It is incredibly difficult to think of a moment that made me want to fight and die for my country. As a liberal arts student at a liberal arts college, I had casual conversations with friends, perhaps late at night and fueled by liquid courage, about what might happen if the U.S. was attacked by an outside force. In reality, the idea is, despite the events of recent years, so remote as to be inaccessible to most Americans.
I was a sophomore in college on September 11, 2001. I remember this as perhaps the most confusing day of my life. I didn’t know what to do, or how to feel. We actually attended class that day — I remember my professor in Italian 101 breaking down in the middle of her lecture.
One thing I remember, beyond the sadness, beyond the confusion, was the rage. The willingness of my classmates to sign up for, or at least talk about signing up for, military service was shocking. Of course, few did, but I know the feeling was not unique to Loyola University.
This is the closest I can get to the mindset of the Oberlin College student cited by McPherson on p. 16 of his book. “WAR! and volunteers are only topics of conversation or thought. The lessons today have been a mere form. I cannot study. I cannot sleep. I cannot work.”
How do we move our students to understand this mindset? The September 11 attacks themselves are difficult to teach — most high school students are too young to remember them. How can we give life to the words long dead soldiers in our nation’s deadliest conflict?