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The 9/11 Generation Is Coming of Age

Sep 11, 2018
Rachael Bryson
Senior Research Associate
National Security and Strategic Foresight

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Every year, this day should be one of sober reflection to remember the victims, to ensure that shared memories are passed on to the youngest generation, and to reflect on what we have learned and accomplished in the wake of the tragedy. The children born on 9/11 will turn 17 this year, which means they have no living memory of the day’s events in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. But as they come of age, they do have the potential to be a major force for social change.

The global conflicts and violence that arose following 9/11 have been ever-present in their lives and have shaped their social consciousness. In just one year, they will be eligible to serve their countries, to vote, and to make decisions around education and work. Their choices will shape their societies and, in particular, the response of those societies to three trends that emerged in the wake of 9/11: populism, mass migration, and mass casualty events.

Populist movements, in the truest sense of the word—fringe political movements that rapidly gather momentum and bring change to governments—are not necessarily negative. They do, however, bring about marked change and can be destabilizing. Recently, the term “populism” has been linked with far-right, nationalist, and anti-immigration political movements in many Western nations, such as Sweden and Poland. These movements have upended the status quo and introduced uncertainty into the domestic politics of those countries, as well as affecting regional politics and their willingness to engage with international partners.

Syrian refugees fleeing war, Rohingya Muslims fleeing systemic violence, and citizens fleeing starvation and political corruption in Venezuela are examples of mass population migrations that demand massive public-policy responses. These mass migrations put pressure on the states receiving refugees, require significant resources, and may spur humanitarian or military intervention. It is expected that mass migration movements will only increase in scale and frequency, as climate change drives people from low-lying lands reclaimed by rising sea levels and displaces people from regions that will experience extended droughts and intolerable heat.   

Events such as vehicle attacks and mass casualty gun-violence incidents will drive public discourse around safety and the rights of individuals. Vehicle attacks will spur debates about the definition of terrorism and how to balance public safety with accessible cities. Mass-casualty shootings such as those in Orlando, Las Vegas, and countless schools will continue to fuel the debate on gun rights in the United States.

The youth vote could significantly impact the outcomes of upcoming elections, in favour of either traditional liberal values or populist movements. Humanitarian and foreign-policy decisions, including when to authorize military intervention, will be scrutinized, and governments will be held accountable. Political stances on gun control and domestic-security concerns will take centre stage in upcoming elections, particularly in North America, as the first generation of students who practiced lockdown drills for school shootings head to the polls. The 9/11 generation is socially aware, engaged, and connected. Their votes will be valuable, and the power of their ability to organize should not be underestimated.


Related Webinar

ARTful Meta-Leadership: The Future of Emergency Management Leadership
The Conference Board of Canada, October 3, 2018 at 02:00 PM EDT
Live Webinar


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