"Let’s Roll!": Generation X Goes to War

Julie Ann Ponzi

September 1, 2001

One thing, at least, is clear after last Tuesday: America’s "greatest generation"—the generation of my grandparents—need not doubt that their example has gone unnoticed. "Generation X" —as we unfairly have been dubbed by smug Baby Boomer elites in the press—actually learned a thing or two from our 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 the help of Lou Nacke, 42, are among the first heroes of this new war. As the war escalates there will be other names to exalt. But now we have these and they are from 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 Todd Beamer used when he and the other passengers involved in the revolt against the hijackers launched their attack. 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 her to pray for him as he knew he would not survive and to call his pregnant wife, Lisa, to tell her and their two boys David, 3, and Drew, 1, that he loved them. Beamer told the operator that he and some other passengers were going to do something. And do something they did. 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 so many others.

In recent years, academic and media elites—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. An annual survey of college students out of UCLA complains every year that there is a disturbing kind of malaise settling in among students who (gasp!) look at their education in a very practical, business oriented kind of way. They complain that we are too focused on our future careers and making money. Instead of aspiring to something noble like 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 like the spotted owl, the minimum wage, social security "lock boxes," so-called "social justice" platforms, or whatever it is that seems to pain our liberal professors at any given moment. They whine that we are spoiled products of the "eighties" —that is, we are what is to be expected from those of their generation who sold their souls to the "greed" and corruption of capitalism. Their hearts are warmed by a small number of us—the serious fans of Rage Against the Machine, Julia Butterfly, 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 Congressman, Barbara Lee—don’t see anything worth dying for in America. But to their dismay these folks are anomalies in my generation.

What baby boomer elites don’t seem to realize is that the 60’s are, thankfully, over. My generation does not suffer from the cosmic moral confusion that swept their 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 do not care about politics. In case anyone has missed it, there hasn’t been much in the way of serious politics to care about in our lifetime. 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. If you doubt that, try sitting through any of "sensitivity seminars" run by any of the local colleges around you during freshman orientation week. If we haven’t complained and we haven’t fought back, it’s because we were too busy rolling our eyes at you. And that’s really the rub. What burns these people up is the fact that we’re on to them; we’re not taking them seriously and now that we’ve been pushed too far we’re not going to take it anymore. Like our grandparents and despite our bad educations in American universities, we have come to know what true liberty and true justice really is. You don’t really need a sophisticated degree to understand, as our grandparents did that this is the best country going. And like our grandparents, we will be 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.