How to Help Those Who Helped Us

Ten years ago, an entire generation was marked by the horrific events that took place on a Tuesday morning. Three thousand fifty-one children lost a parent. High-school students gathered around televisions in classrooms, before leaving school for the day, stunned and afraid. At my college, an hour and a half from New York, we held a candle-light vigil in the evening — grieving the nation’s losses, and asking ourselves what was next.

As a class, we’d experienced two decades of peace and prosperity. The ’80s were already part of our nostalgic pop culture, the ’90s a seeming “holiday from history,” as Charles Krauthammer put it. We’d spent the week before September 11 debating what classes we should take — “Women, Food, and Culture,” or “Movie Physics,” or “Science in Novels”? After the attacks, many of my classmates asked themselves, perhaps for the first time, whether a career in government service — the State Department, the military, the CIA — might be for them.

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