Some of us heard the news in our elementary school classrooms. Some of us were sitting in our living rooms when we saw the shocking images flash on the TV screen. Some of us who were in preschool just knew something bad had happened because the adults around us were crying.
When the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, safety in America changed. Many in the millennial generation were too young to understand the immediate impact at the time, but we’ve since grown up in a world scarred by the attack.
Reporters who were on the scene that day announced, “This is unbelievable!” and “What is going on?” On the “Today” show, eye-witnesses saw the first tower burning and only knew it was on fire. Reporters could only speculate at what hit the north tower. Fifteen minutes later, they had their answer when Flight 175 crashed into the south tower.
Looking back on that day, we remember where we were and how we felt, but it’s harder to wrap our minds around the way the world was before this tragic event.
For generations before the millennials, airport security comparatively did not exist. Passengers’ bags and suitcases were put through an image scan, to check for suspicious items like guns and drugs, then they could walk right up to their gate. People picking up passengers could walk right up to the terminal to greet their party when they stepped off the plane.
For those of us who have flown for the first time after 9/11, we are accustomed to the rules: no water bottles, no razors, no liquids over 3 ounces. The list goes on.
We see these precautions as trivial hang-ups, the obvious backlash to a tragic event. When we stand in line for an hour to get to our gate, it is hard to remember why this process is necessary.
And while the steps we take to ensure safe flights are beneficial, much more has changed in our generation.
First, the act of joining the military does not come with the same respect as some past generations have.
Many join the armed services now as a first step toward a larger goal. They need money for school, and the military seems like the easiest way to avoid debt.
Joining is an opportunity for a debt free education for career opportunities. It isn’t seen as a source of honor or patriotism anymore, but as a practical option.
This same mentality has been carried into the police force, creating an unhealthy amount of pride, leading to extremes in the militarization of the police force.
We’ve recently seen many pictures of police in riot gear holding guns up toward the unarmed citizens of Ferguson, often with the hashtags #dontshoot, #handsup and #iftheygunnedmedown.
The citizens of Ferguson feel isolated. If they were killed and their deaths publicized, would the press run pictures of them in professional attire and hair done? Or would they stereotype the pictures as images as thugs?
Our enemy before 9/11 was always clear and contained. When terrorists attacked on our soil in a setting as innocent as a plane, it scared Americans.
We now believe terrorism could happen at any time, anywhere. With shootings continuing to happen on our own soil, how will we respond to this? Online, going around Facebook and Twitter, we see celebrities who created the video, “Demand a plan to end gun violence,” in which they all speak up about the tragedies happening around the country.
Each generation has been marked by a national tragedy. Whether it be the Great Depression, JFK’s assassination, the space shuttle Challenger explosion, or for the millennials, the attack on the twin towers. Anyone from any of these generations can tell you where they were and what they were doing when the catastrophe occurred.
As Tanna Barry reported in the Sept. 12, 2001, issue of The Signpost, “These events brought feelings of terror that many Americans had not felt since World War II.”
Barry quoted WSU history professor Bill Allison, “For us today, this is our Pearl Harbor,” he said. “We’ve been at war before and today we are at war, we just don’t know against whom.”
We can only hope that the generation after us does not have to go through yet another tragedy to define them.
Tomorrow this nation will commemorate Patriot Day, which is now considered a day of mourning. As declared by President Obama on Sept. 10, 2009, the date marks not a federal holiday, but a national day of service and remembrance.
It’s a time for our generation to remember and to consider how the events of 9/11 changed the world we are inheriting.