Generation 'Y' full of firsts

    The hottest issue today would have to be, hands down, the inevitable conflict in Iraq our country is about to enter. At this point in time, the daily deluge of print, television and radio news trumpeting the newest Bush blunder or U.N. dissidence is becoming all too familiar. Saddam this, unilateral that, inspections this, Blair that — it would not be a stretch to say that the citizens of this country are reasonably overexposed to the Iraqi predicament.

    As commonplace as it may seem, however, our country is facing a situation that is in fact very unique. The magnitude of opposition voiced by nations and activists alike is almost unprecedented, especially when the worldwide February peace rally is taken into account. The United States, after months of diplomatic wrangling, stands relatively alone on the cusp of aggression. This unique situation is just one of several that stands to shape the so-called generation “”Y.”” Our generation in this country, loosely defined as those born after the mid- to late ’70s, has experienced extraordinary, wide-reaching events that have never been encountered before, that have and will determine the potential and prospect of our lifetimes.

    Granted, every generation in the 20th century has been touched, scarred and transformed by monumental events. The baby boomers had the Vietnam War and the Kennedy assassination, and their parents had the most devastating conflict the planet has ever seen: World War II. Each of these events had untold effects on all who experienced them, and it is quite likely that anyone who lived through such landmark times can remember exact moments that marked the climax of each. However, looking at the current youth and young adults emerging out of the 20th century, this generation has lived through epic events that point to an exceptional history.

    Barring the gradual but undoubtedly life-changing advent of the computer and Internet technological revolution, there have been specific, sudden events that can be said to stand out in the consciousness of this generation. For example, one obvious event would be Sept. 11, the mother of all mind-shattering extremities. It has been said many times before that no terrorist attack, domestic or international, has ever occurred on American soil with this kind of enormous effect. When the planes crashed into buildings, they also crashed into any sense of security or normalcy in citizens’ minds. It affected almost every facet of the lives of those in this country.

    It also brought an onslaught of firsts, including the first time the skies have been emptied of commercial aircraft; and the first time certain spectacles, sport and entertainment have been postponed for so long for a nation’s collective mourning. A million words have been typed and gallons of ink have been spilled to analyze the personal, political and economic fallout of the attack. All within the United States could not brush past its tragic legacy. Indelibly, it left a massive impression on all ages, but it is this generation that will have it imprinted on the beginning acts of their lives.

    While not nearly as life-altering as that horrific day, this generation has also seen an unheard of political event; the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush was marked by a month of chad-hanging and ultra-partisan craziness. Even broadcast anchors were confused by the election madness, and made it worse when, time after time, faulty election projections were called. High school and college students alike, apathetic or not, experienced the media circus and political precedent of a Supreme Court-mandated result that would wow even the most imaginative mind. A son of an ex-president losing the popular vote but winning the presidency by fighting over results in his brother’s state — never before and perhaps never again would this happen.

    Along the same lines, the impeachment of Bill Clinton also ranks among the few fracas-inducing firsts that have occurred in this generation’s earlier years. Joining Richard Nixon and Andrew Johnson in the “”legally disgraced presidents”” gallery, Clinton had to endure legal action as a result of his actions. While not dethroned, the ex-president was a character in a drawn-out, rare and rowdy political drama. With only the second impeachment trial in American history, this generation lived through a constitutional crisis that the country really hadn’t faced before, at least in those controversial terms. High crimes and misdemeanors? That much was unclear but the stature of this event is hardly ambiguous.

    None of these situations should be trivialized as mere flashes of historical significance in the minds of this generation, nor should they be inflated into yet another example of American arrogance and self-centeredness. Perhaps what is so noteworthy about the special relevance to this generation is that they all have occurred within the first quarter of our lives. True, Bush’s controversial victory may not have meant that much to any kid back then, but it does bind together all who lived to see it. And while these events may not directly influence the actions of this generation right away, they do serve as indisputable signs of the times.

    Perhaps this generation will be living in a new era of less comfort and more fear, less shelter and more skepticism, and ideally, less indifference and more awareness. Future political leaders, businessmen, common citizens — all probably have been struck by a pang of empathy or recognition of these times. And if anything, everything that has happened in the past half decade could fill up enough history books for a lifetime.

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