On my way to class this morning, I was painfully aware of the two armed soldiers parked on every corner from my room to campus. In light of yesterday’s tragedy, I know these men are here for our safety, but at the same time, my worst nightmare has been realized.
Our generation has never lived in fear. We have never had to conceptualize what it is like to be at war, to have explosions in our backyards. “War” to us is an awful entity that happens somewhere else, on the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip or on the pages of our history books. We did not live through Pearl Harbor or Vietnam. The Gulf War did not affect us because it was not here. As an eight-year-old in 1991, my first association with the Gulf War was a yellow ribbon, as opposed to guns and missiles and death.
When I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue Tuesday, I saw things I never want to see again: smoke billowing from the direction of the State Department just blocks away, the foreign owners of little cafes locking their doors and scurrying toward their cars, bumper-to-bumper traffic on four-lane streets with panicked drivers honking and screaming. It was mass hysteria. It was like living in downtown Beirut.
When I heard classes were cancelled, I walked back to my building at 22 and L streets only to find that the Wyndham Hotel next door received a bomb threat. Metropolitan Police officers and Secret Service agents barricaded the area. We were herded into a parking lot, where we sat in dire shock trying to call our parents and let them know we were safe, although no one really felt that way.
I felt I was walking through a minefield. Everywhere I turned, there was another police barricade and more Secret Service agents. I knew I was trapped; the news mentioned all roads into and out of the city were closed.
No one thought this could ever happen, and we all have been living in a bubble. For our generation, the word “war” means sending troops to Third World countries where they are backward enough to commit mass genocide, or to declare jihads on one another. Of course that cannot happen here. In post-Cold War America, no one has ever had her freedom threatened.
Now enormous military vehicles creep slowly down the streets. No one is talking about what happened Tuesday, but you can see it in everyone’s eyes. It’s a painful knowledge, one too painful to talk about, but a mutual sadness as well. As a generation, we have just been given a dose of horrible reality. There is a possibility that this event was a precursor to World War III. We now fear for our safety and for our freedom. Although there are cars on the streets again and Congress is back in session, we will never return to normalcy.
-The writer is a sophomore majoring in political science and history.