Friday, September 11, 2009

Fear Factor: Pearl Harbor to 9/11

Today is a reminder for those who live in one of the few places in the world where feeling safe is commonplace of what it's like suddenly to live with fear, to have the ground stop feeling solid under your feet.

Older generations experienced this epiphany in 1941 with Pearl Harbor. Their children were baptized by the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now a new generation tells Peggy Noonan how they were transformed by the "life-splitting event" of eight years ago:

"Before it they were carefree, after they were careful. A 20-year-old junior told me that after 9/11, 'a backpack on a subway was no longer a backpack,' and a crowded theater was 'a source for concern.' Every one of them used the word 'bubble': the protected bubble of their childhood 'popped'...The video of 9/11 has firmly and ineradicably entered their brains. Which is to say their first visual memory of America, or their first media memory, was of its towers falling down."

Each generation takes a different lesson from its trauma. The Greatest had to grow up overnight and go off to fight in foreign places or stay behind to work in war plants and live with meat and gas rationing.

The Baby Boomers took the shock of nuclear reality in the 1960s to start a "youthquake" against their parents' values about gender, race, sexuality and fighting an ideological war in Vietnam.

What will this generation make out of its loss of innocence? The memorials at Ground Zero are still unfinished, but by presidential decree, today will be the first 9/11 anniversary to be commemorated as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, encouraging a tribute of sacrificing for the common good through volunteer work.

Such efforts won't get any headlines, but they are a much more traditional American way of responding to shock and awe than retreating into rancor, mistrust and selfish squabbling.

1 comment:

jf said...

A different if somewhat provincial take...

It's different for my kids, out here in the midwest. They seem less concerned with international threats than the homegrown "nutcase" down the street.