How the Post-9/11 Generation “Never Forgets”

Anyone old enough to remember where they were or what they were doing knows the direct impact of watching the Twin Towers fall on September 11, 2001. Yet, what about the people who were not old enough? According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau, 31.7 percent of the U.S. population is between ages 0-24, which makes up Generation Z. A defining trait of Gen Z is that most of them were too young to recall or even live through the events of 9-11.

The question remains: How does 9-11 affect Gen Z?

Gen Z is profoundly anxious. According to the APA, over 55 percent of Gen Z report feeling anxious, an 11 percent increase from Millennials. Over 20,000 American youth were polled by the Varkey Foundation, who were asked what they dreaded most for the future. According to the report, 82 percent of them are more concerned about the emergence of terrorism and extremism than climate change or worldwide pandemics. One of the leading prospects in this anxiety is from Gen Z’s engagement with the news. On the other hand, repeatedly being shown negative news and violent images has created a generation that is desensitized to them as a primal coping mechanism, according to Charles Figles, Director of the Traumatology Institute. So, how has the impact of 9-11 been transferred through the generations?

Below are three personal stories of how the attacks of 9-11 have affected the younger generations’ lives and their journey to a deeper understanding of 9-11:

Born in 2000

“I am 21 years old and although I technically was alive during 9-11, I never had any real memories associated with it. For the longest time, 9-11 was a day that everyone at school would remind us to never forget, but I did not understand what exactly it was to “Never Forget.” When I was younger, 9-11 was only about numbers for me —the date, how many were injured or how many lives were lost. I was detached from the destruction and the horror. But when I was 18, I went to see the Memorial Museum in New York City. After seeing the empty space between the towers and the list of almost never-ending names, I gained perspective on what a true catastrophe 9-11 was. One of the most impactful experiences I had at the museum was hearing the voicemails office-workers left to their spouses or children and hearing the resignation of life in their voice.”

Born in 2001

“Since I was born in May 2001, I was still in the cradle when 9-11 happened. Given my age, I know that I cannot begin to fathom the grief of those who were old enough to experience it to a fuller extent. However, even though a lot of my generation can’t remember where we were or what we were doing at the time, it still shaped our lives. There have been many tragedies in our nation, but some events will always weigh heavier than others. I know that for many, this is the case with 9-11. Every year, we see the words, “Never Forget,” and remember the loss and pain it refers to. Time goes by, yet my older family members will still offhandedly mention thinking the second tower was safe ⁠— only to see it collapse, with the resulting ruin displayed live on television for hours on end. I still see the feelings of loss, confusion and anger pervade their thoughts, which continues to affect them to this day. The horror of 9-11 is a formidable symbol of national destruction and loss. It is important for every citizen of the USA, regardless of our age.”

Born in 2002

“My parents and my uncle lived in New York City and worked downtown. This particular week of that year, my family was traveling abroad, while my uncle was still in New York City. A couple days prior to the attack, my mom found out she was pregnant with me. On September 11, my parents and grandparents were on their way to the beach when they saw the news on television. A vacation turned to panic as they could not get a hold of my uncle since all communications had been interrupted; returning to NYC looked uncertain. Days later, they were able to reach him by phone at a friend’s place in Pennsylvania. When I visited the memorial in 2015, I remember seeing the names engraved and understanding the scope of how big this truly was. I think back to 9-11 as a remembrance of innocent lives lost and how lucky I am to have my family with me.”

What to say to the rest of our generation?

It is easy for us, as Gen Z, to become detached from the events of 9-11 either as a coping mechanism or out of willful avoidance. However, statistics show that regardless of how we may try to ignore or brush aside the events of 9-11, the majority of Gen Z has been impacted greatly by this tragedy. This is seen in our increased anxiety, concerns of terrorism and extremism, and our heightened awareness and concern with interconnected world events. Recognizing 9-11’s lasting impact on our lives may help our generation understand the feelings of numbness, fear, and confusion that pervade our own lives as well as the generations before us.

Written by AER Copywriting Interns as a guest post and reflection of their own personal experiences: Christine Taylor, Serra Sowers and Ocean Miller-Shaked.

Did you watch our Facebook Live with StandFast Alliance honoring the 20th Anniversary of 9-11? Watch it below!