We’re Not Invisible: The 9/11 Generation in Germany and the United States

March 27, 2014

Everyone who is old enough to remember can tell you exactly where they were on 9/11 when they heard the news about the terrorist attack. It will remain the most traumatic event in the eyes of an entire generation. It shaped our foreign policy for over a decade, triggered two wars, and, to varying extents, had a personal effect on most Americans.

DAAD/AGI Research Fellow Dr. Daniela Schiek’s presentation on March 27, 2014, dealt with her findings after researching what she calls the “9/11 Generation.” Her research focused on answering the question “how do generations develop?” To answer this question it must first be defined what a generation is. A generation is defined as a collective identity within history and society. Generations tend to identify themselves with historical events for several reasons. In a way it “makes sense” of one’s place—as long as that person feels a part of mainstream society. It allows an individual to personally connect him or herself with the world at large through tangible events. It is saying “we are visible” and that history has had an impact. Through generation, abstract terms such as history, society, and culture become real. Ms. Schiek proposes that “only the experience of intentional collective physical violation generates an awareness of a concrete participation in historic and political developments.”

Empirical findings were based on the analysis of literature and media, internet discussion groups in Germany, as well as personal interviews with U.S. citizens from different backgrounds. Overall, it was found that 9/11 was seen as “the end of innocence” for many, meaning they were no longer on the sidelines of history. It was also perceived as a personal challenge, especially to those who went into the military post-9/11.

Many comparisons and parallels were made to the Baby Boomer generation, or the Achtundsechsiger (‘68ers) in German. In Germany, the 9/11 generation and the Achtundsechsiger come into conflict in some ways because Achtundsechsiger are defined by a period in the late 1960s and early 1970s of Vietnam-era, Shah-era suspicions toward American foreign policy, and 9/11 created a (perhaps short-lived) state of international solidarity with the U.S. against an existential enemy. Ms. Schiek characterizes the Achtundsechsiger as the parents of the 9/11 generation.

In the future, Ms. Schiek would like to further her research by looking into how 9/11 changed the way people deal with intercultural conflicts, how and if the event changed social structures, as well the motives behind many Germans’ suspicions as to the seriousness of 9/11.

12:00 – 1:30pm

R.G. Livingston Conference Room
Suite 700
1755 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Please contact Ms. Kimberly Frank with any questions at kfrank@aicgs.org.