I was just listening to Republican Convention coverage on NPR and heard a young delegate from Nebraska describe herself as part of the “post-9/11 generation,” and therefore especially concerned about national security. She put me in mind of \Letter to the Next Generation\, a wonderful film by Jim Klein (you can find it at New Day Films).
The film takes place at Kent State on the 20th anniversary of the 1970 killing of student demonstrators by members of the National Guard. Jim sets out to find out what makes the 1990 students tick, and how they regard his own generation, including the ones who were shot to death by panicked guardsmen. Remembering that his own introduction to social issues came when he read the news of brave civil rights activists murdered during Mississippi Freedom Summer, he asks Kent State students when the news first came to their attention. The hostage crisis, they tell him, when the headlines read “America Held Hostage, 400 Days and Counting.”
It seems irresistible to extrapolate from this difference to the larger differences in outlook and concern between the generation of 1970 and that of 1990. So many of my sixties generation were inspired by the civil rights movement to fight injustice, whereas early imprinting with a feeling of helplessness in the face of one’s enemies, and a desire to avoid future humiliation, must have influenced the character in Jim’s film who said “someone has to police the world.”
I hope and pray the generation of 2001 was imprinted with compassion and generosity as an antidote to fear, but of course I worry that the lesson they took away had more to do with circling the wagons and waging “preventive” war. I’m struck again with the power of the story, especially the way our dominant national narrative shapes consciousness. I hope we have the opportunity to tell a different tale, and soon.