For the past few weeks, I have been asked what it feels like to grow up with the attack on September 11th, 2001 and our response in the ten years hence. Essentially, what does it mean to be a member of the 9/11 Generation?
Pondering this question, I’ve realized that our generation shouldn’t be called the “9/11” generation. I was seven when the attacks happened. Naturally, my understanding of the gravity of 9/11 was very limited. As a second-grader, it meant getting out of school early that day, and having my dad very carefully explain what had happened and who had done it. In the second grade, my ability to grasp even what the Twin Towers were was tenuous, and I certainly could not understand why someone would fly a plane into a building.
It was only as I got older, as the six o’clock news was dominated by “the war on terror,” and going on vacation meant enhanced airport security, when I began to understand just how much 9/11 has altered American life in only ten years. Yet, I don’t think we can be called the 9/11 Generation. The only part of 9/11 I experienced was getting out of school early, and on the day the towers fell, I couldn’t appreciate the magnitude of Al Qaeda’s attack. The generations before us all remember where they were when the atomic bomb was dropped, when JFK was assassinated, and when the Berlin Wall came down.
For those of us who hadn’t even turned 10 before 9/11, the capture of Osama bin Laden is a much more tangible event. We were able to understand its significance when it happened. Last spring, one of my earlier columns “A Good Week to Be American” discussed the death of bin Laden last May, and the time it took for me and my classmates to grow up and really understand the magnitude of 9/11 as Americans.
Yet as an event in itself, the capture of bin Laden has not drastically influenced US foreign policy as 9/11 has. Now, after crippling Al Qaeda, the United States turns to rebooting the economy and managing the deficit. The event that will influence our lives as a part of the workforce in the coming years is much more of a domestic issue.
We are not the 9/11 Generation, because none of us had to respond to 9/11 or deal with the consequences as adults. As we move from Andover to college to supporting ourselves, we will not inherit the “war on terror” but rather a massive deficit and a crippled economy.
As important as it is to never forget and to reflect on the state of the nation ten years after one of the deadliest attacks on American soil, addressing us as the 9/11 Generation ends our experiences in the second grade, and lets us forget the massive task that lies ahead.
Ben Krapels is a four-year Senior from Andover, MA.