(Editors’ Note: This column was co-authored by NCPA Research Associate Christian Yiu)
It is summer time and that means most students are out and about, some having fun, others are working jobs. At the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) in Dallas, it means summer research associates who conduct extensive research with our senior experts for publication.
For those working this summer in the field of national security policy, there is a startling difference from today’s pivotal issues and those from 30-40 years ago.
The 21st century battlefield that Millennials are encountering is far more complex than the global security situation then. And, what makes it unique for millennials is that they see it being played out right before their eyes.
In the late 1970’s, it was clear that there was “us and them,” namely the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, but few on a college campus could have shown you Afghanistan on a map. The Iranian hostage crisis occurred but, unless you paid attention to the evening news, few young people felt the effect.
Students then had no dorm room phones and certainly no laptop computers. There was no 24/7 news cycle. Research was done the “old school” way at the library and actually using things called books. Contrast that to today’s environment for our college students who just witnessed, in Orlando, the second largest Islamic terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In just the past two years, consider the many homegrown terrorist attacks that young people have witnessed, as well as those horrific videos they can download on their personal electronic devices via YouTube.
The point is that global situational awareness has increased immensely for this generation. Imagine the European theater in the closing days of World War II when the Nazi concentration camps were discovered. General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued orders that those brutal and savage examples of man’s inhumanity needed to be recorded to prevent those who, someday, would deny it ever happened.
Today, young people can see beheadings, crucifixions, shootings, proclamations and propaganda of the enemy in near real time. It has to be perplexing to the older generations that young people in America, as well as all over western civilization, are answering the call to arms from the enemy via these new communications means. Who, from the Baby Boomer generation, could imagine other teens and twenty-somethings flying off to a foreign land to fight for an ideological enemy of the United States?
Millennials have not seen the enemy with a single face. The U.S. is now fighting a mixture of state and non-state threats and belligerence, not the few, well-defined enemies of several decades ago. For today’s millennials, there are Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, along with a huge proliferation of Islamic jihadist groups that span the globe from Boko Haram in Nigeria to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, and all the various terrorist organizations in between – most notably today, the Islamic State.
So, what are the challenges Millennials face when it comes to understanding this complex and often obfuscated battlefield?
First, there is the repeated comparison of every engagement to the Iraq endeavor, which the media has portrayed as a failure. As a result there is a lack of motivation or desire to address the multitude of threats and emphasize the necessity of national security. Even with the incredible advantage modern information technology provides, there is still an abject ignorance of the reality of these burgeoning threats. This ignorance persists, despite the continuous reminders of these threats here in our homeland, as evidenced by the Orlando terrorist attack.
The “war weariness” theme is promulgated by the media at a time when these threats are growing in strength and effect. This results in the apparent refusal to define, address, and even call out these threats and enemies. Consider the recent redaction of the 911 call transcripts of Omar Mateen by the current administration. The current generation has to ask, why?
Why, in this age of immediate information, would the government avoid full transparency and the threat at hand? Is it that the nanny-state, which has enticed Millennials with the message of “free” education, health care, etc., wants to dictate the narrative of what they want Americans to perceive as truth?
Could it be that this generation is not considered strong enough to handle these truths and challenges?
We live in trying times but we have always faced trying times. The difference for this generation is that we have full awareness, if we choose to open our eyes.
What must happen or change for Millennials to comprehend the country’s national security needs and the evident threats?
Millennials must first accept the existence of the enemy and not allow themselves to be manipulated by ideological media messages and talking points. Next, they must understand the purpose of the military and the preeminent responsibility of our government to provide for our common defense. Millennials must not fall into the habit of repeating soundbites but regard what a capable deterrent force can do in protecting all of us and our liberties. Finally, Millennials must accept the challenge and realize that it is their future and their freedom which is under assault. They must bond together with their Millennialbrothers and sisters across the world who would not be enslaved by the enemies of freedom.