Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

How 9/11 has shaped a generation of Americans

The terrorist attacks have become this generation's Pearl Harbor – an epic event that has changed young peoples' view of the world and America's place in it.

(Page 3 of 5)

Lewis & Clark College did not have an Arabic program, so after her return to the United States, Boehland enrolled in transfer classes at Portland State University. For the rest of her time as a student, she rode her bike an hour each day to take Arabic. She says that after her graduation in 2005 recruiters from the Central Intelligence Agency approached everyone in her Arabic class about possible work.

Skip to next paragraph

Boehland decided to work for nongovernmental international organizations instead. She spent three years at Human Rights Watch in New York City, followed by a year and a half on a Fulbright grant studying Iraqi refugee issues in Jordan.

Then she took a job with Save the Children working in the West Bank and Gaza for a year. Now she's just completed her first year at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. – but rather than spending this summer interning at a corporate firm, as did many of her classmates, she worked in Kabul at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Reflecting on the past decade, Boehland says that the decisions she made immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks have affected almost every aspect of her life. "Even if I were to just give up completely on international human rights, if I were to not travel again ever – which I don't think is likely, I'll probably be traveling for most of my life – it's just changed my perception of my place in the world and America's place in the world. I can see America in a mix of different countries, rather than seeing everything through the American lens," she says.

In the confusing days following the 9/11 attacks, a student approached John Lewis Gaddis, the noted cold-war historian at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and asked a pointed question.

"I'm going to say something that may offend some people, and I apologize if it does. But is it OK now for us to be patriotic?" the student asked.

"Yes, I think it would [be]," Dr. Gaddis replied.

But it turned out that patriotism, in this case, did not necessarily just mean slapping flag patches on backpacks. Over the weeks that followed, Gaddis was taken by the urgency with which his students tried to define what patriotism meant. For some, it was indeed flag-waving. For others, it was a rediscovery of the distinctions between right and wrong. For still others it was the principle of tolerance.

"In each instance, though, [there was] a search for an anchor, for a center of gravity," wrote Gaddis in a 2002 article in the Yale Alumni Magazine.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story