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NYC Out of the ashes Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 17:45 GMT
Part four: Young Americans
Manhattan after the WTC attacks
Many including children watched the horrific attacks
Peter Gould

How did the events of 11 September affect the children and young people of New York? Did it make them more suspicious, more patriotic or more resentful?

By the time the second airliner crashed into the World Trade Center, much of New York was watching.

Across the Hudson River in Jersey City, students at the Henry Snyder High School saw the disaster unfolding on live television.

Some rushed onto the roof of the school building, to look at the smoke rising from the first tower to be hit.

Just three miles from lower Manhattan, they had a direct view of the second impact.

"We have a number of inner city kids and reactions ranged from dead silence to kids looking in amusement," recalls Tom Horan, who teaches media and arts.

"They were not registering the fact that somebody was getting massively hurt.

"A lot of kids are attuned to these big blow-up motion pictures, and did not realise the reality of it until they started thinking of friends and relatives, and maybe mothers and fathers who worked in or near the Trade Center."

Among the watching teenagers was one boy whose mother worked at the World Trade Center. She was one of the lucky ones who escaped.


A lot of kids are attuned to these big blow-up motion pictures, and did not realise the reality of it until they started thinking of friends and relatives, and maybe mothers and fathers who worked in or near the Trade Center

Tom Horan

It was some time before their teacher discovered that another student had lost his father in the attack they all witnessed.

"It was something that he hid to himself. He went to the funeral service, and no-one knew about it until two weeks later."

When lower Manhattan was evacuated, many people were brought across the Hudson to Jersey City, and many of the school's teachers helped to look after them.

Shocked into maturity

The effect of all this on his teenage students is obvious to Tom Horan.

"The impact on school life has definitely been to mature them a little more," he says.

"When I was growing up we had the Kennedy assassination and it sobered us up immediately.

"Here we have a geographic connection. We are used to looking right across the river to the Trade Center and now there is just a harkening emptiness with smoke coming out of it.

"The sobering reality has struck...we have been attacked on our own land. Life has become a lot more serious for a great deal of kids."

In Jersey City, as in the rest of the United States, the stars and stripes are a visible expression of nation's resolve, and students at the school seem to have caught the mood.

Patriotism is not something that has always been associated with young Americans.

During the Vietnam War, it was the young people of America who led the protests and challenged the political leadership of their country.

Political scandals like Watergate also helped to create a mood of cynicism among the young. And the socially disadvantaged felt they had no stake in the political system.

At one time it seemed as if they were more likely to burn the flag than wave it. Their elders were scandalised at what they saw as disrespect for the nation and its values.

New found patriotism

So it has been fascinating to see how the young have reacted to the attacks on September 11, and the upsurge of patriotic feeling that has swept the nation.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, and the blanket coverage on television, there was concern about how to explain it all to young minds.

Schools have had to help younger children confront their fears, and make sense of the disturbing images they have witnessed. A sense of security has been replaced by anxiety and uncertainty.

In high schools and colleges, members of the "MTV generation" are more likely to question the issues that underlie the attacks on their country, and the way it has responded.

The mood was caught by special edition of the hit TV series "The West Wing" which depicted a fictitious group of students on a visit to the White House, questioning the nature of terrorism.

Could the shocking nature of the attacks on the United States, and the scale of the loss of life, lead to a new spirit of patriotism among the young?

In Jersey City, Tom Horan believes his high school students now think more about what patriotism means.

"I have never seen so many American flags flying, or their sincerity in pledging allegiance," he says.


We have been careful in the educational system not to blame anyone because of where they come from, or what they look like

"I think patriotism has emerged as a right or wrong, good versus evil. This is an evil thing that has been done, and we are on the side of right."

But when they try to answer the question of what motivated the terrorists, do the students turn their anger on the Muslim community in their midst?

"There has not been any lashing out," insists Tom Horan.

"We have been careful in the educational system not to blame anyone because of where they come from, or what they look like, he said.

He believes most students support military action, although they have difficulty understanding what is happening in a distant part of the world.

"The reality for us is that somebody came on our turf and knocked down our buildings. It took that to wake them up to the realities of the world."

If the world was changed by the events of September 11, then maybe some of old certainties of living in the USA have also been shaken.

Like their elders, young people in America are struggling to make sense of it all.

Links to more NYC Out of the ashes stories are at the foot of the page.


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