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Growing up post 9/11

world Updated: Sep 09, 2011 09:44 IST

AFP
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Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, a generation of children have grown up in the shadow of the terror unleashed that day, never knowing a world without airport patdowns and color-coded security alerts.

For these children, the bogeyman was not Communism, the threat of a nuclear war, or the march of the Nazis which had marked the childhoods of their parents and grandparents.

It was the bearded al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his network of suicide bombers who had declared "jihad" on the United States, and the fear of never knowing when or where they might strike again.

Most of these young people, some of whom are destined to become the nation's future top policy makers, vividly remember where they were when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York.

"I was in school when the September 11 attacks happened. I was aware that something was going on because there were some older students that found out about it and then we were sat down in the afternoon and told what has happened," Emilia Lispi told AFP.

"We really didn't understand at the moment what had happened, but we knew it was something very bad," added the 20-year-old, originally from Pennsylvania, who now studies biology and environmental science in Miami.

When the planes struck, also plowing into the Pentagon and crashing into a Pennsylvania field, she was between childhood and her teens, a confusing time for most kids when they begin to question everything around them.

"I think it happened at a time when I was already beginning to understand my world a little differently and it really showed me our impact on other countries is great and there are people out there who don't agree with everything that goes on in our country," Lispi said.

And while her parents had lived through the tumult of the Vietnam war years, which had profoundly scarred the American psyche a generation before, Lispi believes this was different, more personal.

"It was an attack here in America and it was very close to my home, only about two hours from NYC. I think we probably grew up with more knowledge of what was going on, and the idea that danger can be definitely here," she said.

For those children too young to remember the events of September 11, 2001, the growing spread of the Internet, iPods and iPads has provided easy access to images and explanations, as well as half-baked conspiracy theories.

Fourteen-year-old Joshua Henderson, from Plainfield, Illinois, doesn't remember the day itself. But he is well aware of the political landscape around him, and particularly the killing of bin Laden in a US raid in May.

"I was thankful that he was dead because hopefully all the suffering that we're receiving from him -- the Twin Towers attack -- it might come to an end," he said.

"But I believe we should not let our guard down just because a really powerful and evil terrorist has been killed, it doesn't mean that we're safe. There's bound to be someone else to harm us in some way."

Despite the trauma of the 9/11 events, experts don't believe today's young Americans have been left more fearful and anxious about the world they live in.

"I do not see evidence that the generation who watched 9/11 occur will experience some long-term cultural change," said Keith Campbell, head of the psychology department at the University of Georgia.

"Certainly, 9/11 was traumatic -- and it will have long-term impacts on those who were touched by it most strongly -- but I do not see evidence for a broad generational shift as a result of 9/11."

"The fear of nuclear war in the past was much more present culturally for young people," he argued. "Schools had 'duck and cover' training for decades."

Jill Ehrenreich, associate professor at the department of psychology at the University of Miami specializing in child and adolescent anxiety, agreed.

"There is no epidemiological evidence that suggests children born in that era are more affected with anxiety, fear or trauma than past generations," she told AFP.

"Prior generations also lived with many chronic threats, like nuclear war, World War II.

"Therefore, it remains hard to describe whether today's children experience any unique sense of threat in the world or just different types of threats."

Lori Ann Chierchio, who worked at JP Morgan close to the World Trade Center in September 2001 and was outside the towers when the first plane struck, has struggled to explain the attacks to her two sons, aged nine and 10, without scaring them.

"The children feed off of the parents/caregivers emotions, and I for one try very hard to hide my emotions and anxiety," Chierchio said.

"Working in New York City and the 10th anniversary coming this weekend, I need to convince myself, as well as them, that we are safe."

She said Sunday's anniversary would once again whip up a well of emotions, forcing everyone to relive the terrifying events.

"It is sad to say but "Generation 9/11" is experiencing it with us each and every year," she added.