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.
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?