Monday, May 2, 2011

The End of an Era

Anyone old enough to remember the morning of September 11, 2001 can tell you exactly where they were when they heard that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. For people like me, who were just out of high school at the time, September 11th was the Pearl Harbor of our generation. It too became a date which would live in infamy. The difference is that while Pearl Harbor marked our entrance into a war we had been staunchly attempting to avoid joining, it brought with it a sense of purpose and for our brothers in arms who were already fighting the good fight, it brought a sense of hope that renewed forces would soon end this bloody war. Our experience in the aftermath of September 11th did not bring hope for a faster end to our conflicts in the Middle East. Instead, it brought new fear that we were buckling down for a long battle with no real end in sight. And it has been a long battle. The "War on Terror" has surpassed the time the world spent fighting during WWII, and the victories have been few. The nation, who rallied around their troops during WWII, questioned the purpose of our missions overseas. While Pearl Harbor produced what we have come to call "The Greatest Generation", September 11th has produced the most fearful generation.

After the President's announcement last night that the White House was confirming the extermination of Osama Bin Ladin, I started thinking about what that really meant for the American people. I started thinking about my 8th graders I taught last year, and how young they were when all of this began. For those kids, who were 4 or 5 back in 2001, there is no real memory of a world prior to September 11th. They don't know that you used to be able to greet your loved ones at the gate in an airport, or that there was a time when you could fly somewhere without having to remove your shoes. They don't know of a time when the NBC Nightly News didn't have at least one update a week involving "The War on Terror", and they don't know of a time when it wasn't normal for the government to be able to tap your phone lines. For children who have grown up in a post 9/11 world, they have known nothing beyond the nation of fear we've been living in for the past 9 years. It boggles my mind that we have been searching for Bin Ladin for as long as my goddaughter has been alive. So I begin to wonder, what will this world look like for these children who have known nothing more than a life peppered with terror alerts? I do not presume the alerts will end any time soon, but with this shift in the chess game that is the war could mean a world that looks very different for these children, a world that may be more relaxed for the first time in their living memory.

While thinking about this impact on the current generation of young people, Jason mentioned that we were lucky to grow up in the 90's, in a time of economic prosperity and a fairly mild political climate. It seems that the 90's are set to become an idyllic era, much like the 50's, where we look back and say "Those were the good days" despite the fact that everything wasn't necessarily as picture perfect as it seems in retrospect. But last night, after we got the first real piece of decent news relating to this exhausting war, I felt for the first time a spark of hope that maybe...just maybe things were taking a turn for the positive. I am not silly enough to think that taking out one man can turn everything around overnight, or that it will even turn things around at all, but now I have the small glimmer of hope that maybe things can change.

I would be remiss if I did not also offer credit to President Obama for the speech he delivered late last night. His very demeanor began to swing the tone of this conflict. No longer were we in the "War on Terror", but instead we were in the "War on Al Quaeda". One line that took the terror away from the American people and replaced it with a being that seems real. A human force, which we could have hope of defeating. By fighting "Terror" we were fighting a nameless, faceless entity, and how does one begin to defeat a ghost, especially when that ghost is housed within our own personal fear centers? Now we have a force to recon with, and in one sentence he made that sound possible. While the American people rejoiced in front of the White House, our President called this only a "Significant Achievement", not a victory. The way this was handled by the Oval Office was with poise and dignity. We are not through the woods, but it seems we've found a brief clearing.

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