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How these September 11th babies, now voting age, see America

Some 13,000 babies were born in the United States on September 11th, 2001. Today, they turn 19, and this fall, they will be able to vote in a presidential election. Garrett Graff is the author of an oral history of 9/11 and recently interviewed several of these young Americans for a Politico magazine piece. He joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the lives of voters born on one of America’s darkest days.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some 13,000 babies were born in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. Today, those babies turn 19 years old, and, this fall, for the first time in their lives, they will be able to cast a vote in a presidential election.

    Amna Nawaz has more on the political views of voters born on one of America's darkest days.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, those young Americans' lives have been shaped by wars, by school shootings, and now a deadly global pandemic.

    Garrett Graff recently interviewed several of them for his piece in "Politico" magazine. It's called: "The Children of 9/11 Are About to Vote." He's also the author of The New York Times bestselling book "The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11."

    Garrett, welcome back to the "NewsHour." It's always good to talk to you.

    It is remarkable to read in your latest piece, these young adults have only ever known a nation at war.

    In fact, one of the young women, Chloe, said this to you. She said: "Every single day since I was born, we haven't been in a time where we are at peace," which is a remarkable thing to read.

    What did these young Americans tell you about how they view America's wars after 9/11?

  • Garrett Graff:

    Part of what is so fascinating, Amna, is that, for them, it's just been background noise.

    They have, as you said, never known a day of peace in their lives. And so they have very little understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why we're there, and really have learned very little about the wars in school.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another thing that struck me was, for so many people before them, 9/11, the day they were born, was the big moment. It was a defining moment.

    Of course it wasn't that way for them. When you asked them about those big moments, though, many of them cited a shooting of some kind.

    One of them, Aidan, actually said this to you: "In the back of my mind, I would sit in class and I'd be like, all right, well, if something happens, how am I going to escape? What am I going to do? Am I going to hide? Am I going to jump out a window?"

    This is from Aidan.

    I know so many young Americans feel the same way. It's become normalized.

    Was that sentiment true for most of them, Garrett?

  • Garrett Graff:

    Almost exclusively.

    Every single person that I talked to, for many of them, for many of this generation, the first national news event that they really remember is the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. And then they were high school students alongside the students of Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, when that was — when there was a mass shooting there, and that, for many of them, this is a backdrop to their daily educational experiences now.

    Police officers in schools, active shooter drills, this is something that they think about many days at school now, which is sort of unfathomable to those of us who grew up in previous generations.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As we mentioned too, they are now about to vote.

    And in the background is this global pandemic. There's also nationwide racial justice protests unfolding. What did they tell you about how they're viewing both of those events and also how they're viewing this election?

  • Garrett Graff:

    Well, one of the things that just really struck me — I mean, again, this is a generation born on 9/11, grew up in war experienced these mass shootings, graduating high school, and starting college now amid this pandemic and these nationwide protests.

    And, in many ways, they would have every reason to have given up believing in government and their country. And, in fact, I actually saw just the opposite, which is, there was a remarkable amount of hope and optimism about them that their generation will be able to change America for the better as they come into politics.

    I mean, one very big area for them is LGBTQ rights, that this is something that they have grown up with widely accepted among their peers. Remember, the — for many of them, gay marriage has been legal for more than half of their lives in many states.

    And so this is something that is sort of background noise, again, in a very positive way socially for them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One of those quotes actually that stuck out to me that speaks to that was from a young woman named Adsel. You asked about the chaos and the turmoil.

    She mentioned the previous generation, saying: "Well, millennials are a lot more weary. They came into adulthood during the recession. They lived through 9/11. I think their view is a lot more depressing," she told you, "whereas Gen Z, our generation, things can only get better."

    Is that generally the sense among these 9/11 babies, Garrett, that it can only get better from here?

  • Garrett Graff:

    That was actually the — my favorite quote in the entire piece, because it was the one that was most surprising to me, the idea that they would look ahead and see the millennials as the cynical, weary, tired ones, and that their generation they see as having nothing but hope and optimism about the future.

    I mean, I was expecting a much more depressing portrait of their view of America.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I have to ask you about one quote that really struck me, because it is their birthday today.

    It's also a day of national mourning. And there was one quote from someone named Laken, who said that she was listening to radio stories about kids who had lost their parents on 9/11 and realized, "That's when I first realized I was born on the worst day," which is just a heartbreaking thing to read.

    When you talk to them, though, Garrett, really briefly, how do they view this day?

  • Garrett Graff:

    Again, very little memory of it. This is something that, for many of them, their parents talking about their birthday is the only real memory that they have.

    Laken, actually, a remarkable example of this. Her name, she says her mother has taught her, means a newly created gift from God, and that she was named that because she was born on 9/11, with the sense that sort of this was a moment of hope amid so much national tragedy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It was very nice to see those messages of hope.

    We should say, happy birthday to all of them from us. Thank you to them for sharing their stories.

    And, Garrett Graff, thank you to you for bringing their stories to us. Always a pleasure to talk to you.

  • Garrett Graff:

    Thanks for so much for having me.

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