For the past few days, I've watched commentators on both the left and the right examine and analyze the reaction of the "American street" to the news of the death of Osama bin Laden. Many of those who gathered at the White House and other places of national significance have been college and university students. It is an error to compare these spontaneous demonstrations with those in the Arab world following the attacks of 9/11 or to insinuate that such demonstrations by young people were simply expressions of over-excited youth. Rather, it should be seen as the cathartic exhalation of a generation that was born in the smoke of September 11th.
I was in middle school and in my first year of being a teenager in 2001. Like everyone in this nation, the events of 9/11 and everything I did that day are seared into my mind. Those of us now entering our early 20s have been defined by this moment and the repercussions and wars that sprung from it for nearly half of our lives. For good or for ill, the war on terrorism has shaped the coming of age of my generation. Though our thoughts and opinions are as disparate as any other generation, we stand united in a collective memory.
Other moments that defined a generation — the assassination of President Kennedy or the moon landing — stand as fixed points in time in the consciousness of those who lived through them. This is not so for my generation's defining moment. We have grown from children into adults in the globe-surrounding shadow of missing towers. We were not old enough on 9/11 to already have set opinions of the world, but we were not young enough to not be struck by fear.
Unlike the Cold War, where a nation could be defined as an enemy, we have grown up with the elusive specter of terrorism. Since 9/11, instead of a rival flag, we have lived with a singular face burned into our minds and etched upon our generational consciousness. Though the death of Osama bin Laden does not end the international effort to combat terrorism, it does profoundly affect the psyche of a generation brought up knowing its visage. The perception of joy at the death of Osama bin Laden by the youth in American colleges and universities is not reveling in vengeance or anger, it is a release of the deep breath we took upon plunging into the world nearly a decade ago.
Matt McDaniel, Baltimore