Terrorist Attacks - The Youth Response

Karen Schaefer- The same day as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, students and faculty at Kent State University assembled to express their shock and grief. Many other college and university communities also came together during the days that followed, offering memorials to those who died and support for the survivors. Some, like Kent State, posted a page on their website where students and alumni could share their thoughts on the national tragedy. Others sponsored blood drives and donations to the Red Cross. Whatever they did, students everywhere shared the nation's sadness.

Students also came forward to protect fellow Arab-American and Muslim students threatened with acts of ethnic intimidation. At Oberlin College, about four hundred students and townspeople rallied to urge moderation in those attacking Islam, instead of Osama bin Laden.

Many young people - like their parents - are still trying to make sense of it all. A group of some forty students at Case Western Reserve University attended a forum this week to try to understand what provoked the terrorist attacks - and how the U.S. government should respond.

But in war, young people of military age could themselves be called upon to engage the enemy, a fact that has not escaped most students. A few have already signed up or made calls to their local recruiter. Others, like 19-year-old Case student James Lucia of Connecticut, say they're willing to serve if they're needed.

But the uncertainty of the last two and a half weeks has left many students unsure about which way duty lies. Lt. Col. Shirley Brown heads the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Akron. Students in the program receive scholarship assistance with college tuition in exchange for a commitment of military service after graduation. Col. Brown says she hasn't seen a rush to enlist in the program.

Captain Tim Leroux is Company Commander of the Cleveland Army Recruiting Office. He speculates that the uncertain nature of the coming war may be one reason why young people aren't signing up in droves.

But there's a small - and rapidly growing - minority of students who question the ethics of a U.S.-led war on terrorism. Last weekend, some 200 students at Oberlin College led a peace march from the campus to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in a nearby city park. Many say they're worried about the possibility of killing thousands of innocent Afghani civilians in strikes against bin Laden's terrorist strongholds. Others question the justice of past U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, which they believe may have lent impetus to the conditions which spawned the terrorists.

These students say they recognize that, in the current climate of national unity, their views may be unpopular. Nevertheless, they plan to assemble in Washington this weekend with hundreds of like-minded students from across the country for a peace protest at the White House. But Cleveland State University Associate Professor of Political Science Charles Hersch says their voices deserve to be heard.

It may be weeks, months or even years before the U.S. response to September's terrorist attacks is fully implemented. And America's youth may never be called to serve as soldiers in the fight. But as students follow President Bush's advice to return to normal routines, most are just trying - as we all are - to find ways to feel better. In Northeast Ohio, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.

Support Provided By