On September 11, 2001, shortly after I walked into work in downtown Minneapolis my boss made an annoucement: terrorists have attacked The World Trade Center in New York City. I clearly remember her telling us to leave work immediately.
“Go home and be with your loved ones,” she said. “I believe our nation will be going to war today.”
I rushed home to a daughter who was just 5 months old at the time. I now have two children and neither of them are fully aware of Osama Bin Laden, September 11, or terrorism. There’s an entire generation of children who are too young to remember the September 11 attacks or who weren’t even born yet. Essentially, for any child in America under the age of 14, yesterday’s announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden must seem like a curious thing indeed.
For them, there is no pre-9/11 America, a time when you could meet your party at an airport gate or get through security in a breeze without having to take off your shoes and jackets. For them, there is no before, there is only the after.
My generation barely remembers the Vietnam War and the resignation of President Nixon. The generation before mine barely remembers the Kennedy assassination, and the generation before that barely remembers the Great Depression, and so on. It is historic events like these that define a generation and establish their shared fears, joys, and sorrows and eventually their needs, values, wants, and expectations.
Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic that for the children born during the past 14 years, there will never be the chance to compare and contrast the ways in which bin Laden and his followers changed the very essence of the way in which we live and interact with the rest of the world in the span of just a few hours.
“There is a gulf there, a fault line, really, that will last until the last American who remembers September 11, 2001 perishes from the face of the Earth. Only those who fully remember that day can fully appreciate what this news means,” Cohen wrote.
So what do we tell our children about the death of Osama bin Laden? Perhaps all we can say was that a warped man who had brought suffering to so many around the world will no longer be able to do so.
And one day, in the not-too-distant future, this generation will read more about bin Laden in Civics or History class or see a movie about him and they will struggle to comprehend what happened and why it happened and how it changed America.
Indeed, it’s up to those of us who remember September 11 and life before September 11 to pass the significance of this event down to our children and grand-children.
As painful as the last decade has been, at least this story has a happy ending. The death of Osama bin Laden is a great testimony to our country’s brave pursuit of freedom and independence. And whether they realize it or not, for the Post 9-11 Generation America will be stronger and safer — and that’s by far the best gift we could give our children.
God bless America!
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