Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who is Bin Laden?

Years ago I came across a pile of 'ancient' Reader's Digests and found an anecdote from 1944 or 1945, which told of British mother whose young son was puzzled when she referred to an object on the beach as a "shell." He knew nothing of seashells; the only shells he knew were the exploding kind.

That came to mind when I read this post by Jamelle Bouie at the American Prospect blog. The 5th-most-common Yahoo search on Osama Bin Laden this week is the basic question, "Who is Osama Bin Laden?" Mostly, this came from teenagers, the oldest of whom were only 7 or 8 when 9/11 occured. Observes Bouie,

Given the extent to which bin Laden had mostly drifted from our national conversation (especially in light of the Great Recession), it's not a huge surprise to learn that a non-trivial number of teenagers are baffled by his significance. Still, it's sobering; not because it reveals anything profound about our educational system or the attacks on 9/11, but because it points to an absolute truth: for each generation, America is a very different place, and the America we lost on 9/11 -- the America that didn't profile citizens, torture people, or monitor their phone calls -- isn't even a distance memory for the children and teenagers of today's America.

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