Terrorism expert James Forest had a good spot from which to watch Millennial collective identity develop. In 2001 he was an instructor at the Military Academy. In the wake of the terrorist attacks that year, interest in the academy surged. High school student body presidents, valedictorians, and football captains from across the nation lined up to join the Army and graduate to fight Al Qaeda.
Then time dragged on, and so did what used to be known as the GWOT, the Global War on Terror. Casualties mounted. Deployments followed deployments. Iraq seemed intractable. Afghanistan seemed ungovernable. It would have been understandable if interest in West Point flagged. But it did not, according to Dr. Forest. Applications have stayed high and retention has stayed strong.
"In each cadet you see an amazing commitment to service and leadership in a time of war. If we are calling this the '9/11 Generation' then these are the members of that generation about whom we should be the most proud," says Forest.
Today Forest teaches courses on terrorism and security studies in the department of criminal justice at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. His classes are always filled, he says, reflecting strong civilian student interest in the subject nationwide.
Part of that is due to the job opportunities that have arisen in recent years in the homeland security business, from the federal down to the local levels. Part of it is intellectual curiosity.
"I see in these students a real interest in understanding the pervasive nature of this terrorism threat – why haven't we been able to shoot or bomb this problem away?" says Forest. "Why are we still fighting terrorism? Why is this kind of threat different from others we have faced?"