9/11 changed the nation but not daily life for the Millennial Generation

9/11 changed the nation but not daily life for the Millennial Generation

September 11th, 2011 by Joan Garrett McClane in News

The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York on September 11, 2001.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Construction continues on the new One World Trade Center, which has reached the 76th floor on its way to 104 floors. In the foreground, work also takes place at the Vehicle Security Center, which will screen buses, trucks, and cars entering the WTC site.

Construction continues on the new One World Trade...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

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People said 9/11 would change everything, and didn't it?

At the airport, we submit to full-body scans, take our shoes off and keep containers of liquids small enough to fit into Ziploc bags. We know words like Quran and Taliban. More of us have neighbors or sons and daughters who have come home from combat in Afghanistan or Iraq, and many know soldiers who never returned.

And there are the things we didn't see: warrantless wiretapping, our nation's marred image in the eyes of the rest of the world, a crushing debt caused, in part, by running two wars that cost billions of dollars each week.

Then there are things we think we've seen too much of: 6,000 U.S. soldiers killed overseas and more than 4,000 injured.

After the Twin Towers fell in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, scholars and talking heads on cable news and radio said the day would define a generation, as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or attack on Pearl Harbor did. It would be a day seared into the consciousness of the generation. Bumper stickers and signs read "Never forget."

But in the space of 10 years, as the high schoolers and college students who lived through 9/11 grew into adulthood, some say the fire and death of that day have lost some of their potency. Real life got in the way and, for better or worse, the effects of 9/11 are more of an undercurrent than a surface wave.

For the 18- to 30-year-olds in the Tennessee Valley, talk of layoffs and double-dip recessions stirs more panic than terrorism these days. Nationally, the politics of war, privacy and security are forever altered, but it's hard to say how those debates reach those who live hundreds of miles from New York without military connection or political involvement.

For the bank teller who drives her young kids to school then soccer, for the senior in college looking to start a life and get a job, for the cable repairman going to night school, the imprint of 9/11 is not as glaring in daily life.

Drew Holland, a 25-year-old living in Hixson, said he still ties his shoes the same and eats three meals a day.

"I don't feel unsafe or safer than I did before," he said. "I'm sure there are things that have changed on a daily basis, but not that I think about."

The closer you were to the attack, the more you felt it. New Yorkers are reminded constantly by an altered skyline. The memory is closer to the surface for people in Washington, D.C., near where a plane hit the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania, where the heroic efforts of passengers drove Flight 93 into a field instead of the White House.

Many live without people they loved and still grieve. First responders live with illnesses they got from hauling debris from the pit and from memories that never die.

Even here, the wreckage of that day jarred some enough to veer the direction of their lives.

There have been a lot of assumptions about how 9/11 would impact a generation of youth, but it's guesswork, said Christopher Horn, a 37-year-old political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This fall, he is teaching a class on the Millennial Generation, which covers 18- to 29-year-olds and also is known as Generation Y.

It's hard to point to reputable research that says this generation is more fearful or more engaged than previous generations and even harder to link changes to 9/11, he said.

"So much of what has been written is impressionistic. There has been a long-standing tendency to stereotype younger generations in similar ways, and that is mostly what is going on now," Horn said.

As a 27-year-old graduate student on 9/11, Horn said his sense of security was rattled for the first time. He was expecting his first child and called the days following the terrorist attack scary and uncertain. He rarely, if ever, thinks of that time now.

"I have accepted it as normal," he said.

That's also what his students told Horn this semester when they talked about the mark of 9/11. The freshmen in his class say the thought that bad things can happen to this country always has felt normal.

But there is a tinge of guilt about this, especially among those in their late 20s or early 30s who were old enough to understand the magnitude of the worst foreign attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941.

When the anniversary approaches and the television is peppered with documentaries about survivors and Ground Zero, many are reminded that nearly 3,000 people died, that some people jumped from flaming towers to escape burning to death, that buildings collapsed, crushing others underneath. A barrage of images forces us to grow accustomed to the shock and ugliness.

"You always hate to get conditioned to think, 'Well, that is just how things are now,' but you kind of have to move on," said Jamie Hamby, a 32-year-old who lives in Cleveland, Tenn.

The grieving period can begin to come to an end, some say. After all, Osama bin Laden was caught and shot to death this year, and we have been safe inside our borders from outside terrorists for a decade.

"We learn to live and we learn to move on because that is what's meant to happen," said Adrienne Teague, 27, who lives in downtown Chattanooga. "Where would we be if we constantly sat around mourning about it?"

But holding tight to memories of that day is important to others, who say the attack has lived in the background of their lives all these years. They are the ones who will say, while it's easy to forget, losing a connection to 9/11 is dangerous.

Holly Vincent was recruiting at a college fair for Tennessee Tech University when she heard two planes had crashed in New York City.

At 24, she was newly wed to a Marine and felt terrified he would be called away as she watched the military recruiters pack up at the fair. They moved so fast, she said, it felt they were going to war that instant. In that moment, she decided she wasn't going to be a college recruiter anymore.

"It changed my whole perspective on life," said Vincent, a 34-year-old Cleveland resident who now works in public relations. "I didn't want to be in a hotel away from my family."

Her husband's commitment to the Marines was extended for a year because of 9/11, and every day she waited for news that he would be called away. It never came.

"I was scared to death," she said. "We had big plans. This was supposed to be a new chapter in our life."

William Lunny was just 16 when it happened. He calls the day "our big moment," and said it solidified his decision to join the military six years later.

Now, as a 26-year-old, he said he doesn't get tired of the anniversaries or memorial services, even though he notices fatigue in others his age or younger.

People don't like to dwell on what they can't control; they think about what is right in front of them, he said. But he wishes that weren't true.

There are still two wars going on. There still will be Tennessee families who lose loved ones because of the aftermath of that day, he said.

"You have to memorialize. If you don't learn history, you are doomed to repeat it. If we don't remember it, it was a waste," he said.