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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.

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When he came back, he had deployment experience, but not enough to ensure a long stay in the US. Soon he was back overseas, in Afghanistan, doing the routine he'd followed in Iraq. Today he's at Camp Pendleton in southern California. With about a year left in his enlistment, he's leaning toward getting out and trying the civilian sector, he says.

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Despite his experience with information technology, Miguel wants to pursue something with history or political science, such as becoming a teacher. "If I become a teacher, I will be teaching kids about what the marines in my time in the corps have done," he says.

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9/11 was a fire that shaped a generation – but it was not the only fire. Millennials who responded to a Monitor Facebook inquiry listed a number of important influences on their outlook, from 9/11 and the war on terror to Obama's election, the Great Recession of 2008, and the Arab Spring.

"The moment that really brought me up to speed in worldwide politics would be the revolts/revolutions occurring in the Middle East," wrote reader Louis Gonzales, who was in seventh grade when 9/11 occurred. "When I was younger, I never dreamed of seeing what was occurring in Libya/Egypt. These brave people took a stand against oppression and made a significant difference for their country."

Howe, the demographer, has said that perhaps the most profound cultural shift that has affected Millennials is the trend toward more and more parental sheltering. This is a generation raised by helicopter moms and dads. At a West Point seminar on Millennial attitudes in June, Howe pointed toward a recruiting slogan he felt was in accordance with this attitude: "You made them strong. We'll make them Army strong."

In a recent Pew Research survey, when asked what makes their generation unique, a plurality of 24 percent of Millennials picked "technology use." They've fused gadgets into their social lives in a way their elders haven't.

Millennials remain upbeat in a relatively downbeat time, according to Pew's Mr. Taylor. Ninety percent think they'll have enough money to do what they want with their lives.

That does not necessarily mean they are blind to the calamities of the world. "Sept. 11 was a deep tragedy, with victims we all mourned, and though we had names and faces flashed on a TV screen or in the newspaper, many of us did not know the victims personally," commented Mellissa Bergen, a 28-year-old pastor from Shafter, Calif., in response to the Monitor's Facebook inquiry.

"I personally know too many victims of the Great Recession to count," Ms. Bergen continued. "Both Sept. 11 and the Great Recession affected my worldview in similar ways. They made me realize the world is smaller than it seems to be and how much we rely on others. We need each other."

• Correspondent Tom A. Peter in Kabul, Afghan­istan, contributed to this report.

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