Events Hand Generation X A 'Real Role to Play'

October 11, 2001 | By Michelle Koidin

For Generation Xers, war was a movie or a video game or, one time, a swift, efficient military campaign they hardly felt. World War II and Korea were before their time, and their sense of Vietnam mostly came from “Platoon,” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter.”

The members of the generation that immediately followed the baby boom, people now in their 20s and 30s, were criticized early on as slackers. Later on they were recognized as hard-working entrepreneurs and known for their cynicism about government.

Now they could be facing the most formative events of their lives and their generation.

Their opinions about going to war over the terrorist attacks vary, naturally. But there is evidence of a mighty response by Generation Xers, cultural observers say.

“They took the most casualties. They also were the major heroes,” says William Strauss, the co-author of four books examining U.S. history from a generational perspective. “They were the police and firefighters for the most part. They were the passengers on the plane who crashed the plane rather than having it go to Washington, D.C.

“This was both a tragic event and a heroic event for Generation X,” Strauss says. “Generation Xers now have a real brush with history and a real role to play.”

Coming out of school, Xers were called disappointing and selfish, unrefined in cultural taste and incapable of standing up to foreign competition, Strauss says.

But they proved their elders wrong, creating countless dot-com companies, contributing immeasurably to the 1990s economic boom and stabilizing crime, drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases among young people that flourished with the baby boomers, he says.

Gen Xers’ prosperity led to a comfortable life in which many never thought about going to war.

Like many in their generation, people are struggling to grasp what happened on Sept. 11, when hijackers commandeered four aircraft and turned them into manned missiles.

“Our generation is the first video-game generation,” says Timothy Zeddies, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. “At least for me, there’s this feeling of unreality of what’s going on right now.

“In our generation, though, it feels like we, to an extent, have been neglected by the older generation, and I think there’s some deep-seated feelings related to that that make it hard to think about going halfway around the world and fighting a war that is to an extent about economic interests.

“It’s also about life,” Zeddies says. “When they came into New York and bombed our World Trade Center, that’s something we all felt to some extentin a very, very personal way. Our generation is so diverse. Some of our friends said, ‘I think we ought to go over there and bomb the (expletive) off the face of the Earth.’ There are other people like myself who are really trying to think of a peaceful solution.”

Rich Walsh feels the same sense of “unreality” but believes there is only one response.

“Everything we’ve studied from history shows war was the answer,” says Walsh, a 35-year-old San Antonio lawyer and father of a 3-year-old boy and1-year-old girl. “The only one it didn’t give the answer to was Vietnam, and some people chalk that up as not our war.”

The terrorists, he says, “are never going to be satisfied until they’re defeated, and I don’t know how you do that with sanctions. They’re already starving their people. We’ve seen with Iraq that sanctions don’t work. Saddam is still there.”

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