriotism. Being a teenager, it's kind of a fun thing to pretend like you don't like your country. It was kind of a first look into how my mind would start to develop as an adult, what I’d take seriously, what I’d take as something that’s important.

Brammer: I hope that we could’ve learned that, you know, we are all much more connected than we realized before. Like with any tragedy, you hope that something positive comes out of it, but on a greater sort of global, world political stage. It just -- it just didn't go where it needed to at all.

Mundt: Those are some of the voices of young Iowans. Dean Wright is a professor of Sociology at Drake University. Among other things, Professor Wright studies how populations respond to both long- and short-term forces. How have Americans been shaped by what happened five years ago?

Wright: I think it’s a tremendous shaping. In the history of the annals of the American society, we’ve never had anything quite this much of an impact.

We’ve had historically things like the Great Depression. We’ve had other kinds of major catastrophes hit the United States, but nothing that showed our vulnerability. It forced us to really take on a new posture, something that brought on new groups that we’d never experience before.

The Islamic tradition was not a part of the American tradition. We had a long history of frustration with race. We’ve had a long history of gender. But this was something totally new that a new generation subsequently has had to address.

Mundt: Those other defining moments, the Depression, the second World War, had a long-term impact on the generation that experienced them. This, as you said, is much different, on a much higher scale. How do you think this will play out over twenty, thirty years?

Wright: Well, I think it’s the kind of thing that’s going to remain. And it also remains to be seen what the next step is. If 9/11 is the beginning of something that would continue, then we’re going to see a whole new kind of society emerge. On the other hand, what we’ve seen is the adaptation fairly fast in five years.

It was crisis for the first few months. We had numerous kinds of coming together as a society to take care of our anger and our frustration and bring us together as a community. But what we have seen in the last few years is us now taking hold of it and becoming a society again as we were.

I think an example, we just finished the State Fair. It went on as it would have probably the year before. We’re back in -- we know what’s happening. We’ve adapted to a lot of the things like airport security, like lease security.

We’re dealing with issues like whether we have lost certain kinds of constitutional rights. But what we really are dealing with more than anything is how to address this issue of multiculturalism that’s coming into the United States.

Mundt: And for many of the young people whose moment of awaking may have been 9/11, not only do they live in this new environment, but these questions are right on the front of their radar screen, I would think.

Wright: It’s the kind of thing that’s going to carry them, unlike we’ve had past generations be carrying something that is so huge. And it’s sort of -- it’s the whole approach to what everyone is addressing.

We’ve never had a place in which that many people died at once through the hands of aggression toward the United States. We’ve been very safe. And that’s been especially true of Iowa because we’re quite a ways from New York. Nothing that happened in Chicago and certainly Los Angeles and so forth.

But this new generation is – as was commented by Mr. Lefley a little bit ago, is going to have to be one that addresses patriotism in a whole different way than it did, say, in World War II, World War I, for all of our past generations.

Mundt: They have some model to follow on, but they’re going to re-create it for themselves.

Wright: It’s going to be their new model of patriotism. It’s going to be a kind of patriotism that’s not going to be the flag waving patriotism that was world was ii, the kind of thing that was supported by the total united states, but sort of the commitment to addressing the problems of the united states and going ahead and trying to solve those as a cultural group.

Mundt: Is there a growing sense of disillusionment when you look at polls that show at this point the majority of Americans against the war in Iraq and what’s happened since?

Wright: Well, there can be and I think to tie those two together quickly is maybe sometimes a misnomer. I think the young generation sees more in the 9/11 and the subsequent things and, say, the Iraqi war. The Iraqi war is just one phase of that. That’s sort of the process going on. It’s a much more complex issues that involves nationalism.

We also -- at the same time we’ve discovered the world is flat; we discovered that technology now is manifesting itself all over the world. There are so many social forces going on at once that it’s going to be unlike in the past where you had one or two things driving the younger generation.


Tags: 9/11 history immigration Iowa National Security refugees students teens terrorism


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