What Event Defined Your Generation?

With the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks being last Friday, one question I saw reposted to Facebook that day asked “Do you remember where you were when the attacks occurred?”  Of course, the question was coupled with a photo taken that unforgettable day.  This go me to thinking-not about where I was (which for the record was heading into school with Mom in her car when the first plane hit and in my eighth grade world religions class for the rest), but about how each generation has one event occurring during its generation that defines the rest.  For those born when I was, that event was 9/11/01.  Those born a few years earlier than me, it was likely the First Gulf War (of which I have vague memories of fearing Dad would be called up from the Naval Reserves; I would have been a toddler at the time).  For my maternal grandparents’ generation it would have been the attack at Pearl Harbor when they were elementary school.  For my 107 year old great-grandmother I would imagine the First World War was the defining event.  In earlier generations in America, perhaps that event was a war with the Native Americans, the Civil War, or the Revolution.  And let us not forget about the non-war events, like the Great Depression (which defined my paternal grandparents generation) or the Oregon Trail.  For those elsewhere in the world, it could have been the passing of the Nuremberg Laws in the 1930s; the reunification of Italy or Germany in the 1860s; the French Revolution; or the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.  And all of these are but a sample.  We have millennia of history and thousands of locations to pull examples from.

Flag raisings at Iwo Jima and the World Trade Center

I took this image collage of the flag raising at Iwo Jima and its equivalent at the World Trade Center from Pintrest, but it has been shared too many times to know its origin.

So how do these defining events shape those they effect?  In my case, I remember being scared about attacks on other cities that may still come.  Especially I worried about an aunt who worked in downtown St. Louis.  At school, we were in the early years of student access to the Internet (all dial-up) and the school administration tried to keep us off it so we couldn’t learn anything.  Ditto on the cable connection which was deliberately cut.  Having the communication system out-of-reach was actually worse than learning the news because the unknown was more greatly feared.  Then like with World War II, in the months after, everyone banned together to find ways to raise money to assist the victims.  This led to lots of making crafts to sell at sporting events.

Much of the same occurred in both historical and fictional account I have read about World War II and the American Civil War.  There was fear of the unknown yet to come and everyone rallied patriotically in the months to years that followed.  Most famously, would be the rationing, Victory Gardens, censorship, and war bond rallies of World War II.   Or the bandage wrapping parties of the Civil War.  And with the news traveling slower back then, I imagine fear of the unknown was just as great as what I experienced, if not more so.

So each time the one event that defines a generation changes a way of life, even if only temporarily.  Something occurred to raise great fears followed by a reaction to the event, often by way of a show of patriotism.  And it has lasting repercussions even after that (think the Patriot Act after 9/11 or outbreak of the Cold War after World War II).

With all this in mind I thought for this week I would rephrase that question from above.  What event defined your generation in your country?  Do you remember where you were and how it affected you?


4 thoughts on “What Event Defined Your Generation?

  1. I was in high school and the schools had made the decision to wait until the end of the day to make the announcement. Of course it wasn’t like we were in a bubble and people heard. I heard while I was in a computer class. Over the next few days in talking with my mom, I learned that on the day of JFK’s assassination she was in typing class, turns out same room as my computer class. Similarly, the next few days were spent in similar ways, gathered around the television watching as events unfolded. Time spent with family, just trying to hold on to tangible feelings.

    • Thanks for sharing! I know what you mean about not being in a bubble; we also learned more at school than the administration would prefer. And I hadn’t thought about JFK’s assassination and should have for a defining event. I remember one of my teachers (who is about my parents’ age) talk about when that happened too.

  2. I was senior in high school when 9/11 happened. I was sitting in my computer application class and saw the second tower fall on live TV. I thought I was going to be drafted and end up fighting in some foreign country… likely dying since I would not have made a good soldier.

    I think the Columbine High School Massacre does define my generation perhaps more so. There were school attacks before Columbine, but the massacre meant no parent or child could feel safe anymore at school. I still remember being in 8th grade and listening the casualty figures coming out on the news while at home. Listening to the news about the lives of the deceased students made me think “I could have been friends with those people and now I never will!” Schools today have intruder drills and such security measures that put military bases to shame. New and remodeled schools now are designed to make it hard for anyone to get in even if you are a parent or community member. Just the sheer brutality and violence of Columbine has affected the U.S. and it certainly affected me. 9/11 would be number 1 on my list as most defined event, but Columbine comes very close behind.

    • Yikes that must have made you feel scared! I would not have wanted to be in your position as a male senior when 9/11 happened. Especially when considering WWII, Korea, and Vietnam and their drafts and brutality.

      And everything you said about Columbine and school security is also true. When that occurred, I was in elementary school. Looking back I’m not sure I truly realized what happened at the time; a few years can make a lot of difference to perception. With more school attacks in recent years and having spent the last three years as a substitute teacher, I can also attest to the new drills and security and know you are right when you say the “security measures…put military bases to shame.” Where I am from, now parents have to show IDs to pick up their kids and everyone goes through security to enter.

      And thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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