I was invited to speak last month to a group of AP World History and AP Government students on a topic I studied as an undergraduate: political violence. As a school director, I do my best to visit schools while they're in session, so this invitation was not unusual. However, the topic certainly was. I chose it because I knew that despite its graphic drawbacks, the importance of it could not be understated.
Going into that lecture on that morning, my purpose was to establish and apply a theory of why political actors commit acts of violence. It's a theory formulated by Professor Ted Gurr in his work Why Men Rebel, and attempts to explain why politically violent acts such as war, genocide, and terrorism occur. As I discussed some of the most egregious acts of the last century, I noticed that many of the students were trying their best to understand the depth of these acts. Understanding these acts, outside of Gurr's theory of what motivates people, is almost impossible. There are simply evil people in this world, a difficult lesson to learn.
It was after this lecture when I began to reflect on political violence for my generation. The students who were in attendance, many of them sophomores and juniors, are too young to remember the horrific acts of September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, I recapped some of that day from my memory, including a discussion of Al-Qaeda and its origins. I also mentioned the Boston bombings, still fresh in many memories. Both events remind us of the freedom we cherish so dearly, and perhaps serve as a lesson to those who are younger, that the United States will always rise from the ashes, despite how dark the day may be.
After September 11, many said that our lives have changed forever. Indeed, liberty, an ideal held so close by so many of the Founding Fathers, suddenly took a backseat to security. These two competing ideals will forever be victims of friction as the United States seeks to protect our freedom and our way of life. My generation will not question security pat-downs and, maybe even not question the National Security Administration (NSA) making "private" phone calls into conference calls. This is the world we live in, or so we're told.
Government protecting us (however scary that phrase is) is but a passive solution to what promises to be a century or more of strife. The truth is the preservation of freedom and the war against political violence will occur not on some distant battlefield. They will occur with the active enlistment of the millennial generation as engaged citizens. Tom Brokaw, in his final sign-off from the NBC Nightly News, mentioned the group of people I know to be my grandparents: The Greatest Generation. Brokaw said that after they fought in the European and Pacific theaters, they came home and became active citizens. This is what the millennial generation must do. We must participate, get-involved, hold elected office, and be leaders in the intangible battle to protect our freedom. We may never be the "greatest," but if always pushing ourselves to be the greatest preserves the United States of America, then this is the duty which befalls us.