Culture & Society

America in Wartime

Musing of a millennial inspired by Jessica Williams

By Arielle Cruz

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Jessica Williams said, in the middle of her comedy performance in Statler Hall, that our generation has grown up in wartime. That’s a kind of old timey phrase, “wartime.” It makes you think back to the ’30s, and rations, and women and children smudged with dirt, going to the factories for work to make weapons and appliances. It reminds me of films I watched in high school history that are nameless in my memory, but seemed to feature a lot of white haired men repeating the phrase “wartime.” Regardless of the connotation, that’s when we grew up—in a time when our country was at war. Our country’s longest war. And that identity has shaped us deeply, like it has shaped every other generation that has come of age in times of American bloodshed in far-flung countries across the globe.

Unlike other generations that have brandished this label, we are not mostly manual laborers, we aren’t gung ho fighters, we aren’t angry and weren’t drafted against our will. Instead, we trusted and then distrusted the government to take vengeance for a terrible act. We are apathetic about the effectiveness of our politicians. We are technologically savvy, well-connected to one another via media, we are egocentric. Or at least, those are our stereotypes. We are activists, or we want to be, but a decade too late and for issues that have little to do with foreign policy. We are just recently reinventing activism in the scope of our new Silicon Valley-driven world, and we are using our power to defend social issues that date back to the Civil War and suffrage. We are an odd generation. Books will be written about us; many already have been.

We never really think about our generation in the scope of the war. We think about it in the scope of everything else—technology, relationships, living at home, healthcare for the baby boomers—but not war. However, the War on Terror and its resulting effects have had a gigantic impact on how we view the world. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Ron Fournier explains one of these major effects—that Millennials are becoming more negative and cynical about politics and our political processes as a whole. According to the article, there are four things you need to know about us as a generation: “Millennials, in general, are fiercely committed to community service. They don’t see politics or government as a way to improve their communities, their country, or the world. So the best and brightest are rejecting public service as a career path. Just as Baby Boomers are retiring from government and politics, Washington faces a rising-generation ‘brain drain.’ The only way Millennials might engage Washington is if they radically change it first.”

“We are apathetic about the effectiveness of our politicians. We are technologically savvy, well-connected to one another via media; we are ego-centric. Or at least those are our stereotypes. We are activists, or we want to be…”

I hate to indulge most articles that talk about our identity as “Millennials,” but this is one of the few that have ever made sense to me. I can’t disagree with any of these points. I don’t have a single friend who has any desire to go into politics, and if any of us insinuated that public office was one of our goals, I think we would all laugh. It’s a running joke. In theory, there is nothing wrong with going into politics. These jobs are necessary, and they should be held by the best and brightest in our age group—but they probably won’t be because many of these individuals have lost faith in the government. A lot of this loss of faith has to do with the events leading up to the general distrust in our political system. In a study by The Harvard IOP, the “Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service,” a third of Millennials agree that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results.”

Much of this has to do with feeling that our government has worked against us. We’ve been through scandal after scandal: From the middle east having weapons of mass destruction and then never having them, to the party gridlock that has stopped progress over the past few years, to Edward Snowden’s document leak informing the public that our government is pulling a 1984. Each of these are events stemming (pardon my generalization) from the events surrounding and following those on September 11, 2001. The Patriot Act was written to handle terrorism threats, after all.

Though the war in Iraq has officially come to an end, it has clearly shaped our political views, and our views about how to get things done. After all of the mess that takes place during any war, we have revolted. We have a no-nonsense policy when it comes to inefficiency, and are intent on serving our country and the world through the private sector and non-profits, instead of contributing to the Washington processes that many of us see as outdated. We have dissented and there is no way to gauge how it will affect the future. No other generation has responded to inefficiency in quite the same way, and perhaps that is one of the results of our modern level of information access.

No matter how you slice it, we are the modern children of wartime, and in many ways it has meant being the modern children of political inefficiency. When our kids are in high school maybe they will watch videos about us in high school, and men with white hair will be calling us the kids who grew up in the wake of the War on Terror. Maybe its just another label we can place on “Millennials.” There’s no way to tell but with time.

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