Boston Bombing Reminds A Generation They're Growing Up With Terror

PHOTO: NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Keri McMorrow, 7, visits the memorial pool where her uncles name is engraved.Carolyn Cole-Pool/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Keri McMorrow, 7, visits the memorial pool where her uncle's name is engraved, during tenth anniversary ceremonies of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center site September 11, 2011 in New York City.

In the wake of the Boston bombings, it's hard not to be reminded that we are growing up in a world where terrorist attacks, whether foreign or domestic, have played a distinct role in how we as young Americans view the world.

After all, a whole generation has now grown up in the shadow of September 11th. Most people in their early twenties were middle-schoolers when the planes hit in 2001, and have lived all of their adult life in an age of increased security measures.

The question is -- just how much are these events shaping the way this group thinks?

The 9/11 attacks were deemed the most important influence shaping the attitudes and beliefs of the millennial generation in a 2009 survey of young people between the ages 18-29, conducted by the Center for American Progress.

Scholars Michael D. Hais and Morley Winograd, the co-authors on two books on the millennial generation, say that the vulnerability that many young people experienced on 9/11 has largely informed their political beliefs as young adults.

How could it not? Our experience of terror at home, at least in the United States, is not like anything experienced by other recent generations that by in large fought tangible enemies overseas. Our generation has learned, as Boston is evidence, that terrible things can happen anywhere and that the "enemy's" motive can often be unfathomable. That is how terror works. And yet, we as a generation have certainly kept it from shaping us all-together.

Hais and Winograd hold, however, that the effect has been dramatic. The pair concluded in their research that millennials are likely to view servicemen and women in a very favorable light more than other generations due to 9/11.

"Sept. 11 reinforced the heroic nature of people in uniform -- be it policemen, firemen or members of the armed forces," Winograd told The Huffington Post. "Going forward, that will continue to leave a pro-institutional attitude on many of the generation. They see the value of institutions in making the world safer."

While the millennial generation is politically-left leaning by most estimates, a study out of Suffolk University found that 58 percent of 18-34 years olds approved of enhanced interrogation and "some forms of torture," in line with the national average of 57 percent in 2011. Additionally, 59 percent of millennials said that the reduced restrictions on law enforcement included in the Patriot Act were "necessary to keep us safe," trailing the national average of 58%.

A 2013 study from Pew, however, showed that when polled, millenials generally say they believe in "a less assertive approach to national security" than older generations.

The same young generation is also more open to immigrants than their predecessors. Millenials are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history, and are more likely to have interracial friendships than their parents or grandparents. They almost unanimously support interracial dating, and nearly six-in-ten (58 percent) say immigrants strengthen the country, while just 43 percent of adults ages 30 and older agree, according to a 2009 Pew Research survey.

John Della Volpe, the director of polling at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, told The Huffington Post that the events of 9/11 also made millennials more aware of the interconnectedness of countries, and made them more inclined to favor a foreign policy with an emphasis on diplomacy.

"For this generation, the lesson that comes out of this is that we're all connected. Everything is connected -- for good or for ill," he said. "When Obama talked about sitting down with any head of state, regardless of where they came from, that essentially sealed the deal with a significant number of young voters."

While perhaps 9/11 made young people more attuned to the value of good diplomacy, many millenials still reflect on the attack as loss of innocence. It became the moment they realized that there were people who hated them or the moment they realized how uncertain life could be.

Lexi Belculfine, a student at State College Pennsylvania, told This American Life that for her, like for many other college students at the time, Osama Bin Laden's death offered closure to a childhood nightmare.

"I distinctly remember being very afraid for a very long time," she said. "I guess it was just a realization of how quickly everything could be ripped out from under you, that these huge, catastrophic things can happen. "

And yet we are here again. Boston reminds us that we are still experiencing a very different kind of relationship with terror. It also leaves us wondering how it might once again shape today's children down the road.