It has recently been brought to my attention that as someone in their mid twenties I am now a member of what has been referred to as the millennial generation. We are a group of people who were raised in years of economic prosperity and tech bubbles only to have our world views rocked by the tragic events of 9/11. We spent our college years being lied to about why the nation needed to go to war in Iraq and we sat in shock as over 4,000 men and women our own age lost their lives in two wars. Finally, once we reached maturity and entered the workforce we experienced first hand the result of a previous generation overcome with greed, a generation that had had complete and undying faith in the infallible nature of the capitalist marketplace.
Some pundits have suggested that the millennial generation is set to become one of the most isolationist and financially cautious generations that America has ever produced. However, upon hearing this I suddenly remember that the people making such claims are in fact members of the very generation whose shear ineptitude resulted in the very conditions that were supposed to have gotten me so depressed and jaded in the first place. To those who have already preemptively given up on us millennials I say to you why don't you forget about retiring and instead start earning again to pay China back for all that money you all so wisely borrowed from them. In the meantime we up and comers will attempt to shift through the ashes of our once economically strong and internationally respected country.
I contend that the events on 9/11 have had the exact opposite effects of isolationism. We millennials may just have easily been called the first globalized generation as we saw first hand the effect that 19 Arab hijackers, disgruntled with foreign policies we had never heard of, could have on all of our lives. Since that day the number of students studying Arabic and Middle Eastern culture has sky rocketed across American campuses. I recently met the daughter of a New York City firefighter from Queens who had just returned from studying in Cairo. When I asked her why she chose to study Arabic she told me that after her father saw the towers fall in person he was determined to have his kids understand how such a thing could have happened.
Yes, our generation is going to be much more skeptical of politicians as a result of having been flat out lied to and manipulated by the Bush administration over the Iraq War. But is skepticism when it comes to ones elected officials ever really a bad thing? One thing I will say though is that the only way to truly keep one's government in check is to have a population willing to educate themselves on the issues. I appeal to all of my fellow twenty somethings to abandon all of the pied pipers parading their uneducated opinions across cable tv and recognize what our parents have not, that not everything calling itself news is really news. Would you watch FoX if it was renamed APE (American Propaganda/Entertainment)? I didnt think so. We must all recognize the fact that there is a difference between being informed and being educated. Watching the "news" endlessly all day might give you insight into what is happening in the world, but these shows will rarely tell you WHY they are happening. Those answers can simply only come from reading and independent investigation.
Our generation has the hard task of having to understand a very complicated world in its entirety. The policymakers of tomorrow will need to have the foresight to understand what unrest in places like Kazakhstan is going to do to the global energy markets and in turn how this will effect Saudi Arabia's relationship with its Arab neighbors. Previous generations of leaders felt secure that all they needed to leave college knowing about was the Soviet Union and the policy of deterrence. Maybe some of them even learned Russian in an attempt to be the best. Fast forward to today where members of the millennial generation are fighting to win a war in Afghanistan, a country where five languages are spoken and two (Dari and Pashtu) are vital to successfully completing the mission.
A final thought on whether the millennial generation is more or less likely to engage in military operations abroad in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The next generation of military leadership that have just begun to take the reigns are the men and women who have spent the last nine years making their bones effectively making strategies like Counterinsurgency work. They see the importance of getting involved in countries like Yemen before they become safe havens for terrorists. Will be be doing nation building along the lines of Afghanistan and Iraq? Certainly not, but that does not mean that we will not seek to have a presence. If anything, it was the previous generation of cold warriors in the military who were so scarred by their experience in Vietnam that kept us from getting involved in places likes Afghanistan before they became a problem.
The road ahead will not be an easy one for the millennial generation, but I am secure in the fact that the series of blunders that we have been witness to over the past decade will serve to make us, the next generation of leaders, more cognoscente of the world in which we live. While we may not be as optimistic about the future as the baby boomers who came before us, I truly believe that it is the realism of the millennial generation that will one day return America to the pinnacle of international esteem.
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