Young Americans who grew up in the shadow of Sept. 11 say they were affected by that day, but they do not live in fear of a repeat terrorist act.
By Katy Pitkin
As the United States marks the 10 year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, students in the School of Communication at American University conducted a survey to discover how young adults who were children and teens at the time of the attack think, feel and act today.
While the survey was not scientific, the results often replicated other research. And although respondents included a higher percentage of women to men, there were no significant differences in their responses.
The results did indicate that most 18- to 29-year-olds, 71 percent, feel that 9/11 impacted different facets of their lives during the past decade.
No longer living in fear
Despite admitting that the day changed their lives, these children are not living in fear. More than 70 percent of respondents are either “not too worried” or “not worried at all” that they or someone in their family will be become a victim of terrorism.
Upon hearing the survey results, John Mueller, a professor at Ohio State University who has researched terrorism and public opinion, said the threat of another terrorist attack inside the United States is “overblown.”
“Since the chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million per year, unless you have an extremely large survey, a realistic one would suggest that zero people would be afraid of being hurt by a terrorist,” Mueller said.
Of the nearly 30 percent who said 9/11 did not change their lives, the survey suggests that for some of the nation’s youth, physical distance from the attacks contributed to the emotional distance from the events.
Support for the federal government wavers
Nearly half of respondents said 9/11 has caused them to have a less favorable view of the U.S. federal government. Moreover, 4 out of 10 said they have a less favorable view of Republicans because of 9/11. The effects still have some long-term political resonance with many Millennials, with more than half admitting they are more politically active as a result of 9/11.
Mikhail Lyubansky, a clinical psychologist and lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, blogged about patriotism after 9/11 for Psychology Today. In response to the survey data, he said patriotism is often mistaken for pride or “Americanness.”
“It’s more likely that closer to 80, not 40, percent of respondents truly disapprove of Republicans after their response to 9/11,” he said. “But students who identify as Republicans aren’t going to say they disapprove because to them, ‘patriotism’ means not questioning your leaders and their policies no matter what. The 40 percent that did answer? Those are all Democrats.”
With almost 50 percent of respondents indicating they are more patriotic because of 9/11, the survey data suggests Lyubanksy’s assumptions are correct.
Ten years later, some Millennials are still unsure of who was responsible for the attacks.
“I feel like the media has told us so many different things, and 10 years later I still don’t know who should be ‘blamed’ for this tragedy,” wrote one survey respondent. Another said, “Without a doubt in my mind, I can say the American government planned, funded and carried out the attacks of 9/11.”
It’s not surprising then that when asked who was responsible, those who were children at the time are split. In fact, the majority of survey respondents blamed Al Qaeda and extremist terrorist groups for 9/11.
Racial profiling still lingers
Some respondents, nearly 8 percent, indicated they believe a number of parties were involved in planning, executing and financing the attack — including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the United States government. Many respondents who blame the U.S. government also said aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East has spurred hatred against American people.
One in four respondents admitted to having less favorable views of Muslims as a result of 9/11. Jack Glaser, associate professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, said these numbers aren’t surprising. According to Glaser, the 9/11 attacks negatively affected public attitudes and increased hate crimes and racial profiling. He says reported crimes against Muslims also jumped dramatically, but that number is underrepresented since it does not include crimes that go unreported.
“Racial profiling of both Muslims and those who look like them is particularly prevalent in air, land and sea ports,” Glaser said.
It is not surprising then that more than 60 percent are worried about their travel privacy because of 9/11, but not enough to deter them from flying. More than 80 percent are just as likely to travel by air.
Millennials broaden their horizons
The survey also revealed the impact of the tragedy on young minds. Nearly half of those surveyed said 9/11 made them more likely to study international affairs, a fact confirmed by Dr. Patricia Somers, a professor at University of Texas at Austin who researches the effects of 9/11 on civic involvement and the Millennial generation.
“In the five years following 9/11 there was an increased interest in international affairs and religion courses. Nationally, there was also a jump in students studying Arabic and Persian,” she said.
Enrollment in Arabic classes at the college level from 1998 to 2002 grew 100 percent, however, in 2011 Arabic is still one of the least studied languages according to an article in Education Week.
9/11 was a defining moment for most children, and as a result, had a profound impact on their lives. More respondents are educating themselves on international issues as a result of the attacks, and nearly 7 out of 10 respondents say they are more likely to follow the news because of 9/11. And yet, just under half of respondents said they look at the news media more negatively because of the events.
Not surprisingly, news coverage of terrorism rose 135 percent since 9/11, specifically from 2002-2005 versus 1997-2000. Additionally, the number of minutes devoted to foreign policy news more than doubled, according to a report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.