Generation X Goes to War

Julie Ann Ponzi

December 1, 2001

One thing, at least, is clear after the attacks of September 11: America’s "greatest generation" should have no doubt that their example has gone unnoticed or unlearned. "Generation X"—as they have been dubbed unfairly by smug Baby Boomer elites—actually learned a thing or two from their grandparents.

The tales of heroism aboard United Airlines’ Flight 93 bear plenty of witness to that. Aboard that plane flew Todd Beamer, 32; Jeremy Glick, 31; and Mark Bingham, 31. These three "Xers," along with Thomas Burnett Jr., 38, and Lou Nacke, 42, are among the first heroes of this new war. As the war escalates there will be other names to exalt. But for now we have these men, and they are of my generation—people I could have gone to high school with—regular guys who loved their families, judo, rugby, Superman, and, obviously, America.

"Let’s roll!" was the rallying cry of Todd Beamer when he and the other passengers launched their counterattack against the terrorists. Beamer was on the phone with a GTE airphone operator who told him of the fate of the other hijacked planes that day. He asked the operator to pray for him, as he knew he probably would not survive, and to call his pregnant wife, Lisa, to tell her and their two young sons that he loved them. Beamer told the operator that he and some other passengers were going to do something. They probably saved the White House or the Capitol building from the same fate as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They sacrificed their lives to assure the safety of thousands of others.

In recent years, the academic and media elite—most of whom cut their political teeth on the protests of the 1960s—have criticized an apparent lack of interest in politics among people of my generation. UCLA’s annual survey of college freshmen sounds the alarm every year about the disturbing apathy settling in among students who look at their education in a very practical, business-like way. The authors of these surveys fret that we’re too focused on our future careers and making money. Instead of aspiring to something noble—say, a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies—we’re much more likely to pursue MBAs and law degrees.

These elites are appalled by our apparent lack of interest in any of the great social causes of today, such as fighting rapacious oil companies, raising the minimum wage, building a stronger Social Security "lock box," and promoting "social justice." They whine that we are spoiled products of "the decade of greed"—that is, we are what is to be expected from those of their generation who "sold their souls" to capitalism. Their hearts are warmed by a small number of us—the serious fans of Rage Against the Machine, Julia "Butterfly" Hill, the spoiled rich kids dressed in black who travel the world to disrupt WTO meetings, and the children of people in Berkeley who, like their representative, Barbara Lee, don’t see anything in America worth dying for. But these are exceptions, the anomalies of my generation. What Baby Boomers don’t realize is that the ’60s, mercifully, are over. My generation does not suffer from the cosmic moral confusion that swept the Boomers’ generation. We do not see a conflict between personal wealth and liberty and justice for all. We have learned from our parents’ mistakes and our grandparents’ example.

It is not fair to say that we don’t care about politics. We do care about politics—we just don’t feel compelled to call the petty things they call politics, politics. Like our grandparents, we care about the things that matter: God, family, and country. Like our grandparents, we have been willing to put up with a lot of malarkey for a long time without pushing back. The reason we don’t complain or fight back at these silly "sensitivity training" seminars sponsored by our colleges and universities is because we’re too busy rolling our eyes.

What really burns up the liberal elite is that we’re on to them. We don’t take them seriously. And now that we’ve been pushed too far, we’re not going to take it anymore. You don’t really need an advanced degree to understand, as our grandparents did, that the United States is the best country going. And like our grandparents, we are willing to risk it all to preserve it for our children and grandchildren.

So God bless America and God bless the men and women of my generation who must protect her. We will not let her down.

Julie Ann Ponzi is an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center and a graduate of the Ashbrook Scholar Program.