Death of the Face of Terror

You had to be in the city to really know what it was like,” recalls junior Caroline, who lived outside of New York City and went to school there at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

For some of us, the events of 9/11 resound clearly, while for others, it remains a distant memory. For everyone, however, Osama Bin Laden’s death brought back the feelings of unease that arose after the United States’ first terrorist attack.

“You could hear the fighter jets; walking home you could see the smoke across the sky,” Caroline recalls the panic of the experience as it was happening.

The media has thrown around the phrase “the 9/11 generation” to describe today’s youth. The meaning of this label, and whether this description is accurate is questionable.

When upper school students were in elementary school when the event occurred and have little to no recollection of their reaction. Many do not recall having a strong emotional reaction or even a basic understanding of the event.

Tracy Walder, upper school history teacher, had a very different experience as she worked in the counterterrorism division of the CIA at the time.

“It was more of a logistical issue,” she says of her experience that day. While the majority of Walder’s generation in America had emotional responses to the event, for Walder, it was simply about doing “what I needed to do.”

Before 2001, an attack was not a foreseeable event, nor was terrorist activity perceived as a legitimate threat. Afterwards, however, a huge cultural change took place and people became more cognizant of the existence of terrorism and extremism.

“I don’t really think it initially occurred to us—it didn’t occur to anyone—that it was terrorism,” Walder continues.

It seems strange to dub the youth as the “9/11 generation,” when they barely recall the event; however, it makes more sense when viewed from the perspective that the majority of our lifetimes will be in an age where terrorism is an imminent threat.

Especially given the reactions to Osama Bin Laden’s death, the generational differences in views on terrorism become clear.

“I confess that I was happy to hear that he would never again be able to cause mass destruction; however,” says junior Julianna, “I later realized that it is wrong to rejoice over the death of a person no matter how wicked he was.”

Adults who remember clearly the fear associated with 9/11 had a reactionary response to Bin Laden’s death, even an overjoyed one. Teens flooded Facebook newsfeeds with celebratory posts and college students from the D.C. area celebrated in front of the White House following President Obama’s announcement. But in rejoicing the elimination of one particular threat, America was not celebrating anything close to the end of terrorism.

“I understand that he’s a figurehead for Al Qaeda, but the reality is that…he was not well, sick, in hiding; from an operational standpoint, there isn’t too much that he can do,” says Walder.

But despite the distinct reactions to 9/11 and its orchestrator’s death, there seems to be an understanding that while his death is a symbolic milestone, it does not result in the defeat of anti-American sentiments.

“Terrorism itself is not gone,” Walder concludes, echoing a national sentiment.

—Rupsha