Seven weeks into the war against terrorism, teens around the country are holding learn-ins, joining the military, organizing peace rallies and trying to stay informed.
This is the first time many students have seen the U.S. government wage war against another country.
Although past presidents have sent the U.S. military abroad to assist other countries, the last time the U.S. declared war against another country was ten years ago during the Persian Gulf War.
Making sense of it all
“When I first heard about the bombing, I was disappointed,” said Lisa, a high school freshman from New Mexico. “I thought President Bush should have tried other things for a few months first.”
Peter, a sophomore from Northern Virginia, believes the government should do everything in their power to get the people who attacked on September 11.
He suggests the government could “break down the main groups and go from the main to the smaller groups.”
Most polls suggest the American public strongly supports the military strikes, although some are concerned that bombing may not be the best way to rid Afghanistan of terrorism.
Another sophomore from Virginia, Andrew, supports the war effort but thinks attacks should focus only on the military installations.
He trusts the top military officials to do what must be done. “This is the most effective… People know what they are doing.”
For some, it’s hard to know the right reaction to September 11. It’s also difficult to understand why members of terrorist organizations hate the United States enough to attack it.
Cassie, an eighth-grader in Ohio thinks, “it’s dumb that they’re jealous of us.”
“We should just try and do without [violence.] But, as my teacher explained, if we let them push us, they will keep on hurting people and bother us.”
David, a high school senior from California, believes the civilians caught up in the bombing campaign were given a fair warning when the U.S. warned Afghanistan to stop harboring terrorists and “they ignored it.”
“Lots of people fled to Pakistan and other countries, and whoever stayed it’s on them,” he said. “There would be more innocent people dying if we didn’t do anything about it.”
Jessie Duvall is a junior at Wesleyan University. She said President Bush’s statement that people are either “for terrorism or for the war” is unfair since she is also against terrorism, but against the war.
“We need to take time and examine those events. It doesn’t mean we start war against another state. We should look toward international solutions.”
“We should be working through international courts and the United Nations, and strengthening those institutions that are in place to handle situations like this,” she said. “They have not been given that power yet.”
What it means to be patriotic
It’s hard to go anywhere these days without seeing American flags, hearing “God Bless America” and gaining a sense that adults and students alike feel very patriotic.
Chad, a senior from North Dakota, has a father among those sent abroad to help fight the war against terrorism.
He said he’s very proud of his father and plans to enter the military life because of how useful it makes you feel.
“I wish more people would enter because the more people we have in, the more people we have to defend us,” he said. “I’ve always been patriotic. This has brought out the patriotism in everyone.”
Also interested in joining the military is Tyrone, a senior in Ohio. At his school, he sees students being patriotic but still keeping their stereotypes and prejudices.
He explained that people who look as if they might have a Middle Eastern background have been discriminated against. Although it is disguised as patriotism, he adds, it’s not.
“Being patriotic doesn’t mean we should strike out against everyone who is different than us. It hurts me to see that.”
“People get defensive because you can’t distinguish between terrorists and Americans,” he said. “They shouldn’t jump to conclusions and judge people.”
Andrew has no problem with the recent displays of patriotism. “I love it. I think we should have done it before. A lot of people have been anti-American, now they are American.”
Twenty-two year old Nickolas Miano thinks that although the idea of patriotism isn’t new, the idea of showing it is.
“We’ve had too much time in the past to worry about petty things and get involved with things that didn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s good to see the nation needs people and everybody’s coming together.”
Joining the cause
The September attacks have inspired some students either to join in the military cause or cemented a prior desire to do so.
All of the Armed Forces had exceptionally high interest in their Web sites and information telephone lines immediately following the September attacks.
The Air Force and Marines recruiting offices report 400 -500 percent more interest in the days following the attacks than during the same period last year, although some of those people were looking for more information on the military unrelated to recruitment.
Will more people sign up for the military as a result? It’s too early to tell. The process generally takes between six to eight weeks from when someone walks into a recruiter’s office until they pass the required interviews, tests, and sign up for training.
Nickolas Miano watched the news coverage of the attacks on Washington and New York from his home in St. Louis, Missouri.
His immediate reaction was fear that the attacks could be ongoing. At the time, no one knew whether it was a one-time thing or a series of things that happened.
After a few days, he began to see American flags posted on overpasses over local highways and felt a “vengeful patriotism.”
That Friday, September 15, Miano decided to stop into the Army recruiting office he passed every day on the way home from college.
A single man without any children, he felt it was his obligation to sign up.
“I’ll do my part to prevent something like this from happening again,” he said.
He leaves home to begin his five-year tour of duty on November 21.
Many students are trying to learn all the facts before making judgments on the war against terrorism.
Andrew suggested to those against the war to really get informed. “Most of them don’t know about it; they see what they see on the news. They should learn what is actually going on.”
Jessie helped stage a “learn-in” in October for other students to focus on what happened and not just continue with daily life in an information void.
“The idea was to create a learning environment and do what we’re here to do; to educate ourselves,” she said.
She and other students asked professors and students to lead various workshops ranging from U.S. Foreign Policy to patriotism to the history of Afghanistan.
“Just some basic stuff we hadn’t gotten from the news at all,” she said.
Duvall added that learning from September 11 means looking at the way the U.S. interacts with the rest of the world.
“I feel that peace can be patriotic. I want this country to be the best it can be — to rise above the violence that the terrorists used. We should not be using violence as a solution.”
What do you think? Do you feel more patriotic since the attacks on September 11? Do you agree with the president’s declaration that someone is either “for terrorism or for the war against terrorism? Why or why not?