A generation’s innocence dies

The Sept. 11th terrorist attacks were a defining moment for a generation. This story, published in the Omaha World-Herald on Sept. 13, 2001, recorded the raw reactions of Omahans at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood.

A generation’s innocence dies: For a generation at a critical point in shaping its view of itself and the world, the effects could be profound.

One generation had Pearl Harbor. Another had the Kennedy assassination.

For Americans now at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood, Tuesday’s attack on U.S. soil could be their defining event, the historic turning point that shapes the psyche of their entire generation.

“This has been the most devastating day of my life,” said Matt Whipkey, a 20 – year – old junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “My sister woke me up with a telephone call from D.C. – she works about a mile from the Pentagon – and told me what happened. There is no use for explaining what I felt because we all felt the same way.”



Fearful about the future, a future that seemed much more secure just minutes earlier.

“It feels different,” said Jason Nadeau, 24, a Ameritrade employee. “It feels like it’s the start of something that’s not going to be resolved for a really long time. It just feels like it’s the beginning of something horrible.”

Ross Thompson, a University of Nebraska – Lincoln psychology professor, said events like Tuesday’s terrorist attacks can shape a generation’s outlook.

“In one respect, this can be seen as a uniquely defining tragedy for this younger generation. In another sense, it’s a defining tragedy for us all,” he said. “We’re all affected by this. But each of us sees it through the prism of our generation’s outlook.”

For a generation at a critical point in shaping its view of itself and the world, the effects could be profound. And for professors searching for a frame of reference for this generation, Tuesday’s tragedy provided it.

“We’re in the midst of a critical life event today, one that they will be able to remember where they were and what they were doing,” Thompson said he told his students. “This changes everything. And we don’t quite know how, but we know it will.”

Teen – agers and twentysomethings don’t know how it will, either. But they are fully aware that something has changed.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, there was Vietnam and the Kent (State) shootings. We haven’t had any serious political issues people are fighting over,” said Crystal Guerrero, 17, a senior at Millard North High School.

“I cannot comprehend what is happening,” said Kelly McCallie, 21, a nursing student at Iowa Western Community College.

“I feel an overwhelming sense of disbelief and sadness. I didn’t realize fully that there were people in this world that would choose to do something so horrific and wrong and that they could affect my life so profoundly.”

Nadeau, who had never considered joining the military, found himself weighing the possibility as he struggled with feelings of helplessness.

Thompson said students approached him after class, firing questions about being drafted.

He said comments like Sen. Chuck Hagel’s – “This is the second Pearl Harbor. … We are at war” – frightened them.

“Heard through the ears of a different generation, the generation that would fight this war, those are very frightening words,” Thompson said.

Tuesday’s events probably won’t affect preteens in the same way because of how the mind develops, said Thompson and Laura Finken, an assistant professor of psychology at Creighton University.

“They haven’t reached what is called formal operational thinking,” Finken said. “It’s hard for them to understand because it’s an abstract thought.

To those old enough to understand, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will replay in what psychologists call flashbulb memories.

“How we react to this will show how strong we are,” said Sara Miller, 20, a UNO student.

“We will always remember this,” she said. “This is the day our generation lost our innocence.”

Caption: B&W Photos/5 Rudy Smith/1 “I can see a lack of interest in people my age … This may wake people up.”: Sara Miller, 20, UNO student Nobuko Oyabu/1 “I cannot comprehend what is happening. I feel an overwhelming sense of disbelief and sadness.”: Kelly McCallie, 21, nursing student Rudy Smith/3 “That look of complete shock was always foreign to … my generation – until today.”: Matt Whipkey, 20, UNO student “It’s the first thing we’ve seen in our generation that is this horrific.”: Melissa Terrell, 24, Compaq sales representative “It realigns how we see everything. Our jobs. Our cars. Our bills. Our … little personal dramas.”: Jason Nadeau, 24, Ameritrade
Edition: Sunrise
Section: News
Page: 4A
Index Terms: Major Story;Reaction Story;Terrorism;Student;University of Nebraska at Omaha;Explosion;Airplane Crash;Office Building
Record Number: 1190770
Copyright (c) 2001 Omaha World Herald
This article is copyright of the Omaha World-Herald and used with permission. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

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