I recently wrote an article in the Campus Times calling for public, widespread campus debate on the war in Iraq, and in that article I claimed that the war is the defining moment of our generation. That claim was refuted by Colin Brown in the last issue, who argued that the war doesn’t define us because we are utterly separated from it. He said, we as a generation may not have a definition at all.

Those of us with family and friends serving in the armed forces will, I’m sure, forgive Colin for his misjudgment of just how connected Americans are to events in foreign lands. I’m also sure there are many who would be willing to explain the various threads – corporate or otherwise – that inextricably link us to Iraq and the rest of that region. But being linked to an event is not grounds for definition, and that’s what I want to focus on instead. How do we know when something “defines” a generation?

There are many who would point to major wars as defining moments – certainly World War II and Vietnam. But war, too, is not a prerequisite for definition – neither is any great big event.

Rather, these wars and events serve as generational monikers because of the response they elicited. When the United States was attacked by the Japanese, a generation – which is admittedly a difficult term – made sacrifices to defend the nation. Those sacrifices included physical life and security, notions of civil rights at home for those interred in camps and notions of democracy abroad, which have forever been complicated by post-war occupations.

Vietnam, of course, was different. When that war was thrust upon Americans, a large portion of the population rose to the challenge of defending their beliefs, and historians cannot now avoid the impact that protestors had on the war and other social issues of the day. Americans, it seemed, had turned another crucial page. Culturally and politically, they seemed to arrive at a level of inquiry that was not welcomed during World War II and the period immediately afterward. They began to re-examine previous notions of American power, as well as civil and human rights.

While there are several events or trends one could point to as something everyone of our age shares in common – certainly September 11, but also the advent of easily-accessible computer technology, the end of the Cold War, the economic boom of the ’90s, etc., history has again given us a war. I believe this war qualifies as definitional because it has hovered like a test in front of our generation’s eyes, waiting to see how we will react. It is more monumental because the questions surrounding its legitimacy and wisdom are apparent, and so the test becomes even keener.

So how will we respond? Will we re-examine our notions of democracy and civil rights? Will we make a greater effort to inform ourselves? And will we then act on that information? Or, instead, will we fall prey to an unquestioning nationalism, or worse, demonstrate our inability even to form the right questions?

Whether you are for or against the war, I believe history will judge us all by our actions – or lack of them – during these times. That judgment may come in the form of books and articles and documentaries, or it may come when history books make no mention of us at all. I would hate, however, to have to explain to future generations why ours is defined by its ignorance, inability to ask questions, or unwillingness to seek definition.

I applaud the residents of Lovejoy who have engaged in open and peaceful debate, and commend those who have been willing to air their concerns publicly and respectfully on this campus and elsewhere. Let’s hope this trend continues to the benefit of us all.

Linczak can be reached a plinczak@campustimes.org.I recently wrote an article in the Campus Times calling for public, widespread campus debate on the war in Iraq, and in that article I claimed that the war is the defining moment of our generation. That claim was refuted by Colin Brown in the last issue, who argued that the war doesn’t define us because we are utterly separated from it. He said, we as a generation may not have a definition at all.

Those of us with family and friends serving in the armed forces will, I’m sure, forgive Colin for his misjudgment of just how connected Americans are to events in foreign lands. I’m also sure there are many who would be willing to explain the various threads – corporate or otherwise – that inextricably link us to Iraq and the rest of that region. But being linked to an event is not grounds for definition, and that’s what I want to focus on instead. How do we know when something “defines” a generation?

There are many who would point to major wars as defining moments – certainly World War II and Vietnam. But war, too, is not a prerequisite for definition – neither is any great big event.

Rather, these wars and events serve as generational monikers because of the response they elicited. When the United States was attacked by the Japanese, a generation – which is admittedly a difficult term – made sacrifices to defend the nation. Those sacrifices included physical life and security, notions of civil rights at home for those interred in camps and notions of democracy abroad, which have forever been complicated by post-war occupations.

Vietnam, of course, was different. When that war was thrust upon Americans, a large portion of the population rose to the challenge of defending their beliefs, and historians cannot now avoid the impact that protestors had on the war and other social issues of the day. Americans, it seemed, had turned another crucial page. Culturally and politically, they seemed to arrive at a level of inquiry that was not welcomed during World War II and the period immediately afterward. They began to re-examine previous notions of American power, as well as civil and human rights.

While there are several events or trends one could point to as something everyone of our age shares in common – certainly September 11, but also the advent of easily-accessible computer technology, the end of the Cold War, the economic boom of the ’90s, etc., history has again given us a war. I believe this war qualifies as definitional because it has hovered like a test in front of our generation’s eyes, waiting to see how we will react. It is more monumental because the questions surrounding its legitimacy and wisdom are apparent, and so the test becomes even keener.

So how will we respond? Will we re-examine our notions of democracy and civil rights? Will we make a greater effort to inform ourselves? And will we then act on that information? Or, instead, will we fall prey to an unquestioning nationalism, or worse, demonstrate our inability even to form the right questions?

Whether you are for or against the war, I believe history will judge us all by our actions – or lack of them – during these times. That judgment may come in the form of books and articles and documentaries, or it may come when history books make no mention of us at all. I would hate, however, to have to explain to future generations why ours is defined by its ignorance, inability to ask questions, or unwillingness to seek definition.

I applaud the residents of Lovejoy who have engaged in open and peaceful debate, and commend those who have been willing to air their concerns publicly and respectfully on this campus and elsewhere. Let’s hope this trend continues to the benefit of us all.

Linczak can be reached a plinczak@campustimes.org.



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An open letter to all members of any university community

I strongly oppose the proposed divestment resolution. This resolution is nothing more than another ugly manifestation of antisemitism at the University.